On Diet and the Brain: from mice to men

Amanda Kiliaan – Department of Anatomy/Cognitive Neurosciences, Radboud University

Although food has classically been perceived as provider of energy and building material to the body, its ability to prevent and protect against diseases is starting to be recognized. Already 30 y ago pioneering studies on Greenland Eskimos indicated that intake of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA) from fish has protective effects against cardiovascular diseases. Also the Mediterranean diet containing n-3 LCPUFA as important component has been shown in several prospective world-wide studies to be inversely associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and to be a strong protective factor against hypertension, obesity, and Alzheimer disease. The important role of diets and healthy lifestyle as preventative of vascular diseases is therefore widely accepted. Dietary lipids, which originally were thought to affect the brain through their effects on cardiovascular physiology, are also starting to be recognized for their direct actions on the brain like on synaptic function and plasticity and cognitive processes. The other way around, diets that are high in saturated fat are becoming notorious for reducing molecular substrates that support cognitive processing and increasing the risk of neurological dysfunction in both humans and animals. Also several other dietary components have been recognized for their effects on cognitive abilities. Dietary factors can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, membrane fluidity and signal-transduction pathways. Based on previously published data, and also on our new preliminary data in mice models for Alzheimer, treatment with dietary supplementation comprising the nutritional precursors and cofactors for membrane synthesis, viz. DHA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), UMP, choline, phospholipids, folic acid, vitamins B6, B12, C, E, and selenium promotes neuroprotection by decreasing inflammation, restoring cerebral blood flow and volume, and inhibiting neurodegeneration, enhancing neural plasticity by increasing neurogenesis In this talk the capacity of nutrients to affect brain function and structure in both mice and men will be reviewed.

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