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A recent review, carried out by researchers at Ulster University has found that B vitamins and folate may be as effective as omega 3s and polyphenols in slowing down age-related cognitive decline and reducing depression risk in the elderly. 

An estimated 46.8 million people are living with dementia worldwide – and this figure is expected to double in the next 20 years. Depression is also a leading cause of disability. There is clearly an urgent need to identify practical dietary and lifestyle factors that could be easily targeted and have the potential to promote better brain health in ageing.

Researchers found that whilst evidence from randomised controlled trials is inconsistent on the whole, the evidence for folate and vitamin B12 is more robust and supports their potential use in the longer term management of age related cognitive decline and depression in the elderly.

“If the findings of studies described in this review, which show promise in relation to B vitamins, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, are confirmed, a public health strategy to improve status of these key nutrients may help to achieve better cognitive and mental health in ageing.”

The team of researchers identified that these inconsistencies may have arisen from uncertain methodology and study design and have called for further research to be carried out in this area.

“It is clear that further well-designed RCTs are needed, especially those targeting participants with low B vitamin status as they are likely to benefit the most from increasing B vitamin concentrations to achieve better cognitive health in ageing.”

Effective nutrition strategies that could reduce the risk of cognitive and mental disorders and improve quality of life in our ageing population are urgently needed. This review highlights the crucial role that B vitamins, folate, omega 3s and polyphenols have to play in significantly reducing the burden of declining cognitive function and improving quality of life right through into old age.

Moore K, O’Shea M, Hughes, CF et al. Current evidence linking nutrition with brain health in ageing.  Nutrition Bulletin.  Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12250

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