Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

A meeting of the Nutrition Society hosted by the Irish Section jointly with the American Society for Nutrition, University College Cork, Republic of Ireland.15–17 June 2011,

70th Anniversary Conference on ‘Vitamins in early development and healthy aging: impact on infectious and chronic disease’

Symposium 1: Vitamins and cognitive development and performance

Nutritional determinants of cognitive aging and dementia

Martha C. Morrisa1 c1

a1 Rush University Medical Center, 1725 W Harrison, Suite 206, Chicago, IL 60612, USA


The objective of this review is to provide an overview of nutritional factors involved in cognitive aging and dementia with a focus on nutrients that are also important in neurocognitive development. Several dietary components were targeted, including antioxidant nutrients, dietary fats and B-vitamins. A critical review of the literature on each nutrient group is presented, beginning with laboratory and animal studies of the underlying biological mechanisms, followed by prospective epidemiological studies and randomised clinical trials. The evidence to date is fairly strong for protective associations of vitamin E from food sources, the n-3 fatty acid, DHA, found in fish, a high ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats, and vitamin B12 and folate. Attention to the level of nutrient intake is crucial for interpreting the literature and the inconsistencies across studies. Most of the epidemiological studies that observe associations have sufficient numbers of individuals who have both low and adequate nutrient status. Few of the randomised clinical trials are designed to target participants who have low baseline status before randomising to vitamin supplement treatments, and this may have resulted in negative findings. Post-hoc analyses by some of the trials reveal vitamin effects in individuals with low baseline intakes. The field of diet and dementia is a relatively young area of study. Much further work needs to be done to understand dietary determinants of cognitive aging and diseases. Further, these studies must be particularly focused on the levels of nutrient intake or status that confer optimum or suboptimal brain functioning.

(Online publication November 09 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Martha Clare Morris, fax +1 708 660 2104, email