BACKGROUND: Dietary factors might modify cognitive decline that results from aging. Fatty acids, which are limiting factors in brain development, are prime candidates.
OBJECTIVE: We studied the relation between erythrocyte membrane fatty acid composition and cognitive decline in free-living volunteers.

DESIGN: In 1995, erythrocyte membrane fatty acid composition was measured in 246 men and women (aged 63-74 y) from the Etude du Vieillissement Artériel (EVA) cohort. During a 4-y follow-up, cognitive abilities were assessed longitudinally with the Mini-Mental State Examination. Moderate cognitive decline was defined as a > or = 2-point decrease over the 4 y. The predictive value of fatty acid proportions on cognitive decline was assessed with a multivariate logistic model that included age, sex, education level, and initial Mini-Mental State Examination score as covariates.

RESULTS: Higher proportions of both stearic acid (saturated, 18:0) and total n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were associated with greater risk of cognitive decline; the odds ratios were 1.91 (95% CI: 1.16, 3.15) and 1.59 (95% CI: 1.04, 2.44), respectively, for 1-SD differences in fatty acid proportions. Conversely, a higher proportion of total n-3 fatty acids was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline; the odds ratio was 0.59 (95% CI: 0.38, 0.93).

CONCLUSIONS: The inverse association between cognitive decline and the ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids in erythrocyte membranes agrees with results obtained in some studies that assessed fatty acid intake by using dietary questionnaires. These results require confirmation but provide new rationale for studying how these modifiable risk factors might be implicated in the cognitive aging process.

PMID: 12663275

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