Nutrition and Your Brain                                                             More Articles
An article by Marcia Zimmerman, MEd, CN

Reprinted from "Country Sun" magazine

“The 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).

Alzheimer's Disease
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.

Ways 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 AD.

Nutritional Support
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 health practitioner.

Senior Moments
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 off hunger.”


Selected Sources

"Alzheimer's 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

 

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