Ageing is a highly complex process marked by a succession of events that may lead to an altered brain function, including neurodegenerative diseases. To date, the precise cause of cognitive decline remains quite elusive. ILSI Europe's experts discussed nutritional interventions to prevent detrimental brain ageing as well as underlying biological mechanisms during a FENS satellite Workshop on 'Nutrition for the Ageing Brain' held in Copenhagen 30 June - 1 July.
Improvement of healthcare leads people to live longer and healthier lives. Ageing is a complex, multifactorial process and the underlying mechanisms still need to be fully elucidated. As people age, they become more susceptible to debilitating diseases, including dementia. Considering the limits of existing preventive methods, there is a desire to develop effective and safe strategies. An increase in preclinical and clinical research in healthy individuals or at the early stage of cognitive decline has shown how nutrition can have a beneficial impact on cognitive functions.
Several mechanisms underlie cognitive decline such as decreased neurogenesis, suboptimal usage of micronutrients or reduced gut microbiota diversity. Among those, several dietary parameters modulate cognition: omega-3 lipids influence brain development and may guard against mood disorders; consuming polyphenol-rich foods protects from age-related vascular disturbances, and administration of tyrosine to healthy aged individuals impacts cognitive performance. So do B-vitamins which maintain cognitive performance by preventing age-related brain atrophy.
To address the complexity of the ageing process, specific nutrient combinations are used to induce beneficial structural and functional brain changes, supporting the role of multi-nutrient intervention at early stages of age-related diseases. Moreover, a balanced nutrition in early life may decrease occurrence of neurodegenerative disorders later in life. Current efforts are now being made to identify new natural products with specific and targeted activities (e.g. protein clearance promotion or epigenetic changes) that reduce cognitive decline.
'Cognitive deficits begin in the 20s, occur in major aspects of function, are large in magnitude, and occur in all individuals. Evidence is accumulating that these cognitive declines can be attenuated by a wide variety of factors, ranging from improved nutrition, appropriate dietary supplementation through to increased physical and mental exercise' said Professor Keith Andrew Wesnes, speaker at the workshop.