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Vitamins may have larger role in halting brain decline: Review

The brain has a high metabolic rate; therefore, oxidative stress and inflammation are common in ageing neural tissue. ©iStock/Attila Barabas

The role for folate and related B vitamins in slowing down the decline in brain function is very much underestimated as is their role in age-related depression, a review claims.

Findings point towards members of the B vitamin family as equally efficacious as specific nutrients, including omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols.

The team believe that together these nutrients may form effective nutrition strategies that could reduce the risk of cognitive and mental disorders and improve quality of life for the elderly.

An estimated 46.8 million people are living with dementia worldwide with this figure predicted to double in the next 20 years.

In addition, depression is a leading cause of disability, currently costing approximately £7.5 billion annually in England alone with an increase predicted by 67% by 2026.

The role of nutrients is often underestimated but never fully discounted as studies have shown much inconsistency in vitamin intake in promoting better brain health.

Trial differences

The review, carried out by Ulster University in the UK, concluded that folate and vitamin B12 may have roles in the longer term management of this condition.

“If the findings of studies described in this review, which show promise in relation to B vitamins, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, are confirmed, a public health strategy to improve status of these key nutrients may help to achieve better cognitive and mental health in ageing.”

The team identified the inconsistencies of vitamin experiments as possibly stemming from uncertain methodology and study design.

“It is clear that further well-designed RCTs are needed, especially those targeting participants with low B vitamin status as they are likely to benefit the most from increasing B vitamin concentrations to achieve better cognitive health in ageing,” the study said.

The role of B vitamins in depressive disorders has not received as much interest as in cognitive function, said the study authors as they also cited methodological differences among studies for varying results.

The team recommended that future studies incorporating imaging techniques would offer a robust basis for confirming effective nutrition interventions.

This could reduce the risk of cognitive and mental decline in ageing and the related burden on health services.

Source: Nutrition Bulletin

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12250

“Current evidence linking nutrition with brain health in ageing”

Authors: K. Moore, M. O'Shea, C. F. Hughes, L. Hoey, M. Ward, H. McNulty

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