Cognitive Function: Criteria for Validation and Selection of Cognitive Tests for Investigating the Effects of Foods and Nutrients

Nutrition Reviews. 2014;72:162-179

There is increasing interest in the effects of nutrition on cognitive function. Experts in cognitive and nutrition sciences published guidelines for choosing the most suitable tests for measuring cognitive function in nutritional intervention studies.

There is increasing academic and commercial interest in the effects of particular foods and/or nutrients on cognitive function. This interest comes from the desire to understand how cognitive performance may be influenced by nutrition during the life course, from early neuro-development to age-associated cognitive decline due to neurodegeneration, as well as from an interest in “optimising” cognitive performance. A first step in determining if and how foods/nutrients may exert a significant influence on cognition is to have a battery of tests that can be used in experimental trials as valid surrogates or markers of the neural and metabolic processes underlying cognitive performance. Crucially, tests chosen to measure cognitive function should have the support of a consensus within the scientific community that supports their use in evidence for consideration of nutritional benefit claims by expert panels such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

ILSI Europe recently published guidelines on methodologies for long-term nutritional intervention studies on cognition. However, it was decided that a more in-depth survey of cognitive domains and criteria for the choice of the most suitable tests for these types of trials was still needed. In this report, guidelines for nutritional intervention studies relating to effects on brain function as measured by cognitive performance are provided. Recommendations show how the essential criteria for validation can be applied in assessing cognitive tests to select the most suitable ones for a proposed nutritional intervention study. Cognitive tests used in a range of nutrient intervention trials to show frequency of use and outcome are also summarised by domain. The material in this review serves as a background and guidance document for nutritionists, neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists interested in assessing mental health in terms of cognitive test performance and for scientists wishing to test the effects of food or food components on cognitive function.

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