Certain dietary risk factors for physical ill health are also risk factors for depression and cognitive impairment. Although cholesterol lowering has been suggested to increase vulnerability to depression, there is better support for an alternative hypothesis that intake of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can affect mood (and aggression). Possible mechanisms for such effects include modification of neuronal cell membrane fluidity and consequent impact on neurotransmitter function. Stronger evidence exists concerning a role for diet in influencing cognitive impairment and cognitive decline in older age, in particular through its impact on vascular disease. For example, cognitive impairment is associated with atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and findings from a broad range of studies show significant relationships between cognitive function and intakes of various nutrients, including long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, and folate and vitamin B12. Further support is provided by data on nutrient status and cognitive function. Almost all this evidence, however, comes from epidemiological and correlational studies. Given the problem of separating cause and effect from such evidence, and the fact that cognitive impairment and cognitive decline (and depression) are very likely to be significant factors contributing to the consumption of a poor diet, greater emphasis should now be placed on conducting intervention studies. An efficient approach to this problem could be to include assessments of mood and cognitive function as outcome measures in studies designed primarily to investigate the impact of dietary interventions on markers of physical health.
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