The intake of food and drink can influence brain functions, which in turn, may have effects on mental state and performance. There are several ways in which diet may affect neurochemistry and brain function. First, ingestion of food affects the availability of the precursors required for synthesis of neurotransmitters. Second, food serves as the source of the vitamins and minerals that are essential co-factors for the enzymes that synthesize neurotransmitters. Thirdly, dietary precursors alter the formation and composition of the nerve cell membrane, myelin sheaths and synapses and that, in turn, influences neural function. Finally, the human brain is among the most metabolically active organs in the body and requires large amounts of energy for proper function. The brain accounts for only 2% of total body mass but uses approximately 16% of the total oxygen consumed. Disturbed or suboptimal energy supply to the brain therefore results in impaired neurological function. By some of these ways, particularly changes related to cell signalling and energy supply, effects on brain function may be short lasting. On the other hand, any changes to the basic neurological architecture brought about by nutrition are likely to be long-term.
Goal and Purpose
There are possibilities to develop foods and drinks that alter short-term and long-term brain function and cognitive performance. Currently, the evidence for strong relationships between neurochemical or physiological parameters and cognitive performance is lacking. Enhanced cognitive function is therefore a field where it is more common to assess function directly than by measuring biomarkers. A large number of validated tests for the assessment of different metal states or functions are currently available. Nevertheless, despite the large choice of tests, substantial gaps and insufficiencies in the toolbox to assess the effects of nutritional interventions on brain function and mental performance remain. This hampers the progress in the substantiation of functional benefits of nutritional concepts.
The objectives of the current workshop are firstly to map the current challenges and gaps in methodologies in nutritional intervention studies, with particular emphasis on establishing their long-term effects. Secondly, it is aimed to evaluate the biological relevance, sensitivity and feasibility of novel methodologies, with particular emphasis on their suitability to meet the identified methodological gaps and insufficiencies. By this approach, the workshop contributes to a better understanding of the current limitations and emerging opportunities for assessing dietary effects on neurological function which, in turn, may help to guide future methodology development. Moreover, this can direct the application of new insights and technologies in future human intervention studies designed to substantiate the (long-term) effects or mechanism of action of nutritional concepts.
The output will be a publication reviewing existing knowledge on the quality of methods used for assessing effects of nutrition on brain function and classifying these methods according to their biological relevance, sensitivity and feasibility.
To download the programme of the workshop, click here.