Eating for Brain Health

Dr Evangeline Mantzioris is the Program Director of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Degree at the University of South Australia. She is an accredited dietitian and Sports Dietitian with vast experience in clinical dietetics, clinical teaching and private practice. She is also an Associate Editor of the Journal, Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here, she shares her thoughts on eating for wellness for brain tumour patients. To hear her speak in person, please attend the NRF Brain Cancer Impact Forum on Tuesday 25th May 2021.

Eating during treatment

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during treatment is important, you need to ensure that you are eating a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping well. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet is important as it supplies you with all the nutrients that you need to fight the cancer, support tissue growth and recovery, and maintain your energy levels. It is important that your diet is high in a variety of fruit and vegetable, breads and cereals, dairy and protein foods (including eggs, fish, chicken, meat, pulses, legumes and nuts). Be sure to also include some of your favorite feel-good meals that you enjoy sharing with your family and friends while recovering. There is no evidence to support the use of any type of supplements during treatment, in some cases it could make the prognosis worse. The exception is of course if you are prescribed a supplement by your treating healthcare team.

Eating during treatment can be difficult due to the different side effects of medications and treatment. Speak to your healthcare team and ask them about the potential impact that they may have during treatment. Side effects could include decreased appetite, nausea, bloating constipation or trouble swallowing. You will need to speak to a dietitian if the side effects are impacting on your eating and especially if you are experiencing weight loss.

Eating after recovery

Healthy lifestyles are equally important after recovery, so once again make sure you are exercising, sleeping and eating healthy food. Healthy diets are those that are high in plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, gains, cereals, nuts and legumes. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends, based on strong evidence, what we should consume for the best optimal health. We need to be eating 5 serves of vegetables, 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of breads, cereals and grains, 3 serves of dairy or equivalents and 2 serves of protein foods. While there have been no direct studies looking at the best types of diets for people that are recovering from brain cancer, we can get hints from other studies that have looked at best diets for cognitive health. What we repeatedly see from the evidence is that diets that are balanced across all the food groups and high in plant foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains and cereals) with high quality protein foods (beans, legumes, fish, unprocessed meats) and olive oil provide the best outcomes.

One dietary pattern, the Mediterranean Diet has been extensively studied and shown to have excellent cognitive health outcomes as well as reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. The MedDiet is very high in plant foods with only little bit of animal-based food in it. Unprocessed meat is consumed only 2-3 times per week, and processed meats such as ham and salami are rarely or never consumed. Some of the key components of the MedDiet is the use of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and lots of leafy greens as well as using sofrito-based recipes. Sofrito is a tomato and onion sauce that is cooked with EVOO, which makes it an ideal basis for cooking vegetables, pasta, rice and small amounts of meta in it, and of course adding herbs and spices that are common in the MedDiet. The MedDiet is also rich in wholegrain cereals (think wholegrain bread and cereals) and nuts and legumes (think lentils, kidney and fava beans as well as nuts).

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Dr Lisa Ebert - Supercharging the immune system to beat brain cancer

Dr Lisa Ebert discusses her brain cancer research which she presented at the NRF Researcher Presentations event on Wednesday 23 September 2020.

Dr Lisa Ebert is a Research Associate at the Centre for Cancer Biology - University of South Australia/SA Pathology. Here she is speaking at the NeuroSurgical Research Foundation's Annual Research presentations event, which was held on Wednesday 23 September 2020.
Her research is focused on supercharging the immune system to beat brain cancer.
"CAR-T cell therapy is a new type of cancer treatment based on ‘supercharging’ a patient’s own immune system. It has shown great success in the treatment of certain blood cancers, and our team is now adapting this approach for the treatment of adult and childhood brain cancer. I will present some highlights from our pre-clinical research program and give an overview of our upcoming clinical trials," Dr Ebert said.
Watch the video now.

Did you catch Carrie's Beanies 4 Brain Cancer on The Project recently?

The video below provides a great insight into the world of brain tumour research.
We are proud to be a funding partner for the Australian Brain Cancer Mission.
The NRF is currently funding world-leading brain tumour research right here in Adelaide. Together, we can make a difference to people living with brain cancer, now and in the future.

RIP Mark Naley

Sadly, another great South Australian has lost his battle with Brain Cancer. One of the State's most dynamic football players, Mark Naley, has died aged 59 after a long battle with the illness. Tributes have poured in for the former South Adelaide and Carlton star who was ‘hard as Nales’.
We shared this article back in March which profiles how he fought against the disease with the help of Neurosurgeon Dr Amal Abou-Hamden. Rest in Peace Mark.
The NRF funds brain cancer research right here in South Australia, please visit our website to find out more about our current projects.

The Blood-Brain Barrier

The Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) is a complex structure that prevents many drugs from entering into the brain (and brain tumours) from the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the BBB is also a major impediment in the treatment of brain tumours.
The NRF is funding research into the BBB.
Dr Briony Gliddon, Dr Melinda Tea & Prof Stuart Pitson at the Centre for Cancer Biology (University of South Australia/SA Pathology) are investigating if a newly identified drug can open the BBB to allow entry of anti-cancer drugs to brain tumours.
Thank you to Dr Gliddon for putting together this research snapshot to share with our community - it is much appreciated.

Interview with Dr Amy Reichelt

Dr Reichelt is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Adelaide Medical School.

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Dr Reichelt shares insights into her research between obesity and diet and neurodegeneration and traumatic brain injury.

What motivated you to pursue this area of research? What did you study?

Poor nutrition in the form of high fat and sugar diets and obesity are major risk factors for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. My research program revolves around the impact of nutrition and obesity on brain function. Diet is a modifiable lifestyle factor and food is a massive part of our lives - I find that the importance of what we eat and how it affects our brain health is an incredibly exciting field to be in. In a nutshell, my research seeks to understand how poor diets and obesity change cognitive abilities. By understanding what a poor diet does to brain function we can discover new interventions that not only reverse the effects of obesity on the brain, but also identify therapies that can augment brain function in neurodegenerative conditions.

Tell us about this new research project - what are you looking for and why?

An exciting part of my research program has been identifying that obesity can weaken the specialised delicate network of extracellular matrix structures that surrounds neurons – called perineuronal nets. These perineuronal nets form a protective barrier around neurons and can control how often nerve impulses are transmitted between adjoining neurons. If perineuronal nets become compromised, neurons are left vulnerable to injury. So, diet and body composition might be a critical mediating factor that dictates the immediate severity of a TBI on brain function and the long-term road to recovery. This new study will provide cutting-edge insight into the functional and molecular changes that happen to the extracellular matrix and neurons when both an obesogenic diet is consumed, and different severities of traumatic brain injuries – ranging from mild to moderate are sustained.

What do you hope your research will achieve and why?

Modifying the structure of perineuronal nets is an emerging neurosurgical therapy for spinal cord injuries - but this research is further ahead from what we know about the extracellular matrix in the injured brain. Overall, a major aim of my research program is the discovery of effective new approaches and applied therapies that will target the brain’s extracellular matrix to improve cognitive outcomes in brain injuries. I hope that my research will have dramatic positive impacts on people’s wellbeing by identifying effective treatments for TBI and predict recovery outcomes following a brain injury.

What are some of the key statistics regarding TBI and neurodegeneration in Australia?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting one 1 in 4 people over 85 in Australia, with rarer early onset cases often linked to genetic predispositions. Parkinson’s disease affects 1 in 350 Australians, and mainly affects people over 65, but can have an earlier onset. Following a TBI, you're likely at greatest risk of developing dementia later if you also have other risk factors. These can be genetic, but body composition may also play a key role as obesity causes a low level of inflammation throughout the body and brain – exacerbating neurodegeneration. Long-term studies indicate that obesity in mid-life increases the future risk for the development of dementia by 70-100%. Taken together, the combination of obesity and TBI creates the perfect storm for neurodegenerative diseases.

What is one thing that people do not understand about TBI that you would like to communicate to a broader audience or raise awareness of?

Most patients who sustain a mild TBI (e.g. a concussion) recover normal functionality within 3 months. However, a significant number of patients – between 15-30% - experience persistent dysfunction that can endure for years. I want to identify the biological factors that cause certain people to have bleaker prognoses for recovery, which will then allow tailored therapies for these at-risk individuals.

Please donate now to the NRF Traumatic Brain Injury Appeal.

Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability and death worldwide

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Did you know that as many as 60 million people suffering from a brain injury or brain damage each year.
Many of these people will develop long-lasting neuropsychiatric and cognitive impairments. And while researchers know brain injury and head injury is linked to dementia and Parkinson’s disease in later life, they still don’t know how.
With your support, we can fund these life-changing research projects:

TBI is a risk factor for Parkinson's Disease

Did you know that a traumatic brain injury is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease?
Listen here to Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino from the University of Adelaide speaking about this important area of research.
Watch the video here:

Interview with TBI researcher Jessica Sharkey

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To focus on Brain Injury Awareness Week we are sharing an interview with Jessica Sharkey, a PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide whose research is focused on traumatic brain injury.

We are promoting Brain Injury Awareness Week which is held by Brain Injury SA

Here at the NRF, we are funding research focused on Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in children.
One of the current projects is focused on Concussion in children and is led by Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino and Dr Frances Corrigan at the University of Adelaide. TBI is common during childhood and adolescence, with most injuries classified as mild (concussions), but these can still have long-lasting consequences.

Interview with Dr Anna Leonard - University of Adelaide

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Dr Anna Leonard is a research active Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Anatomy and Pathology, Adelaide Medical School (AMS). After completion of her PhD in December 2012 (Dean’s commendation; University Doctoral Medal), she undertook local (UofA; Neil Sachse Foundation Fellowship) and international (University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA) post-doctoral training, gaining research expertise in various animal models of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI).

In 2016, she returned to Adelaide (RAH ECR Fellowship) to begin establishing a novel porcine model of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), a major arm of her research program. In 2017, Dr Leonard was appointed a continuing academic and began further establishing her research within Adelaide. She currently heads the Spinal Cord Injury Research group in the AMS and has established a national profile within the neurotrauma field as an emerging early career researcher.

With 300-400 new cases of SCI in Australia each year, resulting in a financial burden of >$2billion annually and even greater personal loss, there is a real need for research within this field to generate meaningful improved outcomes for people living with SCI.

Dr Leonard's research is focused on understanding the acute outcomes following SCI, particularly surrounding the relationship between oedema, haemorrhage and raised intrathecal pressure (ITP), and the role of neuroinflammation in both acute and chronic outcomes.

Why did you pursue your career in spinal cord injury research?

"In the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree, I was taught by some amazing researchers within the neurotrauma field (Prof Bob Vink & Prof Corinna Van Den Heuvel). Sadly, at the same time a close friend of mine was involved in a car accident, sustained a traumatic brain injury, and died. Studying neurotrauma became hard because it was now deeply personal. However, I was also exposed to the amazing research my lecturers were doing within the field, and it clicked for me that through research I could be involved in developing novel treatments that could potentially save lives.

"I could see the impact research has, and I have never looked back. I feel honoured and privileged to have been involved in the development of a pharmacological treatment that may reduce mortality and improve outcomes after traumatic brain injury early in my career. I hope I can similarly develop something impactful for spinal cord injury through my current research."

Why are you passionate about this – was there something in your life that led you to this specific area?

"Whilst I began my research career within traumatic brain injury, an opportunity to extend my knowledge into traumatic spinal cord injury arose and I could see the need for further research within this field.

"The risk of dying after a traumatic spinal cord injury is comparatively lower than traumatic brain injury, however, this presents its own unique problems. Individuals living with spinal cord injury experience a range of functional deficits, from motor and sensory dysfunction, to bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction, as well as more chronic outcomes such as neuropathic pain and cognitive decline.

"This represents a huge impact on an individual’s quality of life and there is a clear need for research focused on improving outcome following spinal cord injury. Throughout my career it is the interactions I have had with people living with spinal cord injury that have both inspired me and provided me with the motivation to keep going."

Please explain your current research – what are you looking at and why?

"I am excited by the variety of my current research. We have projects characterising the acute outcomes following spinal cord injury, specifically tissue swelling and inflammation, and how we could potentially modulate these to improve outcomes.

"The interventions range from pharmacological to surgical and more recently peripheral electrical stimulation. In addition, we have recently started investigating some of the more chronic outcomes experienced by people living with spinal cord injury such as neuropathic pain and cognitive decline.

"These outcomes are complex, and we’re predominantly interested in understanding how the acute injury environment could impact on these delayed outcomes, that often manifest in anatomical regions distant to the site of injury."

What are the current statistics for SCI in Australia?

  • 300-400 new cases annually with 15,000+ individuals livings with SCI in Australia
  • The greatest cause of traumatic SCI is motor vehicle accidents (39%) and falls (39%)
  • Males have a greater incidence (80%) compared to females
  • Incidence is greatest within ages 15-24, 35-34 (39 cases each) and 45-54 (40 cases), demonstrating that SCI can affect people of any age.
  • Over half of all SCIs occur at the cervical level.
  • The total cost associated with SCI in Australia is approximately $2 billion annually.

Ryan Dorrian - Honours Candidate at the University of Adelaide

Ryan Dorrian is an Honours candidate at the University of Adelaide. His research is focused on Spinal cord injury, titled ‘Characterising the neuroinflammatory response following SCI’.
Ryan presented at the NRF Researcher presentations event held on Wednesday 23 September 2020.
Watch the video below.

Stroke Research

Annabel Sorby-Adams is a final year PhD candidate at
The University of Adelaide and is focused on stroke research.
In this video from the NRF Researcher Presentations event on Wednesday 23 September 2020, Annabel speaks about her research titled 'Targeting cerebral oedema and elevated intracranial pressure to improve outcomes following stroke.'
Watch the video below to find out more.

Interview with Annabel Sorby-Adams

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As part of National Stroke Week we are sharing the work of final year PhD Candidate, Annabel Sorby-Adams, from the
The University of Adelaide.
Annabel's career as a stroke researcher came about as a result of experiencing a stroke when she was just 19 years of age.

Do you know the signs of Stroke? Act F.A.S.T!

Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms Can they lift both arms?
Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time Is critical.
If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.

The NRF is proud to fund world-leading Stroke research at the University of Adelaide

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The stroke research team, led by Assoc Prof Renée Turner, is using novel, pre-clinical models to map the development of brain swelling and changes in brain pressure following stroke in order to develop targeted and more effective treatments to reduce the devastating morbidity and mortality associated with these conditions.
Assoc Prof Turner is presenting at our upcoming NRF Research Presentations event being held on Wednesday September 23rd at
All are welcome – please come along and hear her speak about the latest in Stroke research.

Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino speaks about Parkinson's link to TBI

Assoc Prof Lyndsey Collins-Praino from
The University of Adelaide spoke about her Parkinson's disease research last week at the NRF Researcher Presentations event on Wednesday 23 September 2020.
In this video, she talks about her research which is focused on forecasting the risk of Parkinson's disease development following a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Watch the video now.

New Research Funding featured in The Advertiser

Pick up a copy of today's Advertiser (August 10 2020) and read all about the latest research focusing on the link between Traumatic Brain Injury and Parkinson's disease!
The new $1.9m research project at The University of Adelaide is a result of seed funding provided by the
NRF and the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation in 2019.
Here in South Australia, the study will be led by A/Professor Lyndsey Collins-Praino, Head of the Cognition, Ageing and Neurodegenerative Disease Laboratory (CANDL) at the University of Adelaide.
The project involves a large team of researchers from the University of Adelaide, CSIRO Health & Biosecurity,
SAHMRI & Dr Jones & Partners Medical Imaging (Clinical & Research Imaging Centre), RAH and community partner Parkinson's SA.

On July 2nd, 2020 the NRF made it to front page of The Advertiser!

The article is focused on how Adelaide researchers are working towards clinical trials of a new therapy they hope can genetically modify our cells to teach them how to seek out and then destroy damaged ones.
Thank you to journalist Clare Peddie for a well-researched article, researcher Dr Tessa Gargett from the Centre for Cancer Biology and brain cancer patient Pete Cutting and his wife Liz.

Wilkins Family Foundation

The NRF would like to thank the Wilkins Family Foundation for their generous donation which will enable University of Adelaide researchers to gain a more comprehensive picture of brain health status following Traumatic Brain Injury and Stroke.
The research project will be led by NRF Director of NeuroSurgical Research - Associate Professor Renée Turner and Dr Frances Corrigan at the University of Adelaide.
Assoc Prof Turner said, “We are striving towards improved clinical translation for devastating Stroke and TBI through the development of new, more effective treatment strategies.
"The funding the Wilkins Family Foundation have provided has allowed us to purchase equipment, which is used in the clinical monitoring of patients, ensuring that our pre-clinical stroke and TBI studies are as clinically relevant as possible.”

Jillian's Story

The NRF recently spoke with Jillian about her Parkinson’s diagnosis at Parkinson's SA.
Jillian enjoys attending the Parkinson’s SA art class every week – it is something that she has enjoyed since she was diagnosed five years ago.
“I was diagnosed five years ago with Parkinson’s and I have been coming to Parkinson’s SA ever since. I have a husband, two daughters, two grandson’s and four cats – two of them are pet therapy cats. One works at the Mary Potter Hospice and one works at an aged care facility.
“I have been retired for 24 years but I had a career as a Commemorations Officer at the University of Adelaide. I used to organise graduation ceremonies in South Australia and overseas in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong.”
“I come to art classes here each Wednesday – it is wonderful. As soon as I picked up the Parkinson’s SA booklet and saw there was a free art class – I thought – I am going to do that! I love meeting people with the same condition, everyone’s experience is different, and I love hearing about people’s journeys,” Jillian said.
Find out more about our Parkinson's research:

April 11 - World Parkinson's Day

Do you know what the cause of Parkinson's is?
Currently there is no known cause of Parkinson’s or understanding of why some people develop Parkinson’s and not others.
This is the reason Parkinson’s is often referred to as “Idiopathic (cause unknown) Parkinson’s”.
There are many theories as to the causes of Parkinson’s and it is generally thought that multiple factors are responsible.
Through research, our understanding of the possible causes of Parkinson’s is increasing all of the time. Areas of current research include: ageing, genes, environmental factors, chemical exposure and virus like structures called prions.
Please give generously if you can to help fund our NRF Parkinson's Disease research.

John's Story

John's Story
“I have been coming to Parkinson's SA art classes for two years and I was diagnosed around three years ago. The challenge I find is in identifying my situation.
"So, when I saw the brochure about the art class – which said ‘absolute beginners welcome’ – I thought that is me! I really value the support I get here – they are genuine people and it is amazing what you can do in this art class – and see the development of your skills.
“I have four grandchildren and I have their adoring support – they are always asking me, ‘Poppy what are you making next?’ They love to see what I have made.
“I also do boxing training twice a week – my friend calls me the ‘Renaissance Man’ as I am into literature, sport, and art. It is interesting to hear other people’s stories – you really discover that everyone with Parkinson’s has a unique experience.
“I feel like I have a team around me – my family, my neurologist, my neuro-physiotherapist. I feel a calmness coming here,” John said.
Discover more about our Parkinson's research.

Carmel's Story

Carmel was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease six and a half years ago – hear she talks to the NRF about how her diagnosis has impacted her life.
“I was diagnosed around six and a half years ago and I found it quite devastating at the time. I was just over 60 years of age. I was able to keep working for a few years with the medication as I really enjoyed my job as Library Assistant at the Gawler Library. However, we had moved further away from work, so the drive proved to be a bit difficult.
“I found it quite difficult to tell my friends and work colleagues about it. In fact, I have just told them recently. I wanted to travel once I had retired but I need to mindful about managing my energy levels. I can’t overdo it. So, I have just had to adapt my lifestyle.
“I have been coming to the art class here at Parkinson's SA
for the last two – three years. I just enjoy switching off, the concentration and you don’t need to pretend. It is a very caring environment. I feel comfortable here. I enjoy learning new things, it is interesting.
"I prefer the hands-on work with the clay compared to the watercolour painting.
“At home I enjoy sewing – I have taken up patchwork quilting. I enjoy the design process and matching the colours of the fabrics. I also go to the gym – exercise is great for Parkinson’s as you build new neural pathways and connections. I try to help myself as much as possible and keep brain fit,” Carmel said.
To donate to our Parkinson's Disease appeal please visit:

Dr Tessa Gargett - Childhood Brain Cancer

Did you know that NRF researchers are working towards improving techniques and treatments for toddler concussion, head injury, brain tumours and brain cancer in children? Dr Tessa Gargett is currently focused on childhood brain cancer.
"Standard treatments for childhood brain cancers are unsatisfactory. The cancer cells grow back and cause death in almost all patients. Breakthrough treatments using engineered white blood cells have transformed survival prospects for patients with blood cancers. We want to extend the promise of this cell therapy to brain cancer patients.
Here, we will combine our expertise in basic and clinical science to develop a new cell therapy program and so harness the power of the immune system to beat brain cancer."

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