Date of Award

Summer 2022

Project Type


Program or Major

Nutritional Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Sherman J Bigornia

Second Advisor

Tammy Scott

Third Advisor

Semra Aytur


Cognitive decline is a major public health concern. Evidence suggests that Hispanic/Latino adults, specifically Puerto Rican adults, in the US are at a higher risk of developing dementia or cognitive decline due to the high prevalence of risk factors, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Emerging evidence suggests that specific dietary fatty acids, short and medium-chain-length saturated fatty acids, that are found in dairy may be beneficial for cognitive function. However, there are limited observational studies examining the effects of SMCSFA and dairy on cognitive function in Hispanic/Latino adults. We examined the cross-sectional and prospective associations between SMCSFA and dairy consumption with cognitive function among Puerto Rican adults. Data were from the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study (57 yrs, 71% female), an ongoing prospective cohort study. Diet was assessed using a validated food frequency questionnaire. Dairy products included milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, and butter. Our primary exposures were the sum of SMCSFA(%TE), a dietary fatty acid pattern consistent with high SMCSFA, total dairy (s/d), regular & reduced fat dairy (s/d), and nonfat dairy products (s/d). A battery of neurocognitive tests was administered by trained staff in the language of preference. Global cognitive function score (GCS) was calculated as the mean z-scores of the individual tests. A subset of BPRHS participants returned for neurocognitive testing at 13-yr follow-up. We analyzed SMCSFA in a substitution analysis at the expense of trans fats and added sugar. Dairy models were adjusted for total energy, age, sex, physical activity, smoking status, and education. We also conducted a substation analysis of dairy at the expense of red and processed meats. Our cross-sectional analysis was conducted using multivariate linear regression. Our prospective analysis assessed the change over baseline, 2 and 13 years using a mixed effects model with time-covarying covariates. In the final sample, participants consumed 2.42 s/day of dairy and less than 1% of their diet was derived from SMCSFA. Most dairy was consumed through 2% and whole milk (37%). Most SMCSFA in the diet were derived from cheese (30%) and whole milk (22%). Butter was significantly related to GCS over 13 years of follow-up. There were no significant associations between SMCSFA, total dairy, regular & reduced fat dairy, or nonfat dairy with cognitive function cross-sectionally or prospectively. In this cohort of Puerto Rican adults, our findings suggest there were no associations between SMCSFA and dairy with cognitive function. Future prospective studies should examine this relationship in a similar population with larger sample sizes and over a longer duration.