Our Brains are what we eat - in a way

OHSU Brain Institute's Gene BowmanThat was the finding from a study led by OHSU’s Gene Bowman. And the results from the interesting and innovative study, published Dec. 28 in Neurology, have received a deluge of national and international media coverage.

The study found that elderly people with diets high in vitamins B, C, D, and E and in omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to have the brain shrinkage and other abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s disease than people whose diets aren't high in those nutrients.

People taking in the good nutrients also had higher scores on mental thinking tests than those with diets low in the good nutrients.
And, the study found, our bad eating catches up to us in other ways as well. It found that people with diets high in trans fats - often found in fast, frozen and processed foods and in baked goods - were more likely to have brain shrinkage and lower scores on thinking and memory tests.

The study generated huge interest not only for its basic findings but also for how the study was conducted. Previous studies have relied on the study participants to recall foods eaten over the last year. But the OHSU study measured the nutrients in study participants' blood as an objective reflection of dietary intake. The study also identified nutrient combinations that may have synergistic effects on brain health.

The average age of study participants was 87.

The study received extensive coverage by national and international media. The New York Times, the BBC, Time magazine, USA Today, the online Huffington Post and hundreds of other outlets covered the story.

Bowman is naturopathic doctor, an assistant professor of neurology and part of OHSU’s Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center, with is part of the OHSU Brain Institute. OHSU co-authors in the study included Joseph Quinn, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurology and Jackilen Shannon, Ph.D., R.D., M.P.H., an associate professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Portland VA Medical Center.