Brain Aging May Be Accelerated By ‘Inflammatory’ Diet

The brain-healthy effects of a Mediterranean-type diet and similar dietary patterns may be due to nutrients that decrease inflammation in the brain and slow brain aging, suggests a new study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) researchers.

The findings, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, may explain why older people who consume this type of diet have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Several studies have shown that adhering more closely to a dietary pattern that emphasizes fish, poultry, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and moderate amounts of alcohol—versus red meat, high-fat dairy products, and saturated fats—has a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuropsychologist and epidemiologist Yian Gu, PhD.

In a recent study, Dr. Gu and colleagues at CUIMC found that increased levels of inflammatory biomarkers were associated with more brain atrophy.

“We wanted to learn about the underlying mechanism for these effects, so we investigated the possibility that the nutrients contained in these dietary patterns may prevent damaging inflammation in the brain, which may, in turn, protect against brain aging.”

In the current study, Dr. Gu and colleagues examined the relationship between frequent consumption of various nutrients and levels of two key inflammation markers (C-reactive protein and interleukin-6), neuron-rich gray matter volume, and cognitive performance in 330 elderly adults who did not have dementia.

They discovered that elderly adults who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folate, and vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, D, and E had lower levels of inflammatory markers, more gray matter, and better visuospatial cognition than those who consumed fewer of these nutrients. The study also suggested that having larger, better preserved brain gray matter might be one of the reasons why those who consume more of these nutrients have better cognition.

“This study suggests that certain nutrients may contribute to the previously observed health benefits of some foods, and anti-inflammation might be one of the mechanisms,” says Dr. Gu. “We hope to confirm these results in larger studies and with a wider range of inflammatory markers.”


The study is titled “An Inflammatory Nutrient Pattern Is Associated with Both Structural and Cognitive Measures of Brain Aging in the Elderly.” The authors are Yian Gu, Jennifer J. Manly, Richard P. Mayeux, and Adam M Brickman.

Dr. Gu is an assistant professor of neuropsychology (in neurology and the Taub Institute).

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (PO1AG007232, R01AG037212, and RF1AG054023), the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR001873), and the National Institutes of Health (AG04283 and AG034189).

The authors report no financial or other conflicts of interest.