and Your Brain
An article by Marcia Zimmerman, MEd, CN
from "Country Sun" magazine
brain is the most energy demanding organ in the body, requiring
a constant supply of nutrients. Recently scientists have discovered
that the brain has the ability to rewire itself through out life.
Not only does nutrition hold the key to brain health, but it also
appears to play a pivotal role in cognition, memory and various
neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
An estimated 4.5 million Americans have AD, and that number is
expected to hit 16 million by 2050 as baby boomers age. Scientists
are scrambling to understand this condition better and to find
effective treatments. Alzheimer’s is characterized by neuronal
degeneration and buildup of amyloid-beta formations and neurofibrillary
tangles in the brain.
Individuals afflicted with AD, which more common
among women, increasingly fail to remember important items and
sometimes how to perform tasks that would have been simple just
six months previously.
“It’s not that you misplaced your
keys- it’s that you can’t figure out what you would
do to get them back,” says Dr. Richard Mohs, M.D. Mount
Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
to prevent Alzheimer’s
Dr. Mohs recommends exercising the brain with mental activity
like reading, playing games, and taking classes as important strategies
for preventing Alzheimer’s, particularly as we age. Other
researchers suggest engaging in aerobic exercise to improve blood
flow to the brain and to keep blood pressure, cholesterol and
diabetes under control.
Preventative strategies for Alzheimer’s
are most effective when started before or during the early states
of the disease. An antiaging plan begun while you’re healthy
and active is the best insurance against aging conditions including
Alzheimer’s shares a common thread with other aging disorders
(including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer) involving
oxidative stress and inflammation. For example, diets high in
saturated fats replace essential fats and increase inflammation,
which is a contributing factor in Alzheimer’s.
Large epidemiological studies suggest that a
heart-healthy diet- low fat, low cholesterol, high fiber and rich
in fruits and vegetables- may prevent Alzheimer’s by reducing
inflammation and oxidative stress. The brain’s high energy
output generates large numbers of free radicals that overwhelm
internal antioxidant systems, which naturally decline with age.
The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables
provide support for quenching free radicals, while low antioxidant
levels increase the severity of the disease.
Aging only compounds nutritional problems. As
we grow older, our sense of taste and smell is no longer acute-
and this reduces appetite. Malnutrition and dehydration may increase
confusion and stress, lessen our ability to cope and trigger physical
problems as well.
Niacin rich foods can be very helpful to combat
Alzheimer’s, such as protein sources rich in Omega-3, whole
grain products, beans and peas, avocados, dates, figs and prunes.
There are a plethora of supplements that one
can explore as well, such as alpha GFC, lipoic acid, DHA, found
in omega-3 fats and others. Although all supplements should be
carefully explored along with a healthy diet, that includes exercise,
and all of this under the supervision and recommendation of your
While forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, a healthy lifestyle
(stress reduction, a nutritious diet, exercise, mental stimulation
and supplementation) can influence our mental acumen as we grow
older. As a nation, we need to prioritize dietary choices, choosing
foods for their nutritional benefits rather than to simply stave
Disease and Oxygen Radicals: New Insights" by D. Pratico,
Biochem Pharmacol, 2/02
"Brain Specific Nutrients: A Memory Cure?" by M.A. McDaniel
et al., Nutrition 11-12/03
"Mitochondrial Decay, a Major Cause of Aging, Can Be Delayed"
by B.N. Ames, J Alzheimer's Disease, 4/04