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Diet Rich in Plant Products Reduces the Risk of Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly

Metabolomics to study the impact of a diet rich in plant products on health

A diet high in plant products lowers the likelihood of cognitive deterioration in the elderly. The findings can be used to identify prospective targets to maintain cognitive health.

A new study sheds light on the early metabolic processes within the crosstalk between diet, gut microbiota, and endogenous metabolism that are linked to the later risk of developing cognitive decline. This information can be used to identify potential targets for preventive and therapeutic measures to maintain cognitive health.

The likelihood of dementia and cognitive decline in older people is decreased by a diet high in plant products. This is the outcome of a study conducted by the CIBER on Frailty and Healthy Aging and the Biomarkers and Nutritional Food Metabolomics Research Group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences at the University of Barcelona (UB) (CIBERFES).

Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, a professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences and the director of the Biomarkers and Nutritional Metabolomics of Food Research Group at the UB and the Biomedical Research Network Center in Frailty and Healthy Aging (CIBERFES), is the lead author of the paper (González-Domínguez et al., 2021) , which was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research .

This 12-year study in Europe was conducted with the help of 842 seniors in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions as part of the Joint Programming Initiative “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life” (JPI HDHL) (France).

Metabolomics to Investigate How Nutrition Affects Health

Maintaining healthy brain function is greatly influenced by nutrition. Numerous studies have suggested that specific nutrients, food components, food groups, and dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help prevent cognitive decline (Flanagan et al., 2020). These include foods high in fruits and vegetables, B vitamins, polyphenols, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, and other types of carotenoids (Vauzour et al., 2017). Nevertheless, most of the information now availabl is observational and frequently inconsistent.

Therefore, investigating the role of diet in the etiology of cognitive decline in a large-scale targeted metabolomics method using polyphenolic and other food-origin chemicals, their phase I/II metabolites, and microbiota-transformed derivatives is crucial to identify potential targets for preventive and therapeutic strategies to maintain cognitive health.

In this study, the authors examined the connection between endogenous metabolism, intestinal microbiota, dietary component metabolism, and cognitive impairment.

“The modifying effect of diet on the risk of developing cognitive impairment is what we examined in the cohorts under research,” noted by Mireia Urp-Sardà of the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Gastronomy, and CIBERFES. “The data suggest a considerable link between these processes and certain metabolites,” according to Urp-Sardà.

The findings show a protective relationship between metabolites obtained from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms, and red wine, as well as the microbial metabolism of foods high in polyphenols (such as apples, chocolate, green tea, blueberries, oranges, or pomegranates), and cognitive decline in older people.

Healthy Food Fruit Vegetables Plant-Cognitive Function
The study reveals a protective association regarding cognitive impairment of metabolites derived from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms, red wine and polyphenol-rich foods, and a detrimental role for artificial sweeteners.

The study of plasma samples revealed that several metabolites are connected to the development of dementia and cognitive decline. According to Professor Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, for instance, “saccharin—derived from the intake of artificial sweeteners—is connected with a detrimental role, (odd ratio: 1.26) whereas 2-furoylglycine (odd ratio: 0.57) and 3-methylanthine (odd ratio: 0.75), which are indicators of coffee and cocoa consumption, showed a protective profile.”

“It is crucial to research the connections between endogenous metabolism, dietary and microbial metabolism, and cognitive impairment in order to create preventive and therapeutic measures for maintaining our cognitive health”, emphasized Mercè Pallàs, professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences and member of the Institute of Neurosciences (UBNeuro).

Changing Diet Can Promote Healthy Cognitive Aging

In order to stop the cognitive decline and its progression in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and other dementias, lifestyle and dietary adjustments are crucial.

According to Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, “a larger diet of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive chemicals that may help minimize the risk of cognitive deterioration due to aging.”

Teams from the Department of Genetics, Microbiology, and Statistics of the Faculty of Biology, as well as the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Chemistry of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences, have all contributed to the study.

The study also included participation from King’s College London, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Bordeaux, the INRAE Center of the University Clermont-Ferrand, and the Paracelsus Medical Private University in Austria.

The European Regional Development Funds (ERDF), the International Joint Programming Actions PCIN-2015-229, and the former Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Competitiveness (MINECO), through the Joint Programming Initiative “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life,” have all provided funding for this study.

Related Publication and Further Readings

Flanagan, E., D. Lamport, et al. (2020). “Nutrition and the ageing brain: Moving towards clinical applications.” Ageing Res Rev 62: 101079.

González-Domínguez, R., P. Castellano-Escuder, et al. (2021). “Food and Microbiota Metabolites Associate with Cognitive Decline in Older Subjects: A 12-Year Prospective Study.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 65(23): 2100606.

Vauzour, D., M. Camprubi-Robles, et al. (2017). “Nutrition for the ageing brain: Towards evidence for an optimal diet.” Ageing Res Rev 35: 222-240.


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