A new study has proposed that the monounsaturated fatty acids in avocado and nuts could boost intelligence. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids in the blood associated with greater general intelligence in older adults.
How can avocados and nuts boost intelligence?
Study leader Aron K. Barbey, a professor of psychology, and colleagues recently reported their effects in the journal Neuroimage. MUFAs are fat molecules existing in a variety of foods. Those foods include olive oil, avocados, canola oil, and a series of nuts and seeds.
MUFAs are measured healthy fats, as they can decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. They decrease it by helping to lower levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood.
MUFAs and the brain boost intelligence
For the new study, Prof. Barbey and colleagues set out to define whether or not the benefits of MUFAs might spread to the brain. “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,” says Prof. Barbey.
“This is important,” he goes on to explain, “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.”
The study included 99 healthy older adults. Blood samples were also taken from each participant and examined for a wide selection of nutrients. “Historically, the approach has been to focus on individual nutrients,” notes Barbey. “But we know that dietary intake doesn’t depend on any one specific nutrient; rather, it reflects broader dietary patterns.”
All subjects also experienced general intelligence testing and efficient MRI of the brain. This permitted the researchers to measure brain activity in definite networks.
Dorsal attention network and boost intelligence
The analysis shown that general intelligence was linked with a brain region called the dorsal attention network. It plays a major part in problem-solving and goal-directed attention. More precisely, the researchers found that a person’s general intelligence is inclined by the proficiency of small-world propensity. That is, how well the neural contacts within this network are organized.
Remarkably, the study results showed that adults who had higher MUFA levels in their blood validated greater small-world propensity in the dorsal attention network. And the team perceived a link between higher MUFA levels and greater general intelligence. Generally, the researchers believe that their findings advise that increasing consumption of MUFAs might be one way to boost cognition.
“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,” says Prof. Barbey. “Our ability to relate those beneficial cognitive effects to specific properties of brain networks is exciting,” he adds.
“This gives us evidence of the mechanisms by which nutrition affects intelligence. And it motivate us a promising new direction for future research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience says Aron K. Barbey.
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