The brain has a high metabolic rate and its metabolism is almost entirely restricted to oxidative utilisation of glucose. These factors emphasise the extreme dependence of neural tissue on a stable and adequate supply of glucose. Whereas initially it was thought that only glucose deprivation (i.e. under hypoglycaemic conditions) can affect brain function, it has become apparent that low-level fluctuations in central availability can affect neural and consequently, cognitive performance.
In the present paper the impact of diet-based glycaemic response and glucose regulation on cognitive processes across the lifespan will be reviewed. The data suggest that although an acute rise in blood glucose levels has some short-term improvements of cognitive function, a more stable blood glucose profile, which avoids greater peaks and troughs in circulating glucose is associated with better cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive impairments in the longer term. Therefore, a habitual diet that secures optimal glucose delivery to the brain in the fed and fasting states should be most advantageous for the maintenance of cognitive function.
Although the evidence to date is promising, it is insufficient to allow firm and evidence-based nutritional recommendations. The rise in obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome in recent years highlights the need for targeted dietary and lifestyle strategies to promote healthy lifestyle and brain function across the lifespan and for future generations. Consequently, there is an urgent need for hypothesis-driven, randomised controlled trials that evaluate the role of different glycaemic manipulations on cognition.