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Cognitive tests used in chronic adult human randomised controlled trial micronutrient and phytochemical intervention studies

  • Anna L. Macready (a1), Laurie T. Butler (a1), Orla B. Kennedy (a2), Judi A. Ellis (a1), Claire M. Williams (a1) and Jeremy P. E. Spencer (a2)...


In recent years there has been a rapid growth of interest in exploring the relationship between nutritional therapies and the maintenance of cognitive function in adulthood. Emerging evidence reveals an increasingly complex picture with respect to the benefits of various food constituents on learning, memory and psychomotor function in adults. However, to date, there has been little consensus in human studies on the range of cognitive domains to be tested or the particular tests to be employed. To illustrate the potential difficulties that this poses, we conducted a systematic review of existing human adult randomised controlled trial (RCT) studies that have investigated the effects of 24 d to 36 months of supplementation with flavonoids and micronutrients on cognitive performance. There were thirty-nine studies employing a total of 121 different cognitive tasks that met the criteria for inclusion. Results showed that less than half of these studies reported positive effects of treatment, with some important cognitive domains either under-represented or not explored at all. Although there was some evidence of sensitivity to nutritional supplementation in a number of domains (for example, executive function, spatial working memory), interpretation is currently difficult given the prevailing ‘scattergun approach’ for selecting cognitive tests. Specifically, the practice means that it is often difficult to distinguish between a boundary condition for a particular nutrient and a lack of task sensitivity. We argue that for significant future progress to be made, researchers need to pay much closer attention to existing human RCT and animal data, as well as to more basic issues surrounding task sensitivity, statistical power and type I error.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Dr Laurie T. Butler, fax +44 118 9316715, email


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Nutrition Research Reviews
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