How Eating Habits Impact Brain Size Over Time in Adults

Jenn Hoskins
13th March, 2024

How Eating Habits Impact Brain Size Over Time in Adults

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Japan, older women following a Traditional Japanese diet showed less brain shrinkage
  • This diet includes whole grains, seafood, veggies, fruits, mushrooms, soy, and green tea
  • No link was found between diet and brain health in men from this study
Understanding the impact of diet on brain health is a growing area of research, particularly as societies face an increasing prevalence of cognitive disorders. A recent study by the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology[1] has shed light on how different dietary patterns may influence the progression of brain atrophy, especially in middle-aged and older Japanese women. The study followed 1636 Japanese adults over a two-year period to observe changes in brain volume. Using detailed dietary records and advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, researchers discovered sex-specific dietary patterns and their associations with brain volume changes. For men, three dietary patterns emerged: Western; Vegetable-Fruit-Dairy; and Traditional Japanese diets. Women also showed three patterns: Western; Grain-Vegetable-Fruit; and Traditional Japanese diets. Interestingly, the study found that women adhering to the Traditional Japanese diet exhibited less atrophy in total gray matter (TGM) compared to those following a Western diet. The annual change in TGM was significantly lower for these women, suggesting a protective effect of the Traditional Japanese diet on brain health. This finding is particularly notable as previous research has rarely investigated the longitudinal relationship between diet and brain volume in Japanese individuals. The study builds on earlier research highlighting the importance of diet in maintaining brain integrity. A Mediterranean-like dietary pattern, characterized by high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, has been associated with positive effects on brain structure[2]. Similarly, higher dietary magnesium intake has been linked to larger brain volumes[3], reinforcing the potential neuroprotective role of certain nutrients. Furthermore, adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, as well as improve certain cognitive functions in older adults[4]. This echoes the recent findings in Japanese women, where a diet rich in natural, unprocessed foods like seafood, vegetables, fruits, and green tea correlated with better brain health outcomes. The study's focus on sex-specific dietary patterns is particularly relevant, as it highlights that the relationship between diet and brain volume may not be uniform across genders. This is an important consideration for future research and dietary recommendations aimed at preventing cognitive decline. While the study did not find a significant association between dietary patterns and brain atrophy in men, it is crucial to consider the broader context of lifestyle habits and their impact on brain health. For instance, a longitudinal study on lifestyle habits in Japan found that male smoking was associated with gray matter volume loss, whereas social activity and employment had a protective effect[5]. These findings underscore the multifaceted nature of brain health, where diet is just one piece of a larger puzzle that includes other lifestyle factors. In conclusion, the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology's study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of traditional dietary patterns on brain health in Japanese women. It also emphasizes the need for further research to understand the mechanisms behind these effects and to explore why these associations may differ between men and women. As the global population ages, such research becomes increasingly vital to inform strategies that could mitigate the risk of cognitive decline through simple, everyday choices like diet.



Main Study

1) Associations of dietary patterns and longitudinal brain-volume change in Japanese community-dwelling adults: results from the national institute for longevity sciences-longitudinal study of aging.

Published 12th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Associations between dietary patterns and dementia-related neuroimaging markers.

3) Dietary magnesium intake is related to larger brain volumes and lower white matter lesions with notable sex differences.

4) Association between the mediterranean diet and cognitive health among healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

5) Basic lifestyle habits and volume change in total gray matter among community dwelling middle-aged and older Japanese adults.

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