Nutrients found in foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) such as olive oils, nuts and avocados are linked to general intelligence, according to a study.
The researchers found that general intelligence was associated with the brain’s dorsal attention network, which plays a central role in attention-demanding tasks and everyday problem solving. In particular, general intelligence was found to be associated with how efficiently the dorsal attention network is functionally organised, the researchers said.
The study found that this relationship with is driven by the correlation between MUFAs and the organisation of the brain’s attention network. “Our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentional network, and how optimal this network is functionally organised,” said lead author Aron Barbey, professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.
“This is important because if we want to develop nutritional interventions that are effective at enhancing cognitive performance, we need to understand the ways that these nutrients influence brain function,” Barbey said.
For the study, published in the journal NeuroImage, the team examined the relationship between groups of fatty acids and brain networks that underlie general intelligence. In doing so, they sought to understand if brain network organization mediated the relationship between fatty acids and general intelligence.
In turn, they found that those with higher levels of MUFAs in their blood had greater small-world propensity in their dorsal attention network. The findings suggest a pathway by which MUFAs affect cognition, the researchers noted.
“Our results suggest that if we want to understand the relationship between MUFAs and general intelligence, we need to take the dorsal attention network into account. It’s part of the underlying mechanism that contributes to their relationship,” Barbey added.