Nutrition to prevent Cognitive Decline (aka protecting Brain Health and preventing dementia)
Recent data has shown that a healthy diet has been shown to offer protection from diseases, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
For instance, patients following a Mediterranean diet for 4.5 years lowered their risk of AD by 54%.
There is no cure for dementia and the precise causes haven’t been identified. However, we do know that cognitive decline doesn’t manifest overnight. It probably starts 10-15 years before the first signs of confusion, memory loss or poor concentration.
Prevention is always better than cure, so this article provides some basic information on how to care for your brain health throughout your life. It is easy to forget about our health when we are feeling well, but having a forward-looking approach to everyday health can help you and your family future-proof your wellbeing for decades to come.
How does food and Lifestyle promote Brain health?
There are processes that promote synaptic activity and others that inhibit it. We can modulate factors that cause neurologic decay and amplify forces that promote neurologic growth.
We also understand now that certain lifestyle factors are risk factors for developing dementia or Alzheimer's. Chronic inflammation, high blood pressure and unmanaged diabetes are some of the key risk factors for developing dementia in later life.
Evidence shows that certain food compounds can promote these health issues and other foods, or diets can help protect us from them.
Important Health Factors affective cognitive function:
Insulin resistance (eg. Diabetes). Alzheimer’s is also becoming known as Diabetes Type 3 – so close is the link between the two conditions.
Inflammation / elevated Homocysteine. Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid that should be recycled by the body and metabolised by the body. When this doesn’t happen, it accumulates and becomes a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that homocysteine can be normalised through diet or supplementation (for those with worryingly elevated levels).
Gut health. Our gut is also referred to as the ‘second brain’. We now understand the critical role that gut health plays in cognitive health. In particular studies have shown that what is happening in the gut (or microbiome) can influence inflammation in the brain.
The good news is that we can positively impact our microbiomes by what we eat.
Food Factors to Protect and Promote Healthy Brain Function
Reduce simple carbohydrates and sugar. This keeps blood sugar levels balanced, prevents insulin resistance and helps to avoid diabetes.
Eat foods that help to lower homocysteine: leafy greens are especially good (spinach, kale, broccoli) as well as foods rich in choline, B6, folate, B12. Folate and B12 are essential to convert homocysteine and prevent it accumulating and causing damage. Research suggests that insufficient folate, B6 and B12 in earlier years (think 30’s-50’s) almost doubles the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in older age.
Reduce pro-inflammatory foods. These are usually foods that are very high in omega 6 fatty acids (like fried foods) or in compounds that cause inflammation (like sugar). Excess red meat, fried foods, ultra processed foods and sugary drinks should be limited to keep your brain healthy.
Increase foods with anti-inflammatory properties. These are foods that are rich in compounds that fight inflammation. The best sources are: oily fish (like mackerel or sardines), walnuts, ginger, rosemary, olive oil, berries, brightly coloured vegetables and turmeric.
Support beneficial bacteria in your gut. Garlic, leeks, onions, apples, green tea, wholegrains and kefir dairy promote commensal bacteria that protect brain health.
An integrated approach
Good nutrition is a very important element that feeds into an overall lifestyle approach to future-proofing your brain health.
These food tips are a good start, and should be part of an integrated approach to wellness that includes stress management, sleep and activity.
Start small changes today and build up your cognitive resilience for years to come!
Need help honing your brain-protecting diet? Book your consultation now for personalised care.