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Brain Health and Your Diet

Brain Health and Your Diet

 

My interest in the interaction of our diet and health continues to grow. Almost daily we read about new studies that illustrate the positive and negative interactions of our diet and multiple chronic diseases.  One of my personal diet favorites, the Mediterranean Diet, is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and raw nuts. They also use extra virgin olive oil with moderate amounts of fish and eggs.  Red meat and poultry are eaten rarely in this diet. One of the most publicized studies on the Mediterranean diet, the PREDIMED study, has generated multiple research papers showing an adherence to the Mediterranean diet leads to a reduction in heart attacks, strokes, metabolic syndrome, and development of diabetes.

More recently, there has been further evidence for an overall decrease in neurodegenerative diseases with this diet.  A study published this year in Neurology, by Luciano et al, looked at brain structural changes over 3 years in a cohort of patients in Scotland. Using MRI, they measured brain volume and compared this to how closely the participants followed the Mediterranean diet. The subjects who followed the diet the closest lost less brain volume than those who did not follow the diet. The researchers concluded that diet may provide long-term protection to our brains.

One of the challenges of interpreting dietary studies is subject recall and accounting for other lifestyle changes. However, this study again suggests the importance of our diet in multiple areas of our lives, including our aging brains.

So in addition to regular exercise, a varied plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet, gives us the best chance to keep our brains working.

References:

Michelle Luciano, Janie Corley, Simon R. Cox, Maria C. Valdés Hernández, Leone C.A. Craig, David Alexander Dickie, Sherif Karama, Geraldine M. McNeill, Mark E. Bastin, Joanna M. Wardlaw, Ian J. Deary. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort. Neurology, 2017

Ferre GM, et al.  Frequency of nut consumption and the mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC Medicine, 2013.

Cycling CME

Exercise and Cognition in Children and Adolescents

Exercise and its importance to cognition and development in children have always been interesting to me. We know the mantra of “60 Minutes” of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day for children and adolescents. Clearly, this type of exercise imparts clear health benefits in the realm of the physical and physiological areas of our lives. More recently, several articles looking at the benefits of exercise on cognition and academic achievement in children have highlighted those benefits.

A study by Esteban-Cornejo et al looked at physical activity throughout adolescence and related this to cognitive performance at 18. Cognition is a broad term and has been defined as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. It is also a marker of health and they begin their article noting that several studies have correlated low cognition in adolescents with multiple medical problems, including mental disorders, vascular disease and cancers later in life. They point out that physical activity is known to stimulate factors involved in brain plasticity, essential to our childhood and adolescent development. Therefore, increasing physical activity in adolescents is crucial and plays a role in brain development and therefore cognition. The authors highlight the fact that magnitude of decline in physical activity is greatest during adolescents while at the same time they have great brain plasticity that seems to respond to activity. Overall, the main findings of the study were the importance of consistent moderate exercise in adolescents and the positive association with cognitive performance at age 18.

The take away for me was, again, moderation and consistency are key to exercise in adolescents. Too little time spent being active clearly is associated with less cognitive development – an opportunity lost. Let’s promote opportunities for physical activity in our children and adolescents in every way that we can. They will have improved physical health and cognition as they proceed into adulthood.  This is beneficial to them on a personal level as well as all of us on a community level.

References:

Esteban-Cornejo, I., Hallal, P.C., et al. (2015). Physical activity throughout adolescence and cognitive performance at 18 years of age.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 47(12), 2552-2557.

Marsh H., & Kleitman, S. (2003) School athletic participation: mostly gain with little pain.  Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 25(2), 205-8.

Mike Reeder

Cycling CME