Memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease – these negative reminders of what old age can bring with it can seem overwhelming, foreboding, and almost inevitable. The good news is that while genetics, environment, and gender have something to do with the overall cognitive decline, so does a healthy and smart diet play a role in combating it. A growing degree of Alzheimer’s awareness has helped to support valuable research to better understand this disease.
To many, Alzheimer’s is best known as the memory loss disease that can occur in middle to old age. In Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, brain degeneration progresses to such a state that can lead to senility, loss of basic cognitive function, and the inability to respond to one’s environment and carry out day to day tasks. There are also very nuanced types of Alzheimer’s, such as sundowner’s syndrome, which merits special consideration. For example, older adults with sundowner’s syndrome might experience sudden confusion, agitation, and outbursts resulting from a possible altered sleep/wake cycle—all towards the end of the day (hence the name.) There are common dietary considerations for Alzheimer’s that encompass even these nuanced cases.
Why Is Diet Vital to Brain Health?
The key to developing a diet which improves cognitive function is understanding how the brain operates and what “brain health” really means. Your brain is the proverbial control center for all your senses and actions—from movement, judgment, decision-making, critical thinking, attention, problem-solving, memory, and storing information. The brain does all these tasks with little conscious effort. It’s not a leap of faith to realize that your brain needs some serious nutritive support to manage all this!
While the ‘rational’ part of your brain finishes developing around the age of 25, your brain actually continues to update and adapt – forming new pathways between brain cells, re-organizing, and storing new information—well into the later years of life (R). This is often referred to as neural plasticity and describes the brain’s ability to change throughout one’s life. This means that, in addition to the support of cognitive function, dietary consideration should be made for the growth of the brain as well!
When neurons are ‘fired’ through a synapse to the receptor of another cell, say in a muscle or in your blood, they communicate and send messages back and forth. This method of communication is key to how the brain helps regulate our entire body. These signals are often synergistic in the sense that improper signaling can cause improper bodily function that can result in further degradation of neural signaling. In other words: a vicious cycle (R). Helping to provide the brain with nutrition to help support these signaling processes is essential for a healthy brain. Foods that boost neuron and synapse production, that repair and power strong and active mitochondria, and which prevent oxidative stress in the brain can all play a significant role in fighting Alzheimer’s.
What Should I Eat to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?
Promote brain health and prevent cognitive decline with foods rich in healthy fats, lean proteins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Dark, Leafy Greens: In addition to being great sources of fiber and essential electrolytes, iron, and calcium, dark, leafy greens like kale, collards, and spinach provide brain-boosting nutrients like folate, Vitamins C, B-6 and K, and carotenoids. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that protect cells (like those in your brain) against damage, support your immune system, improve eye health, and are believed to combat cancerous tumor growth.
Cruciferous vegetables include foods such as broccoli, cauliflowerBrusselel sprouts, and bok choy—just to name a few. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in folate (a B vitamin that creates DNA, other genetic material, and also helps with cell division) and offer tons of potassium, fiber, and disease fighting phytochemicals and carotenoids. Studies have shown that lower folate concentrations are more present in elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s (R).
In addition to huge amounts of Vitamin D (127% recommended daily value in a 4 oz. piece) and B12 (236% recommended daily value in a 4 oz. piece), wild salmon generates beneficial amounts of brain-powering Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats aid in building cell membranes, forming new brain cells, and reducing brain inflammation (R). Wild salmon is also rich in choline, a macro-nutrient which helps with metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Boasting a praise-worthy amount of healthy fats and vitamin E, almonds contain two important brain-activating nutrients – riboflavin and L-carnitine. Also know as vitamin B2, riboflavin is responsible for helping process amino acids and fats, as well as producing cellular energy and serving as an antioxidant. L-carnitine is an amino acid that transfers long-chain fatty acids into those valuable mitochondria that manufacture energy. Almonds have been shown to improve learning and memory skills and prevent age-related cognitive decline (R).
Legumes like black beans and pinto beans are stocked with nutritional components including phosphorous, fiber, protein, folate, iron, and zinc. These nutrient-rich foods are a natural way to boost brain health and help prevent cognitive decline. Phosphorous, in particular, is one such vital mineral that optimizes hormonal balances, cellular repair, and energy extraction. Phosphorous promotes cognitive growth and development, is round in high concentrations in brain cells, and deficiencies have also been linked to Alzheimer’s (R). The use of phosphorus is also used by our body to create energy on a cellular level so, you know, it pretty much impacts everything.
Grab a handful of blueberries for a powerful punch of antioxidants. In addition to offering loads of Vitamins C and K as well as manganese, blueberries’ antioxidants protect your brain cells against free radicals which can damage as much as your DNA. The parts of your brain where you process knowledge and intelligence is where flavanoids, the antioxidants from blueberries, tend to settle, improving intercellular communication and delaying cognitive aging (R).
Foods to Avoid
Have you heard the saying, “if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it probably isn’t good for you”? Processed foods from either a fast food restaurant or a packaged snack at the grocery store typically contain preservatives, chemicals, added sugar, and other health-harming ingredients that you simply don’t need. Science is linking these ingredients to a long list of health concerns, one of which is the decline of cognitive performance. Research suggests that avoiding high-fat dairy, minimizing the consumption of meats, and eliminating sweets are all dietary habits associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (R).
Alzheimer’s is a disease marked by the systemic decline of cognitive performance including memory, learning, and processing of information. The exact nature of the disease isn’t known with certainty but modern science has discovered much to help better explain its origins. There are some supplements, such as phosphatidylserine, that have shown specific benefits for helping prevent cognitive decline as well as improving overall mental performance.
More powerful still, research has found many powerful connections between everyday dietary habits and the progression of neurodegenerative disease. Among the many revelations in recent years, researchers have shown that diet and nutrition can have a tremendous impact on our brains as we age. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants continue to pop up on the radar as beneficial to long-term cognitive health.
How’d We Do?
Alzheimer’s disease is a very serious condition that affects tens of millions each year. We believe there is strong evidence to suggest dietary habits play a role in the progression of Alzheimer’s and wanted to help bring some preventative measures to our readers’ attention. Let us know how we did by rating this article!