Active Projects

Is early DHA and choline intake associated with better cognitive abilities in early childhood?

Follow-up in progress.

  • Milk nutrients (choline, lutein, and DHA) were explored in relation to 6-month-old recognition memory. The results indicate that choline and DHA work together in the brain to support memory. Specifically, high choline and high DHA from human milk were associated with better recognition memory at 6 months of age. (more information)

    We then brought these kids back into the lab when they were 2 and 3 years of age. We tested them for declarative memory abilities, and in statistical analyses, we are testing the hypothesis that early DHA and choline support later memory above and beyond concurrent intake. Thus far in the analyses, we have not found support for this hypothesis.

    Based on the research showing that early choline is important for later memory and the fact that higher cognitive abilities known as executive functions come online in early childhood, we are recalling these children once again. We hypothesize that the DHA-choline relation will be evidenced now that they are 5-7 years old and have developed these new executive functions.

    Thank you to all the families who continue to participate, and we look forward to seeing everyone again!



Can eating blueberries prevent, slow down or even reverse memory loss?

Part 2: Follow-up in progress

  • In order to gain more information about the progression from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to dementia researchers in the Cheatham lab designed a study to follow up on our B.E.R.R.Y. participants.  These participants will be coming back into the lab for one visit where they will participate in some of the same assessments they completed during Part 1 of the study.  Electrophysiological techniques and the CANTAB have shown promise in the diagnosis and prediction of MCI. We will compare the new data to the data collected one, two, or three years ago. In June, we began bringing our BERRY participants back in to the lab for this exciting follow-up.

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Completed Projects

Can eating blueberries prevent, slow down or even reverse memory loss?

Part 1: Completed

  • That is something that we are trying to figure out. Currently one in eight Americans age 65 and older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and there is no cure for this disease. In 2011, Dr. Cheatham and her post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Sheau Ching Chai, began a study to explore the effects of daily blueberry intake in older adults.  In this study titled “Blueberries: Exciting Research Relevant to You (B.E.R.R.Y.)”, we enrolled 65-to 79-year-olds with mild cognitive decline. 

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Is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio related to executive function in 7- to 12-year olds?

  • We have a cool new task: the Electric Maze. Some of you had the chance to try out the maze in a recent study. I hope everyone had fun. We have now looked at the data. As it turns out, the Electric Maze Task (EMT) works very well as a measure of planning, which is exactly what we were trying to do. So, yay!

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Do genetics affect human milk and babies' memory?

  • Part 1 The results of the infant study are in! For those who don’t know, we have spent the last couple years working with moms and babies who were exclusively breastfeeding. The moms provided milk samples that we analyzed for fatty acid content. We also determined, from saliva, mom’s and baby’s genotype at a specific location on one of the genes responsible for using one fatty acid to make another – basically taking the fatty acids found in plants (e.g., ALA) and using them to make the fatty acids found in animals (e.g., DHA). People with a GG genotype are thought to not be able to complete this process. Thus, the hypothesis was that the few individuals who were GG would need to eat foods with plenty of DHA, whereas others could eat the plant foods and still have sufficient DHA. As a consequence, we thought that the baby of a GG mom may not be get-ting enough DHA and that we could maybe see this reflected in recognition memory abilities. So, the babies participated in an electrophysiology task in which they viewed a picture with which they were familiar mixed in with pictures that they were seeing for the first time.

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Does the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids matter?

  • First, a refresher: in the 7-9 year old study, we were looking at whether or not children’s diets affected their performance on a series of computer tests of memory, attention, and planning. We asked all the kids about their diet for three days, and then brought them in to play the computer games. I had a great time with that part! We were particularly looking for the types of fats that the kids consumed (like omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids), and whether or not that mattered for how they did on the computer tasks.  We found that kids who had a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids were faster at completing the working memory tasks than kids with a higher ratio.  We also found that kids who had a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids were faster at completing planning tasks than kids with a higher ratio. 

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