How Diet Impacts Brain Health

Summary: A new study reveals a strong correlation between diet and brain health. Analyzing dietary data and health indicators from 181,990 UK Biobank participants, the study found that a balanced diet is crucial for cognitive function, mental well-being, and brain structure.

Enhanced cognitive functions and increased grey matter were notably linked to varied, nutritious diets. This research underlines the importance of dietary choices in maintaining brain health and suggests policies to promote accessible healthy eating.

Key Facts:

  1. A balanced diet correlates with improved mental health, better cognitive function, and increased grey matter in the brain.
  2. The study utilized AI and machine learning to analyze extensive data on the dietary habits and health metrics of nearly 182,000 individuals.
  3. The findings emphasize the role of genetic factors and socioeconomic status in dietary choices and their impact on brain health.

Source: University of Warwick

New research has highlighted the profound link between dietary choices and brain health.

Published in Nature, the research showed that a healthy, balanced diet was linked to superior brain health, cognitive function and mental wellbeing.

The study, involving researchers at the University of Warwick, sheds light on how our food preferences not only influence physical health but also significantly impact brain health.

This shows a brain made up of food.
A balanced diet was associated with better mental health, superior cognitive functions and even higher amounts of grey matter in the brain – linked to intelligence – compared with those with a less varied diet. Credit: Neuroscience News

The dietary choices of a large sample of 181,990 participants from the UK Biobank were analysed against and a range of physical evaluations, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging, and genetics – unveiling new insights into the relationship between nutrition and overall wellbeing.

The food preferences of each participant were collected via an online questionnaire, which the team catagorised into 10 groups (such as alcohol, fruits and meats). A type of AI called machine learning helped the researchers analyse the large dataset.

A balanced diet was associated with better mental health, superior cognitive functions and even higher amounts of grey matter in the brain – linked to intelligence – compared with those with a less varied diet.

The study also highlighted the need for gradual dietary modifications, particularly for individuals accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods. By slowly reducing sugar and fat intake over time, individuals may find themselves naturally gravitating towards healthier food choices.

Genetic factors may also contribute to the association between diet and brain health, the scientists believe, showing how a combination of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices shape wellbeing.

Lead Author Professor Jianfeng Feng, University of Warwick, emphasised the importance of establishing healthy food preferences early in life. He said: “Developing a healthy balanced diet from an early age is crucial for healthy growth.

“To foster the development of a healthy balanced diet, both families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports their physical and mental health.”

Addressing the broader implications of the research, Prof Feng emphasized the role of public policy in promoting accessible and affordable healthy eating options.

“Since dietary choices can be influenced by socioeconomic status, it’s crucial to ensure that this does not hinder individuals from adopting a healthy balanced dietary profile,” he stated.

“Implementing affordable nutritious food policies is essential for governments to empower the general public to make informed and healthier dietary choices, thereby promoting overall public health.”

Co-Auhtor Wei Cheng, Fudan University, added: “Our findings underscore the associations between dietary patterns and brain health, urging for concerted efforts in promoting nutritional awareness and fostering healthier eating habits across diverse populations.”

Dr Richard Pemberton, Certified Lifestyle Physician and GP, Hexagon Health, who was not involved in the stud, commented: “This exciting research further demonstrates that a poor diet detrimentally impacts not only our physical health but also our mental and brain health.

“This study supports the need for urgent government action to optimise health in our children, protecting future generations. We also hope this provides further evidence to motivate us all to make better lifestyle choices, to improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.”

About this diet and brain health research news

Author: Annie Slinn
Source: University of Warwick
Contact: Annie Slinn – University of Warwick
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Associations of dietary patterns with brain health from behavioral, neuroimaging, biochemical and genetic analyses” by Jianfeng Feng et al. Nature


Associations of dietary patterns with brain health from behavioral, neuroimaging, biochemical and genetic analyses

Food preferences significantly influence dietary choices, yet understanding natural dietary patterns in populations remains limited.

Here we identifiy four dietary subtypes by applying data-driven approaches to food-liking data from 181,990 UK Biobank participants: ‘starch-free or reduced-starch’ (subtype 1), ‘vegetarian’ (subtype 2), ‘high protein and low fiber’ (subtype 3) and ‘balanced’ (subtype 4).

These subtypes varied in diverse brain health domains. The individuals with a balanced diet demonstrated better mental health and superior cognitive functions relative to other three subtypes.

Compared with subtype 4, subtype 3 displayed lower gray matter volumes in regions such as the postcentral gyrus, while subtype 2 showed higher volumes in thalamus and precuneus.

Genome-wide association analyses identified 16 genes different between subtype 3 and subtype 4, enriched in biological processes related to mental health and cognition.

These findings provide new insights into naturally developed dietary patterns, highlighting the importance of a balanced diet for brain health.

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