Genetic Profile Links Red Wine and Cheese to Preservation of Cognitive Performance Interview with:

Auriel Willette, PhD Assistant Professor Food Science and Human Nutrition Iowa State University

Dr. Willette

Auriel Willette, PhD
Assistant Professor
Food Science and Human Nutrition
Iowa State University What is the background for this study?

Response: To date, pharmacology therapies done to slow down or halt Alzheimer’s disease have been inconclusive. Lifestyle interventions like changes in diet and activity are also mixed but do show some promise. Dietary clinical trials or self-reported diet have tended to focus on groups of foods such as the Mediterranean or MIND diet. To build from this excellent work, we were curious if we could pinpoint specific foods that were correlated with changes in fluid intelligence over time. Fluid intelligence represents our ability to creatively use existing knowledge, working memory, and other components of “thinking flexibly.”

Further, we tested if these patterns of association differed based on genetic risk. In this case, genetic risk was defined as having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or having 1-2 “bad” copies of the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which is the strongest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. What are the main findings?

Response: Using UK Biobank data in 1,787 midlife to late-life participants, our main findings were that greater consumption of cheese and alcohol, typically red wine, were related to higher scores on a fluid intelligence test. Excessive consumption of processed meat or salt was linked with worse cognitive performance, but only for participants with genetic risk.

Importantly, our statistical models accounted for socioeconomic status and education, since people who have more affluence and education tend consume red wine and cheese. Nonetheless, we cannot rule out this source of bias and acknowledge this limitation. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our results suggest that dietary patterns related to specific whole foods may be tied to changes in cognition as we age. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: I would first suggest that researchers try to independently replicate these findings in other cohorts that have whole food data. If our initial findings were confirmed, it might be worthwhile to establish if a causal relationship occurs and why by using animal models.

Any disclosures? Our study was funded by the NIH, Alzheimer’s Association, and Iowa State University. Importantly, this study was not supported by any food industry funding. Further, none of the authors report a personal conflict of interest.


Citation:Brandon S. Klinedinst, Scott T. Le, Brittany Larsen, Colleen Pappas, Nathan J. Hoth, Amy Pollpeter, Qian Wang, Yueying Wang, Shan Yu, Li Wang, Karin Allenspach, Jonathan P. Mochel, David A. Bennett, Auriel A. Willette. Genetic Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease Modulate How Diet is Associated with Long-Term Cognitive Trajectories: A UK Biobank Study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2020; 78 (3): 1245 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-201058

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Last Updated on December 11, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD