About New Brain Nutrition
New Brain Nutrition is an €11.1M project funded by the European Union and coordinated by Dr. Alejandro Arias-Vásquez from the Radboudumc hospital in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The project started on September 1st, 2017 and has 20 partners all over Europe. New Brain Nutrition will investigate which and how dietary components (for example sugar, fat, protein content, vitamin and mineral supplementation, probiotics) and lifestyle factors (including exercise) influence our overall health, brain function, and behavior. New Brain Nutrition then wants to translate its scientific results into real-life food solutions to help society, at multiple levels: the general public, Patients and their families, clinicians, and policy makers.
How do nutrition and lifestyle influence behavior?
We all know the old saying: “We are what we eat”. For example, we know there are “good” and “bad” foods that act on the risk of being obese, having diabetes, or suffering from cardiovascular disease, and medical science knows quite a lot about how this works.
What if we told you that what we eat can also affect the way the brain works? Here, however we are not so sure how it works. What we know is that there is convincing evidence of a sizeable impact – both harmful and protective – of nutrition components on behaviors such as impulsivity and compulsivity. It is not yet clear if specific (but common) nutrition interventions designed to reduce threats to individuals and society actually do work. More importantly, we don’t really know how big the impact (effect size) of these non-pharmacological interventions will be, which raises questions such as: can we improve our overall brain functioning by improving our diet and lifestyle? Or, can we replace medication used for treating psychiatric disease with specific diets? Or, shall we complement pharmacological treatment with specific diets to improve behavior?
We also need to ask how all this works at the brain level?
The answers to these questions are very important as they could have huge implications in the way we deal with our overall health, and more specific behavioral problems associated with psychiatric diseases, starting a revolution in the type of food we eat.
This is the reason we started the New Brain Nutrition project.
New Brain Nutrition is using information on diet and behavior from large population registries from countries like Sweden, Norway and the UK (with anonymous information on millions of people) to identify dietary components related tomental health and brain function. New Brain Nutrition is also carrying out four clinical trials in order to determine the ability of key nutritional interventions (in different age groups) to reduce impulsivity and compulsivity in extremely impulsive males and females, recruited from psychiatric clinics (patients suffering from different disorders) as well as from non-clinical settings: Restriction elimination diet (in children 5-12y); broad-spectrum nutrient supplementation (in adolescents and young adults 12-21y); probiotics supplementation (in adults 18-65y); the Mediterranean diet (in adults and elderly 55-75y). These all will result in a new set of never-before-known facts about the connections between mental health, nutrition and lifestyle.
New Brain Nutrition also wants to be able to describe the paths from the gut to the brain known as “the gut-brain axis” (and answer the question: how does it work?).
The gut and the brain are connected and “speak” to each other in a bidirectional communication that includes information on everything from infections and nausea, to mood and stress. This bidirectional link is known as the “Gut-Brain” axis. Recently, the bacteria that lives in our gut (known as the gut microbiota) have been identified as potentially important mechanistic contributors to the “Gut-Brain” axis and behavior and mental health and disorders.
This is relevant for two reasons:
- the gut microbiota produces substances such as essential amino acids (that we cannot produce in the lab), and these substances could have a direct impact on our brains and
- the structure and function of our gut-microbiota depends on the food we eat.
This means that if we can identify and modify the strucutre of our gut microbiota (via our diet), we could, in principle, modify (ever slightly) the way our brains work.
New Brain Nutrition will create new evidence-based approaches for making recommendations about nutrition and its links to changing behavior.
An important innovative aspect of New Brain Nutrition is the direct involvement of celebrity chef Sebastian Lege (www.sebastianlege.de ), who will translate our project’s scientific findings into food solutions for for mental health. He will generate recipes and cooking-lessons free for all, and translated into multiple European languages that everyone can use at home.
Esentially, New Brain Nutrition will link, for the first time, the effects of diet on microbiota diversity and effects on human behavior. This will help us identify individuals with particular sensitivities to specific dietary components, who will now benefit from diet-based (non-pharmacological) interventions.
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