Cognitive Function Research
Recent research has identified that lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in brain tissue. This has led researchers to suggest that these nutrients may also have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory role in the brain, similar to that in the human retina (the retina is part of the central nervous system).
A number of studies have also suggested that diets high in omega-3, an essential fatty acid, have a protective role in maintaining healthy brain function. Some studies also suggest that vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, may provide protection against a decline in brain function.
In a previous study (the Carotenoids and Age-Related Dementia Study [CARDS]) performed by our research group, it was shown that supplementation with the macular carotenoids benefited patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in terms of increases in macular pigment and clinically meaningful improvements in cognition were observed.
It may be argued that the cognitive ability of Alzheimer’s patients may have deteriorated too rapidly to show any meaningful effect. Therefore, studying cognitive impairment at an earlier stage may prove more informative. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the normal changes in cognition associated with ageing and very early dementia.
Although MCI is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, some individuals with this condition revert to normal or do not progress. Individuals with the condition will exhibit a decline in their cognitive abilities (memory, thinking abilities); however, these changes are not significant enough to affect daily life or functioning.
Therefore, individuals with MCI are a suitable population group to study cognition over time, and the potential role nutrition may have in terms of cognitive function.
The Cognitive impAiRmEnt Study (CARES) is a continuation of the research performed with Alzheimer’s patients, which aims to investigate if nutritional supplementation with the macular carotenoids, vitamin E and fish oil improves cognitive function among individuals with MCI. CARES is a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial.
This means that some volunteers will consume the active tablet containing sunflower oil only. Importantly, neither the volunteers enrolled nor the study researchers will know which volunteers are consuming which tablet. The tablets will be provided free of charge by the study investigators.
This study aims to recruit 120 volunteers, 60 individuals with MCI and 60 individuals with no cognitive impairment. Each volunteer will attend the WIT West Campus, in Carriganore, Waterford on four occasions over a 24 month period: screening (to confirm eligibility); baseline (beginning of the study); 12 months and 24 months.
Meet The Team
Rebecca is a 3rd year PhD candidate at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland in Waterford Institute of Technology. Rebecca has a keen interest in the role of nutrition for optimising health and wellbeing, with a specific interest in the potential role of nutrition in maintaining cognitive health and reducing the risk of neurological diseases, namely Alzheimer’s disease
Professor John Nolan
Professor John Nolan is the Principal Investigator of the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG, www.mprg.ie). His research group studies the role of eye nutrition for vision and prevention of blindness, and current studies are investigating the link between nutrition and brain health and function.