Neurology ® Dec. 28, 2011, DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182436598).
Numerous studies suggest that people with higher intakes of the omega-3 essential fatty acids; vitamins C, D, E, and the B vitamins were less likely to have brain shrinkage. These nutrients have also been associated with higher scores on mental thinking tests.
One particular study involved 104 people with an average age of 87 and very few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Blood tests were used to determine the levels of various nutrients present in the blood of each participant. All of the participants also took tests of their memory and thinking skills. A total of 42 of the participants had MRI scans to measure their brain volume.
The participants overall had good nutritional status, but 7 percent were deficient in vitamin B12 and 25 percent were deficient in vitamin D.
Previous studies have looked at only one or a few nutrients at a time or have used questionnaires to assess people’s diet. This study was among the first of its type to specifically measure a wide range of blood nutrient levels instead of basing findings on less precise data such as food questionnaires. Questionnaires rely on people’s memory of their diet, and they also do not account for how much of the nutrients are absorbed by the body, which can be an issue in the elderly.
In contrast, the study found people with diets high in trans fats were more likely to have brain shrinkage and lower scores on the thinking and memory tests.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Portland VA Medical Center.
In Conclusion: study author Gene Bowman, ND, MPH, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said that the nutrient biomarkers in the blood accounted for a significant amount of the variation in both brain volume and thinking and memory scores. For the thinking and memory scores, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 17 percent of the variation in the scores. Other factors such as age, number of years of education and high blood pressure accounted for 46 percent of the variation. For brain volume, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 37 percent of the variation.