How Diet Impacts Brain Volume

Healthy FoodsThe quality of one’s diet is often associated with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and both diet quality and mental wellbeing can impact cognitive health. Researchers from Deakin University and the Australian National University have recently found a correlation between diet quality and brain volume, specifically the volume of the hippocampal brain region, an area believed to be involved in learning, memory and mental health.

Data was drawn from the Personality and Total Health Through Life Study, a large, on-going project that is tracking environmental factors, mental health and the cognitive abilities of over 7,500 people. A subset of 255 people was used, consisting of adults between 60 to 64 years old. Data from the participants started in 2001 and included a food frequency questionnaire and two magnetic resonance imaging scans taken four years apart.

Based on this data, the research team looked for a correlation between diet quality and hippocampal volume. They found that for every one standard deviation increase in a healthy diet, there was a 45.7 mm3 increase in the left hippocampus. Individuals who consumed an unhealthier, “Western” diet had a correlated 52.6 mm3 decrease in left hippocampal volume. There was no relationship found between diet quality and right hippocampal volume.

The hippocampal region plays an important role in the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories and is involved in spatial navigation skills. The hippocampus is also associated with mood regulation and is specifically implicated in depression. This is one of the first regions to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s disease. These findings suggest that lower consumption of nutrient-rich foods and higher consumption of unhealthy foods both contribute independently to decreased hippocampal volume, which could affect memory and spatial navigation skills over time.

This study emphasizes the importance of a healthy, varied diet and how it could have implications on mental wellbeing and brain health. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ recommends a Mediterranean diet for optimal cardiovascular and brain health. A Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, unrefined grains and fish along with a moderate consumption of wine. Incorporate a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your diet and limit sugary, processed foods for a healthier lifestyle approach.