There is growing interest in natural ingredients that can support active ageing and tackle cognitive decline. This interest comes not only from consumers and formulators, but from the scientific community as well.
Dr Emma Wightman, associate professor at Northumbria University in the UK, manages the interdisciplinary research group Nutrition Trials At Northumbria (NUTRAN). The group carries out ambitious and bespoke trials aimed at identifying health improvements through diet and nutritional interventions.
“I manage a team of academic and technical support staff across six key labs: brain, sport, sleep, vascular, biology and omics and, working together, we conduct bespoke nutrition research trials that encompass any number of these areas,” she explains. “An example of this is the study I plan to talk about at Vitafoods Europe this year.”
Turmeric and cognitive decline
In her presentation, Wightman plans to discuss the results and potential implications of a trial that investigated the effects of multi-ingredient supplementation containing turmeric, in 55-75-year-olds in the UK.
“This was a large intervention trial, with 128 older adults who experience subjective memory decline,” she says. “They consumed a multi-ingredient supplement for 90 days. Our objectives were to ascertain whether cognition – and memory in particular - could be boosted, and whether any improvements could be linked to the gut microbiome.”
Cognition and the status of the microbiome were assessed at the start and end of the process in the lab. A remote proprietorial cognitive application, called Cognimapp, allowed for weekly cognitive and mood assessments at home.
Increased cognitive performance
The results - which will be expanded upon in Wightman’s presentation - have been illuminating. “Deficits in memory were seen following 90 days supplementation,” notes Wightman. “However, this may be as a result of the existing subjective memory decline seen in this cohort, or some unanticipated effect of combining individual ingredients.”
In contrast, improvements were seen in the speed of cognitive performance across multiple tasks. “The presence of tyrosine, the precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, in the urine of supplemented participants supports this as a potential mechanism,” says Wightman. “This metabolomic analysis also revealed key markers of antiinflammation, antioxidation and metabolism of the herbal ingredients.”
Finally, supplemented participants also experienced shifts in three bacterial species in the gut microbiome. An abundance of one of these, Sutterella, is typically associated with mild gastrointestinal disturbance. The reduction of Sutterella here coincided with better subjective gastrointestinal reports from participants, namely of less constipation.
Importance of collaborative research
For Emma, the findings of this trial underline what can be achieved when multiple disciplines collaborate on nutrition research trials. “My hope is that more avenues for these larger, multidisciplinary research trials open up,” she says. “This will enable us to answer many more interesting questions.”
Emma also expects that Vitafoods will provide an opportunity to raise awareness among the nutraceuticals community of what is being achieved in the current nutrition research space.
“I hope that those currently investing in nutrition research takeaway the need to be more ambitious in trial design, and see that the future is very much in interdisciplinary collaboration,” she adds.
Dr Emma Wightman will be speaking at the Vitafoods Conference 2023, under the Cognitive and Emotional Health Theme. Her presentation is entitled ‘The effects of chronic multi-ingredient herbal supplementation in cognitively intact older adults experiencing memory decline’.