Scientists propose new recommendations to improve future research on diet and dementia

July 6, 2022  11:32

There is no shortage of articles on the Internet providing dietary advice for those looking for brain-healthy foods. But clinical studies that have tried to link specific nutrients or diets to cognitive function have found no conclusive evidence.

To understand this discrepancy between epidemiological studies and clinical trials, the team studied the literature on nutrition and dementia risk for two years. Their analysis, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, identified major weaknesses in existing research affecting how nutrition affects the brain and offered a set of recommendations to improve future research.

Epidemiological studies show, for example, an association between people who eat fatty seafood such as salmon and a reduced risk of dementia. However, it is difficult to separate information about nutrition from other factors that may also play a role, such as where the person lives, whether they live a healthy lifestyle, or whether they have access to appropriate health care.

The researchers note that the use of biomarkers, rather than the cognitive tests most commonly used to analyze the success of an intervention, could lead to more meaningful immediate outcomes that could guide longer-term interventions that target clinical outcomes. Technologies such as brain imaging can also be extremely effective in tracking changes in the brain over time.

The researchers also recommend the development of small, personalized studies that take into account participants' genetic risk, their dietary quality, analysis of their microbiome, and the use of biomarkers that reflect brain function.

Another approach involves the development of large electronic health trials using mobile phones or tablets to collect data targeted at people with risk factors for dementia.

The scientists also note that research needs to take into account the dietary preferences of underrepresented populations, some of which suffer disproportionately from dementia.

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