Monday, July 9, 2012
Feed Your Brain
Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with short-term memory loss, which progresses to include other cognitive troubles, such as language deterioration and movement problems, interfering with daily activities. It is only diagnosed definitively by autopsy, which reveals brain degeneration, including the characteristic amyloid (a type of protein found in the healthy brain) plaques and nerve fiber tangles (Kidd, 2008). Recent research has revealed changes at the cellular level, including low-level inflammation of the brain’s grey matter, evidence of high oxidative stress, and damage to the mitochondria, our cells’ energy-generating organelles (Kidd, 2008). Researchers are now finding evidence of problems with sugar metabolism and insulin signaling the brain in Alzheimer’s, calling it “Type-3 diabetes” (Kroner, 2009).
Medical treatments for Alzheimer’s are generally ineffective. While there is some promising research on the use of vitamins and supplements (Kidd, 2008), prevention is likely the best strategy. Neurology has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years, as the concept of neuroplasticity—the notion that the brain can adapt, change, and grow new connections throughout life—has become prominent. “Use it or lose it,” should be a mantra for anyone interested in aging with grace and maintaining memory. Physical and mental exercise reduce Alzheimer’s risk, which is increased by smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, traumatic brain injury and heavy metal toxicity (Kidd, 2008).
You are what you eat, of course, and many healthy foods can reduce your chance of dementia, to wit:
• Vitamin E intake is protective. Get your E in nuts and nut butters, whole grains and leafy green vegetables (Perlmutter, Colman, 2004).
• A diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. In particular, berries, grape juice and walnuts have been shown to improve memory in animal and human studies (Joseph, Shukitt-Hale, Willis, 2009).
• Eating fish even as little as once per week was linked to a 60% reduction in dementia risk, and multiple studies have shown that the more fish people eat, the less likely they are to develop dementia (Kidd, 2007).
• Drinking 3-5 cups a day of caffeinated coffee can protect against Alzheimer’s (Eskelinen, Kivipelto, 2010).
• Light to moderate alcohol drinking appears to have a protective effect, as well (Neafsey, Collins, 2011). In this, as in everything, moderation is key!
• Eating chocolate and drinking tea, coffee and red wine are habits linked to a lower chance of Alzheimer’s (Nurk, et al., 2009).
Age-with-Grace Trail Mix
This mix is a potent blend of memory-enhancing, brain protective foods that can travel with you and replace less-healthy snacks. Seek out locally grown, raw nuts and seeds and unsulfured dried fruit without added sugar. Grandma would approve.
½ cup walnuts
½ cup almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup currants or prunes
¼ cup goji berries, or dried cherries, blueberries or apricots
¼ cup cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips or chunks (choose at least 70% cocoa)
Combine all ingredients and store refrigerated. Enjoy a large handful each day.
Eskelinen, M. H., Kivipelto, M. (2010). Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis, 20 Suppl 1, S167-174. Joseph, J. A., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Willis, L. M. (2009). Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr, 139(9), 1813S-1817S. Kidd, P. M. (2007). Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev, 12(3), 207-227. Kidd, P. M. (2008). Alzheimer's disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment, and age-associated memory impairment: current understanding and progress toward integrative prevention. Altern Med Rev, 13(2), 85-115. Kroner, Z. (2009). The relationship between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes: Type 3 diabetes? Altern Med Rev, 14(4), 373-379. Neafsey, E. J., & Collins, M. A. (2011). Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 7, 465-484. Nurk, E., Refsum, H., Drevon, C. A., Tell, G. S., Nygaard, H. A., Engedal, K., et al. (2009). Intake of flavonoid-rich wine, tea, and chocolate by elderly men and women is associated with better cognitive test performance. J Nutr, 139(1), 120-127. Perlmutter, D; Colman, C. (2004). The better brain book : the best tools for improving memory, sharpness, and preventing aging of the brain. New York: Riverhead Books.