brain function

Claire Champ, Chief investigator of the study, with a patient

A person’s diet is one factor that may influence cognitive function. Indeed, a healthy diet can help maintain healthy cognition, and may provide a way of reducing a decline in cognitive function, or even delay the onset of cognitive impairment.

Omega 3 fatty acids have received a lot of attention for their health properties in the body and brain.  A related class of lipids found naturally in foods are the phospholipids, which are available from a wide range of food items that are part of a usual diet e.g. dairy and soy-based products.  However, there is a limited amount of scientific research that has looked at the benefits of phospholipids to cognitive function in people without a cognitive impairment e.g. dementia.

The “ Exploring the benefits of additional nutrition to brain function ” study aims to enlighten this point. We caught up with Claire Champ, Chief investigator of the study.

What are the main aims of the study?

This study examines whether there can be any improvement in memory, attention and processing speed performance following the consumption of a drink-based supplement consumed each day for 3 months.  All ingredients that make up the drinks are found in regular foods consumed as part of a usual diet.

Depending on which group volunteers are randomly allocated to, they will either receive a drink-based supplement containing phospholipids, or a drink-based supplement that does not contain them (placebo group).  The phospholipids present in the supplement have been taken from cows’ milk.

What does it involve for a participant?

Volunteers will be invited to attend an initial screening appointment, to make sure they meet the study eligibility criteria. In this occasion, they will also be asked to complete questionnaires regarding their mood, wellbeing, and about how they feel their health is. Volunteers will also be asked to complete a 3-day food diary in their own time.  In the food diary, volunteers will note all items of food consumed over a three-day period.

Once enrolled on the study, volunteers will be seen for three separate study visits, each spaced 6 weeks apart. During each study visit, volunteers will complete a set of the cognitive exercises as shown at the screening appointment.  This will enable the researcher to see whether there has been any improvement following consumption of the phospholipid drink-based supplement for 3 months.

How long is the study for? / Is it a one-off visit?

The screening appointment takes approximately 2 hours, and will be eventually followed by three separate study visits, each spaced 6 weeks apart.  At the first study visit, volunteers will be seen for one hour and then again for another hour after a 90-minute break. For the second and third study visits, volunteers will be seen for 1 hour only and volunteers can have the drink-based supplement in their own time.

What do you hope the outcomes of the study will be?

We would like to determine whether consuming the drink-based supplement containing phospholipids over 3 months helps memory, attention and processing speed, and reduces the incidence of cognitive slips (e.g. forgetting where you have placed your keys) compared to the placebo treatment.  This will enable a better understanding of the benefits of phospholipids to cognitive function, and lead to further research with the overall aim of using dietary interventions to promote healthy ageing.

Where is the study based?

Study visits can take place either in the Human Appetite Research Unit in the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds or at the volunteers’ homes.  

Who can take part? (eligibility criteria):

We are looking for participants aged 50 years and over, who feel as though their memory is not as good as it used to be and are able to use a laptop. Unfortunately, anyone with a serious medical condition, a history of serious head injury, who has an uncorrected visual or hearing impairment, or an intolerance to lactose, cannot take part.

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