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Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

News reports and advertising alert us to the connection between many types of foods and health. Most recognize that too much sodium (salt) may increase blood pressure. We know that obesity may make us more susceptible to many health conditions including type 2 diabetes and cancer. Certain types of fats have been linked to heart disease. We don’t hear as much about the effect of foods on our brains. Do certain diets make a difference? For the next few weeks, I will share current research on the impact of what we eat and memory.

As we age, every little slip in remembering someone’s name or misplacing our car keys may stir fear and panic. While a few blunders here and there may be no cause for worry about developing dementia, or worse, full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), memory loss is real. More than five million Americans now live with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a common form of dementia. What if certain foods or diets could make a difference? Would we pay attention? For several years, research has sought answers. We now know that the foods we eat can make a difference.

Dr. Lisa Moscone, author of Brain Food, compared brain imaging scans of healthy dementia-free 30- to 60-year-olds. One group ate the typical Western diet of high saturated fats, red meat, and refined sugar. The other group followed a Mediterranean diet which consisted of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein such as fish or chicken. Good fats (mono- or poly unsaturated) like avocado and olive oil replaced saturated fats, and the diet limited red meats and added sugars. Scans at the beginning of the study showed that those who ate Western-style foods had more beta-amyloid deposits and less brain activity, both indicators of early development of dementia.

Follow-up studies two or more years later revealed increases in beta-amyloid deposits and reduced active energy levels in those who ate Western diets, regardless of other potential risk factors for AD, i.e. sex, age, and a specific gene linked to AD. Changes in brain scan images showed up in areas of the brain most likely to be affected by AD.

What does this study tell us? Diet does make a difference. What is more important, to modify our diet in younger years with the potential of improved memory in later years or eat what we want, a Western diet, and wonder why we are so forgetful? Is our priority to eat whatever we want with no regard for the future or had we rather make a few changes to improve our odds of reaching old age with our brains mentally intact? Alzheimer’s Disease is a devastating condition. Even if we aren’t concerned about our future mental health, is it fair to our potential caregivers―children, spouses or friends―not to take care of ourselves? Diet may not prevent all memory loss, but it can make a difference for us and our families.

 

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Does what we eat affect how we think? Yes, according to recent research—especially as we grow older. We may joke about “senior moments,” but for most of us, it’s no laughing matter. We fear dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Who among us is more likely to be a target for decreased mental abilities?

Specific nutrients affect memory and learning. A diet with lots of sugar-rich foods has a negative impact. As one study noted, sugar makes you dumber. Rats fed extra fructose in their drinking water lacked the ability to think clearly and to recall the route of a maze they had learned several weeks earlier. However, even with the fructose, omega-3 fatty acids added to their regular diets caused them to remember the route faster.

Researchers theorized that high amounts of fructose blocks insulin’s ability to regulate the cell’s use and storage for energy that’s required to process thoughts and emotions. Thus, they concluded that high-fructose harmed the brain and the body.

Likewise, saturated fats may decrease memory and reduce brain function while unsaturated fats may improve it. Total fat doesn’t seem to affect mental tasks, but the type does. Even slight negative changes in cognitive skill increases the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study noted how omega-3 fatty acids protect the aging brain. Researchers tested 1,500 people with an average age of sixty-seven. Those who ate diets lacking omega-3 fatty acids aged faster and lost memory and thinking ability. Researchers did MRI brain scans, measured mental function, body mass, and omega-3 fatty acid in the red blood cells. Those who scored in the lower twenty-five percent of omega-3 fatty acid levels in their blood had smaller brains and scored lower on memory and abstract reasoning. They mentally appeared two years older than the remaining seventy-five percent.

How can you improve the way your brain works? High-sugar and high-saturated fat in the diet seem to do harm. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, improve memory. Also, berries have nutrients that contribute to brain health. Berries contain high levels of phytochemicals. Although berries differ in their combination of these substances, each contributes antioxidant effects that may help prevent age-related brain degeneration and changes in cognition and motor function. For best results, try a serving of berries—blueberries, strawberries, blackberries— each day.

Your memory may not be as sharp as in years past, but by careful selection of what you eat, you can keep your mind more alert and improve recall. What do you have to lose—except your mind?

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