Multi-nutrient interventions and cognitive ageing: are we barking up the right tree?

As we continue to elucidate the mechanisms underlying age-related brain diseases, the reductionist strategy in nutrition–brain function research has focused on establishing the impact of individual foods. However, the biological processes connecting diet and cognition are complex. Therefore, consideration of a combination of nutritional compounds may be most efficacious. One barrier to establishing the efficacy of multi-nutrient interventions is that the area lacks an established set of evidence-based guidelines for studying their effect on brain health. This review is an output of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Europe. A multi-disciplinary expert group was assembled with the aim of developing a set of considerations to guide research into the effects of multi-nutrient combinations on brain functions. Consensus recommendations converged on six key issues that should be considered to advance research in this area: (1) establish working mechanisms of the combination and contributions of each individual compound; (2) validate the relevance of the mechanisms for the targeted human condition; (3) include current nutrient status, intake or dietary pattern as inclusion/exclusion criteria in the study design; (4) select a participant population that is clinically and biologically appropriate for all nutritional components of the combination; (5) consider a range of cognitive outcomes; (6) consider the limits of reductionism and the ‘gold standard’ randomised controlled trial. These guiding principles will enhance our understanding of the interactive/complementary activities of dietary components, thereby strengthening the evidence base for recommendations aimed at delaying cognitive decline.

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