Scientists from the University of Illinois linked high levels of key nutrients in the blood to better cognitive performance in older adults.

In a study, scientists probed how 32 key nutrients based on the Mediterranean diet can affect brain function, especially to adults 65 years old and above.

"We wanted to investigate whether diet and nutrition predict cognitive performance in healthy older adults," stated Christopher Zwilling, a postdoctoral researcher.

How Nutrients In The Blood Affect Cognitive Performance

A team of scientists led by Zwilling recruited 116 adults between the age of 65 and 75 for the study. To assess nutrient intake and brain health, the team did not just ask the participants to record what they ate and how much.

They used "some of the most rigorous methods available" for the study, including functional MRI to observe the efficiency of the brain's individual networks. For the levels of nutrients in the blood, the scientists looked for patterns of nutrient "biomarkers."

In addition, the participants were also made to take several cognitive tests to assess cognitive performance.

The study found specific patterns of nutrient biomarkers in the blood and linked it to better brain health and improved cognition. The nutrient patterns are Omega-3 fatty acids, Omega-6 fatty acids, lycopene, alpha-carotenoids, beta-carotenoids, riboflavin, folate, and vitamins B12 and D. These nutrients, according to the researchers, work synergistically and were linked to enhanced performance on specific cognitive tests.

Meanwhile, the pattern of omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, and carotene was associated with brain network efficiency.

The scientists also found that different nutrient patterns affect different brain networks. For example, a higher level of Omega-3 fatty acids is linked to a healthy frontoparietal network which is responsible for the ability to focus.

Healthy Diet, Healthy Mind

"Our study suggests that diet and nutrition moderate the association between network efficiency and cognitive performance," added Aron Barbey, a psychology professor and one of the authors of the study. "This means that the strength of the association between functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance is associated with the level of the nutrients."

Two years later, the scientists invited back the 40 participants for a follow-up. They found the same nutrient patterns in the subset of the group.

The researchers hope that future studies can expand on the role of nutrients in both brain and cognitive health. Findings of the study were published in the journal NeuroImage.

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