- Nirusha Pahladi ANutr and Clyde Ngounou ANutr
The Role of Nutrition for Cognitive Disease Prevention and for the Ageing Brain
As we grow older we tend to become more forgetful; this could be as a result of too many things on the mind or something more serious such as Dementia or Alzheimer. Dementia and Alzheimer's diseases are serious diseases that lead to severe memory loss, declining health, and death. Moreover, memory problems and difficulties in concentrating can happen at any age. Common causes would include but not limited to lack of sleep, depression, stress, anxiety, allergies and hormonal imbalances. Poor nutrition is also thought to cause memory problems and recent studies reveal better nutrition may help to improve brain functions and slow the progress of cognitive decline.
Consuming a balanced, nutritious diet is important for maintaining health, especially as individuals age. Several studies suggest that consuming a diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components such as those found in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and fish is crucial in preserving a good brain health, helps slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline and reduce the risk of developing various neurodegenerative diseases. For example, eating green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach have been shown to prevent cognitive decline, perhaps due to the neuroprotective effects of certain nutrients. In addition, blueberries have been shown to improve memory loss in several studies in older adults and in children. Furthermore, fish consumption has been shown in some studies to maintain brain health and cognitive function because of their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, good nutrition plays a major role in maintaining a good brain health.
The US National Institute on Aging, of the National Institutes of Health, defines brain health as: "the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind. It’s being able to draw on the strengths of your brain — information management, logic, judgment, perspective, and wisdom. Simply, brain health is all about making the most of your brain and helping reduce some risks to it as you age".
Many foods can contribute positively to brain health, and we should incorporate them into our diets daily. These “healthy brain foods” are those listed from the MIND Diet. Such diet is full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients important in maintaining brain health. The Mediterranean diet, also related to the MIND diet and other healthy eating patterns have been associated with cognitive benefits in studies. The dietary nutrients from such diet might attack oxidative damage or inflammation, protect nerve cells, or influence other biological processes involved in the progression of cognitive decline.
The MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (Note that the DASH Diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Specific guidelines for the MIND Diet to be effective for brain health include:
1. Consuming at least three servings of whole grains (bulgur, buckwheat, whole oats, millet, barley, spelt, brown rice, quinoa, etc) per day
2. Consuming a salad each day
3. Eating one other vegetable every day
4. Drinking a glass of wine each day
5. Snacking on nuts almost every day
6. Eating beans every other day
7. Consuming poultry and berries at least twice a week
8. Eating fish at least once a week and include at least one portion of oily fish (trout, tuna, salmon, mackerel, etc.)
The MIND diet limits servings of red meat, sweets, pastries, cheese, butter/margarine and fast/fried food. So, add some berries to your porridge in the morning, dress your salads with olive oil, and snack on some nuts! It will do your brain good!
Vitamin A- combats toxins that damage brain cells.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – is important for nerve function; it is needed to produce the brain chemical acetylcholine, crucial for concentration levels and memory.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – is essential for brain health, helps support the nervous system.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)– improves nerves communication, helps with the development of neurotransmitters.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) – is needed to create the myelin sheath that protects nerves and speeds up the rate of electrical transmission.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)- is essential for the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)- seems to help guard against the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Choline – is needed to produce acetylcholine.
Vitamin C- neutralizes harmful free radicals that may damage brain cells.
Vitamin E – boosts brain function.
Iron – improves concentration.
Selenium – enhances the effects of vitamin E.
Zinc- improves memory.
Other nutrients/ supplements
Omega 3 fish oils – are crucial for brain development.
Amino acids – help the brain to function efficiently.
Bioflavonoids – increase the effects of vitamin C.
Garlic – improves blood flow to the brain.
Ginkgo biloba – increases blood flow to the brain, improve cognitive function.
Other foods to add
Anchovies and sardines, yeast extract, brazil nuts, wholegrains, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and low fat dairy products.
- Alcohol destroys brain cells and coffee often thought to improve concentration, in reality can also impairs it.
- Fried foods.
- Added sugar.
Aside from the benefits on brain health, consuming the MIND Diet and the Mediterranean Diet can also improve cardiovascular health.