12 January - 20 June 2016

Monounsaturated fatty acids linked to intelligence and organisation of the brain's attention network

Previous research has indicated that consumption of a Mediterranean diet may benefit cognitive performance as well as brain structure and function. A study by researchers from University of Illinois and published in the journal Neuroimage has found that consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, thought to be a “driving factor of the metabolic benefits of the Mediterranean diet”, is linked to cognition and brain health.

Previous research has indicated that consumption of a Mediterranean diet may benefit cognitive performance as well as brain structure and function.  A study by researchers from University of Illinois and published in the journal Neuroimage has found that consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, thought to be a "driving factor of the metabolic benefits of the Mediterranean diet", is linked to cognition and brain health. 

The study by Barbey et al. explored how nutrient profiles of monounsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids impact the brain’s intrinsic connectivity networks that support general intelligence and cognition in 99 healthy participants with an average age of 69 years. 

The participants underwent a series of neuropsychology tests to measure general intelligence. Intelligence was estimated after the participants completed four subtests: a block design subtest, a matrix reasoning subtest, a vocabulary subtest and a similarities subtest. Using principal component analysis, the scientists identified nutrient biomarker patterns (NBP) in the participant’s blood.  MRI scans were used to measure the architecture of seven intrinsic connectivity networks in the participant’s brain. 

Using mediation analysis, Barbey et al. investigated the relationship between fatty acids present in the blood, general intelligence and the intrinsic connectivity networks.  The scientists report that the fatty acids clustered into two patterns: saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.  The authors state that usually research would focus on one nutrient, however they state that "dietary intake doesn’t depend on any one specific nutrient; rather, it reflects broader dietary patterns." General intelligence was found to be associated with the brain’s dorsal attention network, thought to play a central role in attention-demanding tasks and everyday problem-solving. By analysing small world propensity, a measure of how the regions of the brain are connected to each other, they found that those with higher levels of MUFAs in their blood had greater small world propensity in their dorsal attention network.  

They state that "our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentional network and how optimal this network is functionally organised."  They continue by stating their findings may pave the way for possible future intervention studies using MUFAs saying "This is important because if we want to develop nutritional interventions that are effective at enhancing cognitive performance we need to understand the ways that these nutrients influence brain function." Future long term studies need to examine whether long term MUFA intake influences brain network organisation and intelligence.

RSSL's Lipids Laboratory has expertise in all aspects of fat analysis and fatty acid profiling.  To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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