Nutrients and Foods Associated with Cognitive Function

Speaker: K. L. Tucker, Presented at: 2015 The New York Academy of Sciences


With population aging, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease represent critical health concerns. Accumulating data support an important role for nutrition in the prevention or slowing of cognitive decline. Many studies have shown protective roles for B vitamins, including vitamins B12, B6 and folate, both through their effect on homocysteine concentration, and independently. Recently, vitamin D status, which is currently insufficient in large proportions of the population, also has been shown to be important. In addition, there is evidence for omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain cell membranes as well as for protection against inflammation and thrombosis. In all of these cases, there is evidence that effects may depend on genetic predisposition. Although individual nutrients have been most studied, increasing evidence points not only to the major vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, but also to phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, in the diet. This moves the conversation from nutrient supplements to foods as protective against cognitive decline. Recent evidence supports the role of fruit and vegetables, particularly variety in fruit and vegetable intake as protective. Studies have also shown protective effects of cocoa and berry intakes, likely due to their polyphenol content. Nuts have also been shown to be protective due to their content of several protective nutrients. While more research is needed on individual nutrients and foods that protect cognitive function, the realization that multiple measures of diet quality relate to this outcome has moved the field to consider the total dietary pattern, which is the topic of the following presentation.