Diet — Brain Connections: Impact on Memory, Mood, Aging and Disease

How Diet and Nutrition Affect Older Adult Brain Health
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Build muscle to pump up your brain. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they help you maintain brain health.

Diet — Brain Connections

Include balance and coordination exercises. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Try yoga, Tai Chi, or exercises using balance balls. But remember: a little exercise is better than none.

In fact, adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your health. Choose activities you enjoy and start small—a minute walk a few times a day, for example—and allow yourself to gradually build up your momentum and self-confidence. It takes about 28 days for a new routine to become habit, so do your best to stick with it for a month and soon your exercise routine will feel natural, even something you miss if you skip a session. This includes repeated hits in sports activities such as football, soccer, and boxing, or one-time injuries from a bicycle, skating, or motorcycle accident.

Protect your brain by wearing properly fitting sports helmets and trip-proofing your environment as you exercise.

Impact on Memory, Mood, Aging and Disease

Avoid activities that compete for your attention—like talking on your cell while walking or cycling. Human beings are highly social creatures. By adjusting your eating habits, however, you can help reduce inflammation and protect your brain. Cut down on sugar. Sugary foods and refined carbs such as white flour, white rice, and pasta can lead to dramatic spikes in blood sugar which inflame your brain.

Watch out for hidden sugar in all kinds of packaged foods from cereals and bread to pasta sauce and low or no-fat products. Enjoy a Mediterranean diet.

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That means plenty of vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and olive oil—and limited processed food. Avoid trans fats. These fats can cause inflammation and produce free radicals—both of which are hard on the brain.

Diet — Brain Connections

Get plenty of omega-3 fats. Food sources include cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, seaweed, and sardines.

You can also supplement with fish oil. Stock up on fruit and vegetables. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the more the better. Eat up across the color spectrum to maximize protective antioxidants and vitamins, including green leafy vegetables, berries, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli. Enjoy daily cups of tea. Regular consumption of great tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging. White and oolong teas are also particularly brain healthy. Drinking cups daily has proven benefits. Although not as powerful as tea, coffee also confers brain benefits.

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Cook at home often. Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil may help to preserve brain health. Activities involving multiple tasks or requiring communication, interaction, and organization offer the greatest protection. They suggest eating whole foods and avoiding processed and ultra-processed foods that we know cause inflammation and disease. In the relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry we help patients understand how gut health and diet can positively or negatively affect their mood.

When someone is prescribed an antidepressant such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor SSRI , the most common side effects are gut-related, and many people temporarily experience nausea, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal problems. There is anatomical and physiologic two-way communication between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. The gut-brain axis offers us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease, including depression and anxiety.

When the balance between the good and bad bacteria is disrupted, diseases may occur.

Impact on Memory, Mood, Aging and Disease

Examples of such diseases include: inflammatory bowel disease IBD , asthma, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cognitive and mood problems. For example, IBD is caused by dysfunction in the interactions between microbes bacteria , the gut lining, and the immune system. A recent study suggests that eating a healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods may be protective against depression.

Another study outlines an Antidepressant Food Scale, which lists 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression. Some of the foods containing these nutrients are oysters, mussels, salmon, watercress, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and strawberries. We should be careful about using food as the only treatment for mood, and when we talk about mood problems we are referring to mild and moderate forms of depression and anxiety.

They are also a great source of fibre and glucose, the main energy source for the brain. They are sweet but have a low glycaemic index so they help regulate sugar levels. These are loaded with anti-ageing nutrients, such as omega-3s and vitamin E. Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fat, a kind of fat that is good for the heart.

What is good for the heart is good for the brain. They are also a good source of glucose combined with a high fibre content to stabilise blood sugar levels. As a result, these foods enhance your metabolism, support a healthy digestion and boost the immune system too.

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Even though water is not usually considered a food, it is definitely a major source of nutrition for our thirsty brains. Every chemical reaction that takes place in the brain requires water, especially energy production. The brain is so sensitive to dehydration that even a minimal loss of water can cause symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, confusion and, more importantly, brain shrinkage.

Why is this important?

Purified water, fizzy water — all these beverages were stripped of the precious nutrients and natural electrolytes the brain needs to stay hydrated and work efficiently. The brain needs more than something wet; it needs the essential nutrients that real water carries with it. These foods and nutrients are valuable at all stages of life.

What Does Your Gut’s Brain Control?

While the dietary needs of the rest of the body vary somewhat with age more protein is needed when we are younger; more calcium and vitamin D when we are older , this does not seem to be the case for the brain. However, like every diet, the effects and efficacy of these foods will vary massively from individual to individual. My current research is looking at the differences between the ways that male and female brains need and metabolise specific nutrients. In the end, a brain-healthy diet optimises your capacity for keeping a healthy, sharp and active brain over a lifetime — while reducing the risk of developing age-related cognitive impairments and dementia.

As individuals and as a society, we must refocus attention on how our food choices shape our brains, as surely as they shape the rest of us. Directions In a bowl, mix together yoghurt, wheat germ and flax meal. Transfer to small jars. Top with blueberries and raspberries or your favourite fresh fruit. Feel free to sweeten with a little honey or maple syrup if needed.