BACKGROUND: Epidemiological evidence suggests that healthy diet is associated with a slowdown of cognitive decline leading to dementia, but the underlying mechanisms are still partially unexplored. Diet is the main determinant of gut microbiota composition, which in turn impacts on brain structures and functions, however to date no studies on this topic are available. The goal of the present paper is to describe the design and methodology of the NutBrain Study aimed at investigating the association of dietary habits with cognitive function and their role in modulating the gut microbiota composition, and brain measures as well.
METHODS/DESIGN: This is a population-based cohort study of community-dwelling adults aged 65 years or more living in Northern Milan, Italy. At the point of presentation people are screened for cognitive functions. Socio-demographic characteristics along with lifestyles and dietary habits, medical history, drugs, functional status, and anthropometric measurements are also recorded. Individuals suspected to have cognitive impairment at the screening phase undergo a clinical evaluation including a neurological examination and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning (both structural and functional). Stool and blood samples for the gut microbiota analysis and for the evaluation of putative biological markers are also collected. For each subject with a confirmed diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), two cognitively intact controls of the same sex and age are visited. We intend to enrol at least 683 individuals for the screening phase and 240 persons for the clinical assessment.
DISCUSSION: The NutBrain is an innovative study that incorporates modern and advanced technologies (i.e. microbiome and neuroimaging) into traditional epidemiologic design. The study represents a unique opportunity to address key questions about the role of modifiable risk factors on cognitive impairment, with a particular focus on dietary habits and their association with gut microbiota and markers of the brain-aging process. These findings will help to encourage and plan lifestyle interventions, for both prevention and treatment, aiming at promoting healthy cognitive ageing.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Trial registration number NCT04461951 , date of registration July 7, 2020 (retrospectively registered, ClinicalTrials.gov ).