Research shows ‘profound’ link between dietary choices and brain health

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A recent study published in Natural mental health shows that a healthy, balanced diet is linked to better brain health, cognitive function and mental well-being. The study, involving researchers from the University of Warwick, sheds light on how our food preferences influence not only physical health, but also brain health.

The food choices of a large sample of 181,990 UK Biobank participants were analyzed against a range of physical assessments, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging and genetics, revealing thus providing new information on the relationship between nutrition and general well-being. be.

Each participant’s food preferences were collected via an online questionnaire, which the team categorized into 10 groups (such as alcohol, fruits and meats). A type of AI called machine learning helped researchers analyze the vast data set.

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

The study also highlighted the need for gradual diet changes, especially for people accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods. By gradually reducing their sugar and fat intake over time, individuals can naturally shift toward healthier food choices.

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

Lead author Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick, highlighted 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 promote the development of a healthy and balanced diet, families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports their physical development and mental health.”

Addressing the broader implications of the research, Professor Feng highlighted the role of public policy in promoting accessible and affordable healthy food options.

“Given that food choices can be influenced by socio-economic status, it is crucial to ensure that this does not prevent individuals from adopting a healthy and balanced dietary profile,” he said.

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

Co-author Wei Cheng, from Fudan University, added: “Our findings highlight the associations between dietary habits and brain health, calling for concerted efforts to promote nutritional awareness and foster healthier eating habits. within diverse populations. »

Dr Richard Pemberton, certified lifestyle physician and GP at Hexagon Health, who was not involved in the study, commented: “This exciting research further demonstrates that poor diet has a negative impact not only on our physical health, but also on our mental and cerebral health. The study supports the need for urgent government action to optimize the health of our children, protecting future generations. We also hope that this will provide additional evidence to motivate us all to make better lifestyle choices, improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.

More information:
Ruohan Zhang et al, Associations of dietary habits with brain health from behavioral, neuroimaging, biochemical and genetic analyses, Natural mental health (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s44220-024-00226-0

Journal information:
Natural mental health

News Source :
Gn Health

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