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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Nutrients to Maintain Health and Cognitive Function as We Age

By Michael McBurney

According to ABC Sydney, ‘dementia’ and ‘cancer’ are two of the things we fear most.  Tom Sightings, a former publishing executive who eased into retirement in his mid-50s, writes of 5 activities to improve brain function but he doesn’t mention nutrition (US News Money). Nutrition shouldn’t be overlooked.

Using dietary and blood analyses and cognitive scores obtained from 2,983 middle-aged adults participating in the SU.VI.MAX (Supplementation en Vitamines et Mineraux Antioxydants) study, Kesse-Guyot and colleagues report that the consumption of dietary carotenoids are correlated with cognitive performance 13 years later. In a subset of 381 participants in which plasma carotenoid concentrations were measured. The carotenoids with the best correlation with dietary intake are β-carotene,  α-carotene, β-crytoxanthin and lutein.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are preferentially accumulated in the macula of the retina and represent 70% of the carotenoids in the brain (Kesse-Guyot et al, 2014). It is not surprising that these molecules are associated with cognitive function (and visual) where their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help protect long-chain polyunsaturated fats (LCPUFA) from damage. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is the most abundant LCPUFA in the brain. Lower amounts of DHA in brain fatty acids (% DHA in phosphatidlyserine) are observed in individuals with cognitive impairments.

Nutrition can help slow the ageing process. A healthy diet is more than balancing energy intake with caloric expenditure to maintain an ideal body weight. Food and/or dietary supplement choices can ensure that cells in our bodies have the nutrients they need to function. LCPUFA help maintain dynamic cell membranes with properties optimized to facilitate actions of proteins transversing and molecules traversing this lipid bilayer. Carotenoids need to be co-located with these LCPUFA, especially in the brain, to reduce oxidative damage and maintain cell viability and function.

Maintaining vitamin D  concentrations between 50-75 nmol/L seems to help optimize cognitive function too.  Adults with serum 25(OH)D levels between 50-75 nmol/L have better word recall than those below 50 nmol/L.  As with most choices, excesses may not be better.

The Recommended Dietary Allowances are set by experts. Follow their guidance and stay below the Tolerable Upper Intake (UL) Levels; remembering the ULs are the safest highest daily intake.

However, a strong offence can help preserve health and defend against functional decline associated with poor diet and aging,  Consume carotenoid- and DHA-rich foods (or take a dietary supplement as insurance). Having suboptimal concentrations of these important nutrients in the body is never in one’s best interest.

Main Citation

Kesse-Guyot E, Andreeva VA, Ducros V, Jeandel C, Julia C, Hercberg S, Galan P. Carotenoid-rich dietary patterns during midlife and subsequent cognitive function. 2014 Br J Nutr doi:1017/S0007114513003188

Other Citations

Johnson EJ. A possible role for lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. 2012 Am J Clin Nutr doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034611

Cunnane SC, Schneider JA, Tangney C, Tremblay-Mercier J, Fortier M,  Bennett DA, Morris MC. Plasma and brain fatty acid profiles in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. 2012 J Alzheimers Dis doi:10.3233/JAD-2012-110629

Maddock J, Geoffrey M-C, Power C, Hypponen E. 25-hydroxyvitamin D and cognitive performance in mid-life. 2014 Br J Nutr doi:10.1017/S0007114513003176