Nutrients and growth factors regulate brain development during fetal and early postnatal life; failure to provide adequate macronutrients or key micronutrients at critical periods has a lifelong impact. Besides genetic influences, cognitive development of infants, children until adolescence requires neural enrichment in their environment. Early influences like poverty, food insecurity and dietary deficiencies, poor feeding practices, recurrent and chronic infections, and low levels of infant-caregiver stimulation prevent children from reaching their full potential for brain growth and development.
Young adulthood and middle age are crucial periods for determining brain health in old age. Multiple factors affect cognitive health, e.g. age-related changes, injuries, mood disorders, substance abuse, and diseases. While some cannot be changed, many lifestyle factors are potentially modifiable: diet, physical activity, cognitive, social engagement, smoking and alcohol consumption which may stabilize or improve declining cognitive function. High protein and low-fat diets, some B-group vitamins and iron, many polyphenols are protective against cognitive decline. Mediterranean, Nordic and DASH diets are linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The relationship between gut microbiome and brain function has reinforced the beneficial effects of dietary fibers and probiotics. The importance of cardio-metabolic risk factors like obesity and hypertension, faulty diets, smoking and physical inactivity that develop in middle age suggest that preventive approaches are required for 40-50 year olds, before they develop dementia. Strategies to promote brain health throughout the lifespan should target individuals at each phase of life to adopt a healthy lifestyle (diet and physical activity), be engaged in cognitively stimulating activities and be socially active. The commonality of dementia risk with cardiovascular and diabetes risk suggests that dementia be added to present non-communicable disease management and broader public health programs.
Keywords: Brain Health, Brain Development, Cognition, First 1000 Days, Dementia, Nutrition, Physical Activity, Lifestyle, Socio-Economic Factors, Gut Microbiome