Eat Smart: Avocados, Nuts and Olive Oil Linked to Higher Intelligence
While good nutrition is associated with better cognition, scientists haven’t identified the all the specific factors that are responsible for the apparent benefit.
A new study at the University of Illinois has unlocked more of the mystery — it found that monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are present in avocados, nuts and olive oil, are linked to general intelligence. The effect MUFAs have on the organization of the brain’s attention network was determined to be the driving force behind the link.
Researchers Explore Effect of Fatty Acids on Brain
In the study published in the journal NeuroImage, 99 older adults were recruited through the Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, IL. Fatty acid levels in their blood samples were compared to results of a general intelligence test, as well as MRI data that assessed the efficiency of their brain networks.
“Our goal is to understand how nutrition might be used to support cognitive performance and to study the ways in which nutrition may influence the functional organization of the human brain,” said study leader Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology. “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.”
Because earlier studies indicate consumption of the MUFA-rich Mediterranean diet has cognitive benefits, the researchers were inspired to focus on this type of healthy fat. After examining the participants’ blood samples, they found fatty acids grouped into two patterns: MUFAs and saturated fatty acids.
“Historically, the approach has been to focus on individual nutrients. But we know that dietary intake doesn’t depend on any one specific nutrient; rather, it reflects broader dietary patterns,” said Barbey, who also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.
How MUFAs Boost Cognition
The results showed an association between general intelligence and the brain’s dorsal attention network, which has a pivotal role in performing attention-demanding tasks and solving everyday problems. Moreover, general intelligence was tied to how well this particular network was functionally organized within the brain. The efficiency of the functional organization of the network was evaluated through assessing small world propensity, which is a measure of the degree of connectivity to nearby brain regions, as well as to globally integrated systems in the brain.
An analysis of the findings revealed the participants with higher levels of MUFAs had better small world propensity in their dorsal attention network. In addition, increased MUFAs were linked to higher general intelligence. Taken together, the two correlations suggest a means by which MUFAs influence cognition.
“Our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentionan network, and how optimal this network is functionally organized,” Barbey said. “Our results suggest that if we want to understand the relationship between MUFAs and general intelligence, we need to take the dorsal attention network into account. It’s part of the underlying mechanism that contributes to their relationship.”
Avocados, nuts and olive oil are all part of the Mediterranean diet, which research associates with protection from dementia. The new study shows one reason why the eating plan is beneficial for brain health. However, it’s best to eat nuts raw and unsalted, and to choose the extra virgin variety of olive oil.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.