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Q&A with Dr Briar McKenzie



Researcher Q&A


Q&A with Dr Briar McKenzie

Doctor Briar McKenzie is a 2022 Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales. A qualified dietitian, her research focuses on the role of diet in the prevention of chronic disease. Her current project aims to explore whether a diet that protects the health of blood vessels can also protect brain health.

What are you currently researching?

Conditions of the heart and blood vessels, such as stroke or vascular dementia, cause damage to the brain and result in poor brain health. This contributes to death and disability in Australia. Because there are more older Australians than ever before, poor brain health resulting from blood vessel conditions is becoming more common. Risk factors for these conditions include high blood pressure, high body weight and diabetes. Unfortunately, current treatment options are limited, which means there needs to be a greater focus on prevention.

Changes in diet have proved to be effective in reducing risk factors and heart disease. There is potential for dietary changes to reduce the impact of poor brain health in Australia. There is also more opportunity for research in this space, to gain a better understanding of how the findings may inform health policy. I hope to contribute to this area by analysing data on diet and poor brain health from two large studies, and by reviewing global research. I will work with consumers and policy stakeholders to complete and translate the research. This will help to inform prevention focused policies and guidelines for poor brain health. At a community level this work has the potential to contribute towards improvements in brain health across Australia.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

Currently there are a lack of treatment options for brain health conditions like dementia. Given the relationship between heart disease and brain health, there is significant potential in addressing heart disease risk factors for community-wide improvements in brain health. This work will identify the potential in relation to diet. The aim is that findings from this research will be used to help inform prevention-focused policies and guidelines in Australia. While the focus is on brain health, the outcomes of this research are likely to benefit other blood vessel conditions, with the potential for widespread improvements in heart and blood vessel health across Australia.

What motivated you to do your research?

I trained as a dietitian, and while on clinical placement I felt that more could be achieved by using diet to reduce risk factors and prevent diet-related diseases. This motivated my focus on research, particularly public health nutrition research. The motivation for my current project, came from the results of initial research into diet, heart disease and dementia. I realised that more research could be done in the areas where these conditions overlap, as this would support better prevention strategies. This was coupled with hearing stories from people living with poor brain health, and their families.

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

Having only recently finished my PhD, this Heart Foundation funding is giving me the opportunity to further establish myself as a researcher. It is also allowing me to extend my research into assessing the diet-related impact of poor brain health, which I hope will lead to future projects that focus on creating interventions.

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Thank you for your generous donations and support. This Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will give me the opportunity to research the relationship between diet and poor brain health in Australia, with a focus on translating those findings into policy and practice. I am incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to further research in this area. My goal is for this research to contribute to real life positive impacts by reducing the risk of developing conditions such as dementia and stroke. Thank you for this opportunity!

Last updated13 December 2023