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Mediterranean Diet adherence and its association with cognitive health

Mediterranean Diet adherence and its association with cognitive health


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

The aim of this project is to examine whether diet, specifically the Mediterranean Diet and other healthy dietary patterns, is associated with cognition and change in cognition in populations across Europe.  The studentship will initially develop new statistical approaches to measuring adherence to a healthy diet, using traditional dietary assessment techniques, but also in combination with biomarker measurements, and examine the association between adherence to a healthy diet pattern, and cognition and cognitive change in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies across Europe with diverse dietary habits (Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing and the French Three-City Study). The focus of the dietary analysis will initially be on the Mediterranean Diet, as the dietary pattern with the strongest evidence for an association with cognition, but will include the consideration of other dietary patterns.

The proposal is focused on improving dietary assessment within population studies, understanding more about diet and cognition, in particular the Mediterranean Diet pattern, and, ultimately, will allow the testing of numerous hypotheses around diet-disease and diet-function relationships in older people. The resulting knowledge has clear potential for use by, firstly, the research community, and then by healthcare professionals, to improve assessment of diet, and evaluation of cognitive health. This research can also be used by policy makers to inform policy and practice about the care of older people, and inform the general public about how diet and appropriate nutrition can maintain and perhaps improve cognitive health and increase healthy life years.

The proposal is interdisciplinary in that it reaches across nutrition; molecular biosciences (biomarker assessment) and geriatric medicine.

Key words/descriptors

diet, cognition, healthy ageing, biomarker assessment, dietary assessment

First supervisor

Professor Jayne Woodside - School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

Dr Brian Green - Institute for Global Food Security

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Jayne Woodside has supervised >15 PhD students to completion.  She is an expert in dietary assessment methods and has published widely on the use of biomarkers to improve dietary assessment and in dietary pattern methodology.  Brian Green has supervised >9 PhD students to completion. He is an expert in the metabolomic profiling of human samples and has used this approach to discover biomarkers of dementia/cognition.  Dr McGuinness is a newly appointed Clinical Senior Lecturer with a research interest in the assessment of cognition and cognitive decline; she and Professor Woodside have another PhD studentship focusing on encouraging behaviour change towards a Mediterranean Diet in older individuals with mild cognitive impairment.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

The project involves working with another longitudinal cohort of ageing in France, and the student will be able to spend time within this centre, gaining access to dietary data, cognition data and biological samples to allow the successful completion of the project.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

Dr Catherine Feart is a tenured researcher at INSERM, embedded in University of Bordeaux.  Dr Feart has published widely in the field of Mediterranean Diet and the assessment of adherence to a Mediterranean Diet, as evidenced by her CV (total of 62 publications listed on Researchgate).

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

The successful student will receive comprehensive training and develop skills in dietary assessment techniques, innovative dietary pattern analysis, biomarker assessment, and statistical analyses of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies.  The student will also develop comprehensive knowlege of the assessment of cognition, cognitive change and the links between diet, cognition and healthy ageing.

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

Postgraduate research students at QUB have access to training and development opportunities within the Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme.  The Programme offers students a comprehensive range of training courses, 1-2-1 support and skills development opportunities (e.g. time management, communication, teamwork, project management) supporting Postgraduate Research Students in developing a range of professional skills to successfully complete their research and increase their employability.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Deliverables and dissemination and knowledge exchange activity will include publications (at least three anticipated) in high impact journals and oral and poster presentations at local, national and international conferences, workshops held in QUB and in INSERM, along with research briefs and topics, working papers and reports for practitioners, policy makers, the food industry and stakeholders.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Impact activities will be organised through the Centre of Excellent for Public Health Northern Ireland, and build on existing STEM activities, which include visits to schools, public talks, and events held at W5 and as part of the NI Science Festival.  Activities will focus on how to measure healthy dietary patterns, and how diet may be related to the maintenance of cognitive health.