There is no doubt that nutrition is involved in brain health and the development of neurodegenerative diseases. This is an important area of research in the dementia field that has suffered from the absence of trained experts in nutrition and nutritional epidemiology. Imagine the negative impact on the advancement of science in neuroimaging and dementia if the studies had relied on investigators who had no formal training in neuroscience imaging. To most scientists in the dementia field, this would be unthinkable on many levels; the technology is highly complex as are the methods of analyses and the required knowledge of brain systems, function, and pathology. An appreciation of the expertise required is likewise accepted for genetics, neuropathology, and many other disciplines. As responsible scientists, we would take pause to accept manuscripts for publication or to assign high scores to grant applications if the requisite level of expertise was missing. On the other hand, we would take pause to criticize the scientific approach of a trained expert in these fields when we had no formal training ourselves. What can be said in this context for the study of nutrition and dementia? An unfortunate state of the science is a lack of appreciation for the complexity of nutrition science. Too many well-meaning investigators conduct nutritional studies without the active contribution of trained nutritionists and nutritional epidemiologists. Yet, no discipline could be more complex on multiple levels: the breadth of dietary components and their biochemical properties and functions, role in disease, and nutrient-nutrient interactions; cultural issues around diet patterns, and valid diet assessments for different populations; and, the complexities of statistical analyses of diet patterns, foods, nutrient intakes, and biochemical markers. A commonly held belief among dementia researchers could be characterized as: “I eat, therefore I am a nutrition expert”. Unfortunately for the field of nutrition, nothing could be farther from reality. Uninformed investigations have impeded the science and caused pessimism about the validity of nutrition research. Significant advancements in the field of nutrition and dementia will only occur with the engagement of nutrition experts. What strategies would encourage the growth of nutrition research informed by nutritionally trained experts?
Last comment on 30 September 2016 by Thomas B. Shea, PhD