This review article published in the November 2019 supplement of the Advances in Nutrition journal. The authors reviewed research to examine whether a more plant-centric diet prevents or delays cognitive decline in elderly adults. They concluded that “plant-based diets can ameliorate (Webster definition: to make better) cognitive decline,” but more research is required.
The aging population is expanding, as is the prevalence of age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). Of the several risk factors that predict the onset and progression of ARCD, 2 important modifiable risk factors are diet and physical activity. Dietary patterns that emphasize plant foods can exert neuroprotective effects. In this comprehensive review, we examine studies in humans of plant-based dietary patterns and polyphenol-rich plant foods and their role in either preventing ARCD and/or improving cognitive function. As yet, there is no direct evidence to support the benefits of a vegetarian diet in preventing cognitive decline. However, there is emerging evidence for brain-health–promoting effects of several plant foods rich in polyphenols, anti-inflammatory dietary patterns, and plant-based dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. The bioactive compounds present in these dietary patterns include antioxidant vitamins, polyphenols, other phytochemicals, and unsaturated fatty acids. In animal models these nutrients and non-nutrients have been shown to enhance neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and neuronal survival by reducing oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. In this review, we summarize the mounting evidence in favor of plant-centered dietary patterns, inclusive of polyphenol-rich foods for cognitive well-being. Randomized clinical trials support the role of plant foods (citrus fruits, grapes, berries, cocoa, nuts, green tea, and coffee) in improving specific domains of cognition, most notably frontal executive function. We also identify knowledge gaps and recommend future studies to identify whether plant-exclusive diets have an added cognitive advantage compared with plant-centered diets with fish and/or small amounts of animal foods.
Adv Nutr 2019;10:S422– S436.