Inflammatory diet associated with cognitive impairment 

By: Jessica George, Class of 2024

Figure 1: dietary patterns may predict cognitive decline in older adults

Cognitive decline is a major public health concern that affects millions of older adults worldwide. Age-related cognitive decline can lead to mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases. While there is no cure for these conditions, early detection and intervention can improve outcomes and quality of life for affected individuals. In recent years, there has been growing interest in the role of diet and inflammation in cognitive decline. Dr. Michael R. Duggan from the National Institute on Aging and colleagues presents a novel approach to predicting cognitive decline in older adults by analyzing plasma proteins related to inflammatory diets.

The study used participants from the Women’s Health Initiative study, which consisted of 1528 women without baseline cognitive impairment. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and had their blood samples taken. The inflammatory potential of their diets was assessed using a validated dietary inflammatory index (DII). Cognitive function was measured using standard neuropsychological tests and assessments by clinicians at baseline and at 14 year follow-up.

The results of the study showed that participants with a higher DII score had a higher risk of cognitive impairment over the follow-up period. Moreover, the researchers found that six plasma proteins, CXCL10, CCL3, HGF, OPG, CDCP1, and NFATC3, were associated with this relationship. These proteins are known to be involved in the inflammatory response, and their increased levels in the blood are markers of systemic inflammation. Further, this inflammation is associated with dementia and brain atrophy.

There are some limitations that should be considered. Firstly, the study used a single measure of cognitive function, which may not capture the full range of cognitive abilities. Secondly, the study relied on self-reported dietary data, which may be subject to recall bias and measurement error.

Overall, the study provides important insights into the links among diet, inflammation, and cognitive decline. The finding that specific plasma proteins are associated with this relationship could have implications for the development of dietary and pharmacological interventions to prevent or delay cognitive impairment in older adults. The identified proteins may also serve as potential biomarkers for identifying individuals at risk of cognitive decline or as potential targets for interventions. In conclusion, the study highlights the importance of dietary patterns in predicting cognitive decline in older adults. It also suggests that systemic inflammation may play a role in this relationship, as evidenced by the association between specific plasma proteins and inflammatory dietary patterns. 


  1. M.R. Duggan, et al., Plasma proteins related to inflammatory diet predict future cognitive impairment. Mol Psychiatry 20, (2023).
  2. Image retrieved from: 

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