Diet patterns and cognitive performance in a UK female twin registry (TwinsUK)

Claire T. McEvoy*, Amy Jennings, Claire J. Steves, Alexander Macgregor, Tim Spector, Aedin Cassidy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Plant-based diets may provide protection against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, but observational data have not been consistent. Previous studies include early life confounding from socioeconomic conditions and genetics that are known to influence both cognitive performance and diet behaviour. This study investigated associations between Mediterranean (MED) diet and MIND diets and cognitive performance accounting for shared genotype and early-life environmental exposures in female twins.

Diet scores were examined in 509 female twins enrolled in TwinsUK study. The Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery was used to assess cognition at baseline and 10 years later (in n = 275). A co-twin case–control study for discordant monozygotic (MZ) twins examined effects of diet on cognitive performance independent of genetic factors. Differences in relative abundance of taxa at 10-year follow-up were explored in subsamples.

Each 1-point increase in MIND or MED diet score was associated with 1.75 (95% CI: − 2.96, − 0.54, p = 0.005 and q = 0.11) and 1.67 (95% CI: − 2.71, − 0.65, p = 0.002 and q = 0.02) fewer respective errors in paired-associates learning. Within each MZ pair, the twin with the high diet score had better preservation in spatial span especially for MED diet (p = 0.02). There were no differences between diet scores and 10-year change in the other cognitive tests. MIND diet adherence was associated with higher relative abundance of Ruminococcaceae UCG-010 (0.30% (95% CI 0.17, 0.62), q = 0.05) which was also associated with less decline in global cognition over 10 years (0.22 (95% CI 0.06, 0.39), p = 0.01).

MIND or MED diets could help to preserve some cognitive abilities in midlife, particularly episodic and visuospatial working memory. Effects may be mediated by high dietary fibre content and increased abundance of short-chain fatty acid producing gut bacteria. Longer follow-up with repeated measures of cognition will determine whether diet can influence changes in cognition occurring in older age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17
Number of pages10
JournalAlzheimer's Research & Therapy
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2024


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