What we eat might have an impact on our ability to remember. What food we choose to consume, eating certain food and avoiding other, has been shown to slow down our brain aging by 7.5 years. It also lessens the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as we age. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/improve-brain-health-with-the-mind-diet/art-20454746 Dementia is defined as a decline in mental ability that affects every day functioning and memory. Dementia affects an estimated 47 million plus people worldwide with symptoms including memory loss, difficulty thinking, difficulty communicating, difficulty with coordination and motor functions, general confusion and disorientation. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It is a progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss and possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment. Alzheimer’s disease involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. In 2020, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm Years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer's appear, there can be changes in your brain. These early brain changes suggest a window of opportunity to prevent or delay dementia symptoms. Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s we can’t change, such as age and genetics. But we can control lifestyle choices such as our diet or food choices, control your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, exercise, quitting smoking and include cognitive training. Work to keep a healthy weight range for your height is also very important.
Could what we eat affect our brains? It’s possible that eating a certain diet affects biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress and inflammation, that are associated with Alzheimer’s. Or a diet works indirectly by affecting other Alzheimer’s risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. There is new research focusing on the relationship between gut microbes — tiny organisms in the digestive system — and aging-related processes that lead to Alzheimer’s. I truly believe your gut microbiome affects multiple systems in our body. I will have a podcast on the brain-gut axis coming soon!
Let us look at some research related to diet and brain health. One diet that shows some promising evidence is the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and other seafood; unsaturated fats such as olive oils; and low amounts of red meat, eggs, and sweets. A variation of this, called MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) incorporates the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease
Some, but not all, observational studies — those in which individuals are observed or certain outcomes are measured, without treatment — have shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk for dementia. These studies compared cognitively normal people who ate a Mediterranean diet with those who ate a Western-style diet, which contains more red meat, saturated fats and sugar. Evidence supporting the MIND diet comes from observational studies of more than 900 dementia-free older adults, which found that closely following the MIND diet was associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a slower rate of cognitive decline.
A Look at more Evidence. These are studies that observed changes in thinking of people who ate the Mediterranean or MIND diet. They suggest it might help the brain. For example:
-In one observational study of 116 cognitively normal adults, those who followed a Mediterranean diet had thicker cortical brain regions than those who did not. These brain regions shrink in people with Alzheimer’s, so having thicker regions could mean cognitive benefit.
-A follow-up observational study showed lower glucose metabolism and higher levels of beta-amyloid protein — both seen in Alzheimer’s — in people who did not follow the Mediterranean diet closely, compared to those who did.
-An analysis of diet and other factors found that, after an average of 4.5 years, people who adhered most closely to the MIND diet had a 53% reduced rate of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who did not follow the diet closely.
-In a similar study, following the MIND diet was associated with a substantial slowing of cognitive decline during an average of almost 5 years.
-The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies originally looked at diet and eye disease. Further analysis by the researchers showed that people who followed the Mediterranean-style diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive problems while maintaining a higher level of cognitive function. These studies all by the national institute of Aging.
I think the results speak for themselves. There is no specific food or a diet to cure dementia or Alzheimer’s that are known. We must start now to make changes in our daily fueling to empower and maintain our brain health. Let us move on to these three specific diets.
1. the Mediterranean diet- The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that's based on traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It is linked to lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer as well as to improvements in brain function and lower rates of chronic disease and offers protection from Alzheimer’s disease. Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, are the foundation of the diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat. Fish- Fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are eaten in moderation. Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure. Seafood, dairy and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.
Wine is often associated with the Mediterranean diet. It can be included in moderation. While alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease, it has other health risks. So, moderation is the key.
Here are 4 steps to start fueling the Mediterranean way- 1. Build meals around vegetables, beans and whole grains. 2. Eat fish at least twice a week. 3. Use olive oil instead of butter in preparing food. 4. Serve fresh fruit for dessert.
Sample Mediterranean diet
Steel cut oatmeal with fresh berries and almonds OR 6 oz. Greek yogurt topped with blueberries
Greek salad with grilled chicken OR Whole-grain pita with 2 tbsp. hummus and tomatoes
Roasted salmon, spinach with pine nuts and raisins, poached pears OR Broiled chicken with garlic and lemon, asparagus
Link to the American Heart Association for more information on the Mediterranean diet: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
2. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which has been shown to lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. the DASH diet can help reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid. People with high blood levels of homocysteine have twice the normal risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The DASH diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. These nutrients help control blood pressure. The diet limits foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks. It has been shown to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels are two major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The DASH diet is lower in sodium than a typical American diet, which can include 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium or more a day. The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day.
The DASH diet is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life. It's easy to follow using foods found at your grocery store.
The DASH diet is rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans and nuts. It limits foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.
The DASH diet provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. The number of servings you should have depends on your daily calorie needs. Here's a look at the recommended servings from each food group for a 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet:
Grains: 6 to 8 servings a day. One serving is one slice bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta.
Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings a day. One serving is 1 cup raw leafy green vegetable, 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup low sodium vegetable juice.
Fruits: 4 to 5 servings a day. One serving is one medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or 1/2 cup 100% fruit juice.
Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: 2 to 3 servings a day. One serving is 1 cup milk or yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces cheese.
Lean meats, poultry and fish: six 1-ounce servings or fewer a day. One serving is 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry or fish, or 1 egg.
Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4 to 5 servings a week. One serving is 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked legumes (dried beans or peas).
Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings a day. One serving is 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons salad dressing.
Sweets and added sugars: 5 servings or fewer a week. One serving is 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet, or 1 cup lemonade.
I have a link from the mayo clinic on the DASH diet. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456
3. MIND (Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)-
A study supported by the National Institute of Aging, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, found that this diet reduced the incidence of Alzheimer’s by 53 percent among people who followed it closely and by 35 percent among
those who followed it moderately well. These results were published in 2015. Later investigations showed that the MIND diet appears to work better than the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet individually for lowering the risk of cognitive decline.
The MIND diet focuses on plant-based foods linked to dementia prevention. It encourages eating from 10 healthy food groups:
Leafy green vegetables, at least 6 servings/week- This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens and salads.
Other vegetables, at least 1 serving/day- it is best to choose non-starchy vegetables because they have a lot of nutrients with a low number of calories.
Berries, at least 2 servings/week
Whole grains, at least 3 servings/day- Choose whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, ancient grains and 100% whole-wheat bread.
Fish, 1 serving/week- it is best to choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Poultry, 2 servings/week- try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice a week. Note that fried chicken is not encouraged on the MIND diet.
Beans, 3 servings/week- This includes all beans, lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans and soybeans.
Nuts, 5 servings/week
Wine, 1 glass/day- Both red and white wine may benefit the brain. Research has focused on the red wine compound resveratrol, which may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease
Olive oil as your primary cooking oil
Restrictions include less than one pat of butter or margarine daily, less than one ounce of cheese per week, less than 5 servings of pastries or sweets per week –(This includes most of the processed junk food and desserts you can think of. Ice cream, cookies, brownies, snack cakes, donuts, candy and more) and less than 4 servings of red meats-( This includes all beef, pork, lamb and products made from these meats) or processed meats per week and The MIND diet highly discourages fried food, especially the kind from fast-food restaurants- limit to less than once per week.
These 3 plans are perfect for brain health, but also in general, they have great principles to follow for total health- body and mind!
The Connection Between the Digestive System and the Brain-
Researchers are learning how the biochemical processes of food intake and digestion interact with changes in the brain. They are finding that the gut microbiome — the community of viruses, bacteria and other microbes in the digestive system — may influence the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in the gut microbiome as people age have been linked to disruptions in the immune system, persistent inflammation and chronic diseases, including neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers are exploring how these changes are related to each other and to brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. Identifying the good and bad gut microbes associated with Alzheimer’s will help scientists learn more about the biology of the disease and develop a new way to predict and potentially treat it. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease
At this time, no vitamin or supplement is recommended for preventing Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline. But here are a few that can promote brain health AND overall health.
1. Vitamins from the B group are considered to be particularly important for good brain health. Thiamin (B1) is one of the many B vitamins that is found abundantly in the brain and nerve tissue. It plays a role in the conduction of nerve impulses, according to an article published in The Journal of International Medical Research.
2. Folic acid (B9) refers to different compounds known as folates, and can be obtained from different foods such as spinach, asparagus, and lentils. Folic acid also plays an important role in the making of amino acids and the formation of nerve tissue.
3. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)-The highest concentration of this essential vitamin is found in the brain, especially in the pituitary gland. You can get high amounts of this powerful antioxidant from citrus fruits and green vegetables. Vitamin C is important in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it also protects the brain against oxidative stress.
4. Calcium is the number one essential mineral for healthy brain functioning. It plays a central role as a nerve cell messenger. It also regulates neurotransmission and controls nerve excitability.
5. Magnesium is important for the conversion of many B vitamins into their active form. In other words, taking any vitamin supplement on its own would be futile without magnesium and other minerals as their interplay is what makes the brain work. One study found that administration of magnesium supplements to aged rats improved working and long-term memory. The magnesium in cell membranes is also important for the transmission of impulses. Magnesium and calcium need to be both in ideal amounts in the body to prevent excitability of the nervous system. A deficiency of either one can lead to neurological problems.
6. Zinc is found in high amounts in certain so-called Zinc-containing neurons which are found exclusively in the forebrain. Scientists don’t know what role zinc plays in the maintenance of brain health, but its deficiency is associated with different neurological and psychological impairments. For instance, alterations in zinc homeostasis were found in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer sufferers. https://www.medicaldaily.com/6-vitamins-and-minerals-boost-brain-power-396091
7. Omega-3s help build cell membranes in the brain and also may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that could protect brain cells.
8. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and is believed to help with brain health by reducing oxidative stress.
9. While not strictly a vitamin, choline is vitamin-like. The nutrient choline is used in many chemical reactions in the body. It's important in the nervous system and for the development of normal brain functioning. It is necessary to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine helps regulate mood, intelligence and cognitive processes. Many foods contain choline such as animal-based products meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Rutabaga, Turnip, certain beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Choline is also present in breast milk and is added to most commercial infant formulas
-Our diet or fueling is a big factor, but so is mental stimulation. Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, try "mental gymnastics," such as word puzzles or math problems. Try things that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort, such as drawing, painting, and other crafts. If you do not use what you got- you lose what you got!