A recent study reports that specific patterns of eating may actually affect the structure of your brain.
Both depression and cognitive health have been associated with diet quality. Animal studies have demonstrated a role for the hippocampus in this effect. A recent study published in BMC Medicine has investigated the association between diet and hippocampal volume.
The study involved 255 individuals aged between 60 and 64 years of age who, in addition to completing questionnaires regarding their diet, also had two MRI scans for the study. The researchers found that healthy diet patterns were associated with increased hippocampal volume. Conversely, diets that were considered unhealthy, conforming to typical ‘Western’ patterns of eating, were associated with reductions in hippocampal volume. The results were unchanged when adjusting for other factors such as age, gender, education, mental health symptoms, medication, physical activity, smoking, hypertension, or diabetes.
The researchers concluded that both reduced consumption of nutrient-dense, healthy foods and increased consumption of unhealthy foods are associated with smaller hippocampus. While a growing body of clinical studies have now linked eating patterns with illnesses of the brain (including depression and dementia), this is the first study to demonstrate actual changes to brain structure associated with dietary patterns.
Jacka, FN, Cherbuin, N, Anstey, KJ, Sachdev, P, Butterworth, P “Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation” BMC Medicine 2015, 13:215
Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD