How do food and lifestyle affect brain health? 

How do food and lifestyle affect brain health? 


The Vrije Universiteit Brussel research group NEUR, the Neurology Department of the UZ Brussel and Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs are taking part in an international research project led by Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. The researchers will focus on brain health and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and hope to discover how lifestyle and nutrition affect the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Dutch Research Council is providing €1 million in financing. 

The researchers will use the subsidy to identify early indicators of such neurodegenerative diseases. At the same time, they will investigate how the molecular mechanisms of these conditions are affected by eating patterns and lifestyle. 

Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs, head of the Neurology Department at UZ Brussels.
Professor Sebastiaan Engelborghs, head of the Neurology Department at UZ Brussels.

“We know that the disease process of Alzheimer’s begins in the brain 10 to 20 years before the first symptoms appear,” says VUB professor Engelborghs. “In Alzheimer’s, there are two proteins that cause problems, one of which forms aggregates early in the disease, which are detectable early on. These are known as amyloid plaques and they consist of a non-soluble form of the amyloid protein. A little later, the tau protein changes shape and structure, also forming aggregates, but in brain cells, in the form of neurofibrillary tangles.”  

In the new research, scientists plan to take samples of blood, brain and cerebral fluid from people with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and compare them with samples from people who are ageing healthily. To do so, they will use neurochemical analysis and AI, with the aim of finding signals at the molecular level that will help to identify the diseases at an early stage. Using AI, they then intend to group the results in order to link them to early stages of neurodegenerative diseases. These indicators, known as biomarkers, should help doctors to recognise the conditions earlier and better assess an individual patient’s prognosis. 

The researchers will also look for a link between eating habits, lifestyle and protein aggregates in relation to ageing and brain diseases. They will try to link information at the molecular level with nutrition. “Neurodegenerative diseases are partly hereditary,” says Engelborghs. “But in many cases, that’s not the only cause. Previous research has shown that people with an unhealthy lifestyle are morel likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases, or to experience earlier onset and see more rapid disease progression. This is mainly related to drinking, smoking, obesity, too little movement … essentially the same risk factors that also increase the risk of heart and vascular disease and cancer. By living more healthily, we can, we think, kill three birds with one stone: reduce incidence of heart and vascular disease, reduce cancers and at least delay the onset of neurodegenerative conditions to an older age, and eventually even prevent them.” 


Sebastiaan Engelborghs: 

Koen Stein
Koen Stein Perscontact wetenschap & innovatie




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