Do you have trouble concentrating, easily forget things, experience brain fog, insomnia or feel depressed for no reason? Do you want to optimize your brain function and do whatever you can to prevent memory loss and dementia? If so, read on!
According to studies, dementia, brain inflammation and brain disease including Alzheimer’s is affecting more people under the age of 55, and has risen 92 percent in the last 31 years in people under 74 years old.
The good news is that your brain has the ability to regenerate, repair, and change structure and function, meaning you can change your brain, a.k.a. neuroplasticity. Just because your dad, grandma or any other family member had (has) heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, depression or Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean you’re predestined to follow in their footsteps. Genes are plastic based on environmental epigenetics, which means we can alter which genes turn on and which genes turn off. Epigenetics reveal how environmental factors like nutrition, stress, pollutants, toxins, and even our own emotions, control how and when genes are expressed. This means we are not powerless as to whether we get cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. We have some control over our environment and lifestyle choices.
Prevention is the best way to combat memory problems and mental decline, reduce risk of neurocognitive disorders and stimulate production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports memory and learning by stimulating the growth of new neurons and preserving existing brain cells. Diet, exercise, inflammation levels, gut health and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. According to an analysis in the Lancet Journal of Neurology, more than half of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide can be attributed to diet and lifestyle risk factors.
Diet, nutrition for a healthy brain
• Eat anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich brain foods particularly dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, asparagus, choline-rich egg yolks, cold water fish, sardines and wild (not farmed) salmon, walnuts, cacao, turmeric, ginger, garlic, coconut oil, green tea, bone broth, and flavonoid-rich berries, especially blueberries.
• Manage insulin and stabilize blood sugar. Hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and diabetes impact everything from mood to weight to brain health. Studies have found a direct correlation between high blood sugar and brain inflammation, brain shrinkage and an increased risk of dementia. In fact, those with diabetes are twice as likely to succumb to dementia, and insulin-dependent diabetics have four times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
• The brain is 60-70 percent fat. Coconut oil, wild (not farmed) salmon, sardines, grass-fed beef, avocado, pastured butter, egg yolks and walnuts are brain-healthy fats. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk for cognitive impairment or full-blown dementia is 42 percent lower in those who eat a diet higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates.
• Studies report that coffee can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Just make sure it’s organic since coffee is highly sprayed with pesticides.
• Fuel your brain with protein, which contains amino acids that provide the necessary building blocks for optimal brain function. Protein deficiency is very common in the elderly and those with depression and mood disorders.
• Avoid offending foods that trigger brain inflammation, shrinkage, brain ageing, cognitive decline, degeneration and reduced levels of BDNF. These include sugar, fructose, wheat, gluten, soda, casein, artificial sweeteners, chronic alcohol use, rancid vegetable oils, trans fats, processed soy, factory-farmed hormone and antibiotic injected meats, dairy, GMOs, MSG, food additives, dyes and all processed foods.
• Brain matter is 77-80 percent water. Anything that dehydrates it (insufficient water intake, extreme heat, too much caffeine or alcohol) impairs brain function. In fact, just a two percent loss of body fluid affects cognition and short-term memory. Invest in a water filter to remove chlorine, fluoride and heavy metals from your drinking water.
• Spice it up! Turmeric may reduce plaque in the brain. Cinnamon, garlic and oregano increase blood flow to the brain. Rosemary, thyme and sage boost memory.
• Choose organic. Pesticides, Round Up Ready glyphosate and GMOs damage the brain and increase risk of leaky gut, neurological disorders, ADHD, autism, dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Exercise for a healthy brain
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve memory, brain function, increase IQ, build new brain cells, and protect your brain. Researchers have found that exercise improves learning and memory, and boosts the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus.
• Walking outside for just 20 minutes a day releases BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which increases the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, and protects and repairs neurons in the brain.
• Strength train. Researchers found that just 20 minutes of weight training improves long-term memory.
• Just one daily 30-minute session of vigorous exercise produces positive changes in the brain making it more plastic and improving memory.
• Practice yoga, Qi gong or Tai chi to improve cognition, memory and balance. Inability to balance on one leg for longer than 20 seconds was associated with early pathological changes in the brain and functional decline.
• Your brain needs downtime! Take a mental break every day (nature walks, meditation, deep breathing, gardening, a nap or just daydream). As little as 10, 20 or 30 minutes does wonders to increase productivity, performance, memory, attention, creativity, motivation and relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, is a nutritionist and fitness and fat loss expert with more than 25 years of experience. Visit Paula at www.PaulaOwens.com.