Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain

Neuroimage. 2019 Mar;188:239-251. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.12.007. Epub 2018 Dec 7.


A central aim of research in the psychological and brain sciences is to establish therapeutic interventions to promote healthy brain aging. Accumulating evidence indicates that diet and the many bioactive substances present in food are reasonable interventions to examine for dementia prevention. However, interdisciplinary research that applies methods from nutritional epidemiology and network neuroscience to investigate the role of nutrition in shaping functional brain network efficiency remains to be conducted. The present study therefore sought to combine methods across disciplines, applying nutrient biomarker pattern (NBP) analysis to capture the effects of plasma nutrients in combination and to examine their collective influence on measures of functional brain network efficiency (small-world propensity). We examined the contribution of NBPs to multiple indices of cognition and brain health in non-demented elders (n = 116), investigating performance on measures of general intelligence, executive function, and memory, and resting-state fMRI measures of brain network efficiency within seven intrinsic connectivity networks. Statistical moderation investigated whether NBPs influenced network efficiency and cognitive outcomes. The results revealed five NBPs that were associated with enhanced cognitive performance, including biomarker patterns high in plasma: (1) ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), (2) lycopene, (3) ω-3 PUFAs, (4) carotenoids, and (5) vitamins B (riboflavin, folate, B12) and D. Furthermore, three NBPs were associated with enhanced functional brain network efficiency, including biomarker patterns high in plasma: (1) ω-6 PUFAs, (2) ω-3 PUFAs, and (3) carotene. Finally, ω-3 PUFAs moderated the fronto-parietal network and general intelligence, while ω-6 PUFAs and lycopene moderated the dorsal attention network and executive function. In sum, NBPs account for a significant proportion of variance in measures of cognitive performance and functional brain network efficiency. The results motivate a multidisciplinary approach that applies methods from nutritional epidemiology (NBP analysis) and cognitive neuroscience (functional brain network efficiency) to characterize the impact of nutrition on human health, aging, and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / blood
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Carotenoids / blood
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Connectome*
  • Diet*
  • Elder Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Lycopene / blood
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Vitamin B Complex / blood
  • Vitamin D / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Vitamin D
  • Carotenoids
  • Lycopene