Recently, scientists at MIT tested a specially-designed nutritional drink to see whether it could improve cognitive function in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. (Here’s an article in CNN on the subject.) The drink includes three key nutrients: uridine, choline (part of the vitamin B family) and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). These are nutrients that we already take in through food:
- Uridine is found in tomatoes, beer, and broccoli, among other foods
- Choline is found in egg yolks, soy, wheat germ, and meat (especially liver)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is especially found in fatty fish, such as salmon, anchovies, and sardines. Our bodies can also transform a more common omega-3 fatty acid, called ALA, into DHA.
The nutritional drink used in this study was, in some respects, medical in nature–its nutritional content is not something we are likely to replicate in everyday meals. Still, I think this research represents a step toward an exciting new approach to treating cognitive dysfunction. It moves the conversation one small step away from pharmaceuticals and toward a less invasive, more natural approach to preventing and treating cognitive problems.
I believe, as do many of us at Posit Science, that the best approach to lifelong brain health will not be limited to–or even dominated by–drugs. Carefully researched lifestyle changes–especially brain exercise, but also diet, physical exercise, social life, and other factors–will play a significant role.
This approach has the benefit of having few negative side effects, unlike many pharmaceuticals. And, as scientists teach us more about how to care for our brains, it gives us a greater say in brain health and fitness–our own, that of our children, and that of our parents. Much as we now know that we can take many steps in our individual lives to prevent and ameliorate serious health issues–from heart disease to diabetes–we’ll know what to do to foster a healthy, well-functioning brain from childhood through old age.