The rise of the elderly population due to demographic change and the resulting impact on health cannot be overlooked. Technological and systemic innovation together can improve the quality of life of elderly people and create new opportunities for scientific research. This has brought about an increased focus on nutrition and its relationship with neurogenesis, cognitive maintenance and understanding of cognitive decline.
In this increasingly important field, the Nutrition and Mental Performance Task Force aims to contribute to drive scientific knowledge on the effects of diet and food components on mental performance. Further, the work of the task force will increase awareness of the importance of nutrition for brain functions across the lifespan. The task force is primarily focusing on the global healthy ageing part of the population as well as the onset of mental decline and its roots.
- Since its formation in 2004, the task force has produced 11 peer-reviewed papers. Publications focus on methodology and assessment, as well as different population groups from children to the elderly.
- The task force has laid the groundwork for researchers interested in the brain effects of food and nutrients and has disseminated globally the possibilities offered by emerging technologies, such as brain imaging, to indicate early effects of nutrition (S.V. Sizonenko et al., 2013)
- The task force is organising a series of workshops on ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain’ to increase awareness of the relevance of nutrition in healthy brain ageing. The 1st workshop on ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain’ was held in Milan, Italy, July 2014 and attracted 90 people. Based on its success, the task force organised a 2nd workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark, 30 June – 1 July 2016, and a 3rd one will be held in 2018.
- The proceedings of the 1st workshop on ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain: Towards Evidence for an Optimal Diet’ held in July 2014 in Milan, Italy, have been published in Ageing Research Reviews in October 2016 (D. Vauzour et al., 2016).
- New Publication on ‘Examining Techniques for Measuring the Effects of Nutrients on Subjective Mental Performance and Mood State’ (M. Hamer et al., 2016).
- The task force has submitted a new activity proposal on ‘Implications of Nutrient Interactions for Research Design: Guiding Principles for Studying Effects of Multi-Nutrient Combinations on Brain Functions’. The aim would be to increase understanding and raise awareness of the interactions of nutrients on brain functions, and to generate consensus on how these should help guide research. Further, it should identify what consequences this might have for nutrient / nutritional research approaches (as opposed to pharma research), e.g. on the type of evidence needed for effects of individual nutrients or combinations of nutrients, meals or complex nutritional products.
A Review of Plant-Based Ingredients and their Cognitive Benefits with a Focus on Their Likely Mechanisms of Action
There is increasing interest in plant-based ingredients that may improve cognitive performance and prevent or reverse cognitive function decline during adulthood. Despite several reviews in this area which focus on specific compounds and / or ingredients, a collective review of these ingredients and their mechanisms of action is missing. Furthermore, there is a lack of consideration of combinations of ingredients / compounds (in the context of a normal diet) and their potential additive, synergistic or antagonistic effects on cognitive function. The objective of this activity will thus be to produce such a review.
This activity has brought together a group of experts to summarise and evaluate the current literature relating to plant-based ingredients, their constituents and cognitive performance; to consider combinations of ingredients / compounds (in the context of a normal diet) and their potential synergies; and to provide an in-depth focus on their proposed mechanisms of action in a systematic review. Furthermore, they will critically evaluate the findings in an attempt to provide guidance on the most effective ingredients and combinations thereof.
The review will provide guidance on the ingredients upon which future research activities should focus as well as limitations of existing research to help identify the knowledge gaps that need to be addressed. Conclusions of this activity will also be very useful for a further activity which could address the inconsistencies in existing studies to provide a guidance document for future studies in this area.
Series of Workshops ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain’
Up to now no major health organisation has given preventive dietary recommendations for preserving brain health and cognition. Further, it has not been stated definitively that specific nutrients help maintain brain function during ageing. The task force embarked on this project to review the evidence supporting how nutrients, food and diet influence brain health by organising a series of workshops on this topic. These workshops are organised on a two-year basis and attract high-level experts from different countries including industry representatives, renowned scientists from major universities and institutes, as well as key stakeholders such as the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (EC JRC) and representatives of the Joint Programming Initiative ‘A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life’ (JPI HDHL).
The 1st workshop on ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain: Towards Evidence for an Optimal Diet’ was held in June 2014 and aimed to define mechanisms and timeframes of brain ageing and identify when neuroprotection via nutrition can begin. The resulting publication ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain: Towards Evidence for an Optimal Diet’ was published in Ageing Research Reviews in October 2016 (D. Vauzour et al., 2016).
A 2nd follow-up workshop was organised in June 2016 focusing on recent findings and new developments. Special attention was paid to functional aspects and strategies.
The task force is currently working on the 3rd workshop to be held in September 2018 that will consider clinical, metabolic and physiological aspects.
Nutrition for the Ageing Brain: Functional Aspects and Strategies 30 June – 1st July 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark
Ageing is a highly complex process marked by sequential events that promote alterations in the normal functioning of individuals over time and that include many common chronic neurodegenerative diseases. The precise cause of the neuronal degeneration underlying these disorders, and indeed normal brain ageing, remain elusive. So far, the majority of existing drug treatments for neurodegenerative disorders are unable to prevent the underlying degeneration of neurons.
Consequently, there is a desire to address these challenges by developing alternative strategies to prevent the detrimental effects of brain ageing, such as the use of nutritional interventions.
Despite a wealth of data on how nutrients and diets may support cognitive function and preserve brain health, the biological mechanisms underlying this relationship remain largely unknown.
The workshop took place on 30 June – 1 July 2016 as a satellite event to the Federation of European Neurosciences meeting (FENS Forum 2016) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The purpose of the workshop was to convene experts to discuss and debate the potential for maintaining cognitive function via diet. This workshop specifically focused on functional aspects and strategies.
Five themes were addressed during this event:
- Mechanisms of ageing and impact of nutrients;
- New avenues in cognitive ageing and nutrition;
- Challenges in investigating the role of nutrition on cognitive performance;
- Multi-component and multi-domain interventions;
- Relevance to public health.
The main conclusion of the workshop was that several mechanisms underline the ageing process including several dietary parameters. Complexity of the ageing process needs to be addressed, either by multi-nutrient combinations or by identifying new products or molecules with targeted biological activities.
The five main themes addressed and the related discussions are being summarised for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
A Review of Plant-Based Ingredients and their Cognitive Benefits with a Focus on their Likely Mechanisms of Action
2nd Workshop Organising Committee – ‘Nutrition for the Ageing Brain: Functional Aspects and Strategies’, 30 June – 1st July 2016, Copenhagen (DK)
*Former ILSI Europe staff
Ageing Research Reviews; 2016. Commissioned by the Nutrition and Mental Performance Task Force.
European Journal of Nutrition (2016). Published Online. Commissioned by the Nutrition and Mental Performance Task Force.
Nutrition Reviews. 2014;72:162-179. Commissioned by the Nutrition and Mental Performance Task Force.
British Journal of Nutrition. 2013;110(Suppl.1)S1-S30. Commissioned by the Nutrition and Mental Performance Task Force.
Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(Suppl 1):S1-S58.