Monounsaturated fatty acids – a class of nutrients found in olive oils, nuts and avocados – are linked to general intelligence, according to new research by the University of Illinois.
The relationship is driven by the correlation between the fatty acids and the organisation of the brain’s attention network.
During the study of 99 healthy older adults, the researchers compared patterns of fatty acid nutrients found in blood samples, MRI data that measured the efficiency of brain networks, and results of a general intelligence test. The results have been published in the journal NeuroImage.
The researchers found that general intelligence was associated with the brain’s dorsal attention network, which plays a central role in attention-demanding tasks and everyday problem solving.
In particular, it was found that general intelligence was associated with how efficiently the neural network is connected within locally clustered regions as well as across globally integrated systems.
They found that those with higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in their blood had more efficiently organised dorsal attention networks. These findings suggest a pathway by which MUFAs affect cognition.
The study’s lead author, Aron Barbey, said: ’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.’
‘This is important 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.’
‘In this study, we examined the relationship between groups of fatty acids and brain networks that underlie general intelligence. In doing so, we sought to understand if brain network organization mediated the relationship between fatty acids and general intelligence.’