Cognitive Fitness and Diet

Eat Right to Maintain Cognitive Fitness

Your brain is fed by the same blood vessels that keep your heart pumping – so it makes sense that when they become unhealthy or your blood pressure is too high, the damage can affect both your heart and mind.

So what foods are heart healthy are also brain healthy? Two diets that have gained positive attention are elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet have been shown by a plethora of research to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is thought that these two dietary patterns help the brain by keeping blood flowing efficiently and reducing damaging inflammation. Both are low in saturated fat and recommend a diet heavy on plant foods and healthy fats with a low consumption of red meat, sugar, and processed foods.

There are certain components of healthy diets that can be top choices on what makes these diets stand out with healthy benefits:  

Omega-3 fatty Fish Oils and Brain Health

Protecting Brain Structure: Myelin

The BASICS:  Most all cells contain omega3s (EPA, DHA) and omega-6s in their cell membranes. Most nerve signals cannot be conducted without a special sheath called myelin and fatty  acids like EPA and DHA are necessary for cell membrane structure.  Myelin insulates the nerve fibers of nerve cells.

Brain cells are susceptible to damaging neurotoxins. Long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA are important for brain development, production of hormones and checking inflammation. Research has also shown that they lower blood triglyceride levels resulting in decreasing cardiovascular risks.  A  meta-analysis found that people with the highest consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA have an association with a 14% risk reduction of death from any cause when compared to people who consume less.  A new area of research has suggested that fish oils as EPA and DHA are involved in brain health. This is important since there is evidence that omega-3s can protect against neurotoxins that damage the nervous system including the brain.

For example:

1300 elderly women underwent MRIs of the brain to assess how much exposure they had to a type of air pollution called PM for three years prior to the MRI.  PM  pollution is known to have neurotoxic effects known to be linked to strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia. The new study was published in the journal, Neurology,

Results showed that “women with higher levels blood levels of fish oils (omega-3s) had significantly greater volumes in the brain areas (hippocampus) associated with cognition, and memory, and white matter which contains nerve fibers that connect brain cells. The results indicated that women with higher levels of omega-3s were protected against the brain-damaging effects of PM exposure”.

Improved Depression Symptoms

A meta-analysis published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers reported that relatively high dose supplements with a high concentration of EPA to DHA significantly improved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression (mood, sleep disturbances, and fatigue) in pregnant and postpartum women. Higher doses need to be given by primary care physicians.

The U.S. diet is sadly abundant in omega-6 fatty acids; however, on the other hand, sadly deficient in omega-3 fats —-but that’s another story.

Omega-3 fats contain antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage including the heart and brain. A study published in the June 2020 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in the following 10 years, compared with those who did not follow that eating pattern. But people who ate the most fish had both a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and also slower cognitive decline when compared to those who ate less fish.

Plant Oils

Substituting healthy plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil or canola oil for saturated fat such as butter, helps keep your mind healthy. These simple changes help to keep your blood vessels clear of damaging plaques. Extra-virgin olive oil is particularly rich in antioxidants.

Nuts

Nuts are great as snacks since they are rich in fiber and protein.  The least processed are the best choice.

Some nuts like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Also, walnuts are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fats called alpha linolenic acid which helps fight inflammation and cellular damage.

Coffee

While not a part of the Mediterranean or DASH diets, plain coffee can provide a good source of antioxidants. However don’t over do it and hold the sugar and cream – two cups a day of black coffee is probably enough, research says.

Courtesy of Best Foods for Women’s Health, Women’s Health Guide, Harvard Medical School

How to Live the Mediterranean Way

How to Live the Mediterranean Way and How to Feed Your Microbiome.

Each country around the Mediterranean Sea offers a rich bounty of delicious ingredients. Many authors have written about the Mediterranean Diet in terms of the health benefits that have been shown by an exhaustive array of scientific studies on its merits. The diet is now recognized as an “intangible cultural heritage” in Italy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a way of life and a way of eating, which the Italians call “Cucina genuina” or “cuisine of the poor”.  This is the diet of those who work the land and feed themselves using seasonal ingredients grown in their small plots outside the kitchen”.

The following characteristics attempt to describe the “Americanized” version of how to live and eat the Mediterranean way – it is not just a diet but a gift to a healthier lifestyle.”

DIET: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (Micheal Pollan). Whole grains, unprocessed foods, fruits, and vegetables

Eat meat in moderation. Limit your saturated fat, sugar and salt intake. Snack on nuts. Reduces inflammatory foods

Practice mindfulness, smaller servings, early light dinners.

Try yogurt, beans, chickpeas (hummus (fermentable foods) like sauerkraut – diversifies microbiome

Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) 19.0 – 25.0

Drink plenty of water

EXERCISE:

Take a walk. Enjoy the sunshine.

Stay active. Get gardening.

Exercise improves cognition and stress reduction

BEHAVIORAL, SOCIAL

1-2 Glasses of red wine (daily): Optional (if you don’t drink wine, don’t start) 

Have a purpose in life (a reason to get up in the morning).

Laugh with friends.

Keep your brain active (read, puzzles, learn a language) card games

Focus on family, God, camaraderie, nature

Reduce stress and avoid eating when angry or sad.

Enjoy the secret pleasures and social aspect of foods.  Become more expert at listening to your gut feelings.(mind/body).  

Citations: 

Diane Phillps, The Mediterranean Slow Cooker Cookbook, Chronicle Books, 2012.

Emeran Mayer, MD. The Mind-Gut Connection, Harper Collins, 2016.

Dan Buettner The Blue Zones Challenge, National Geographic, 2021.

Nutrition, Behavior, and Disease

Biological Changes during Aging and Nutritional Consequences

S0URCE JUDITH E. BROWN, NUTRITION NOW, 7TH EDITION, 2013

The combined effects of poor diets, other risky behaviors, and biological aging increase the rates of serious diseases during adulthood. How soon a disease develops largely depends on the intensity of exposure to behavioral risks that contribute to disease development.  These are often referred to as epigenetics (when the DNA is not altered, but environmental factors cause genes to be turned either on or off.) 

What Are Some Nutritional Consequences?

 Lowered stomach acidity may result in decreased absorption of vitamin B12? The consequences of getting less sun exposure may result in less production of vitamin D in the skin.

A person’s need for calories generally declines with age as physical activity, muscle mass, and basal metabolic rate decrease. However, when one chooses to continue their physical activity into their older years can maintain their muscle mass, experience less muscle, and bone pain, and gain less body fat than people who are inactive. 

For the most part, the development of chronic disease in middle-age and older adults can be viewed as a chain that represents the accumulation over time of problems that impair cell functions. Each link that is added to the chain, or each additional insult to cellular function, increases the risk that a chronic disease will develop. The presence of a disease indicates that the chain has gotten too long – that the accumulation of problems is sufficient to interfere with the normal functions of cells and tissues.

Normal cell functions and health promotion are facilitated by healthful dietary lifestyles and other behaviors. For example:

Correcting obesity and stabilizing weight during the adult years tends to lengthen life expectancy.

Dietary intakes that correspond to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) or following a healthily diet pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is related to a longer life expectancy.

Maintaining adequate calcium, vitamin D, and protein intake and engaging in regular physical activity during the adult years may prevent or postpone the development of osteoporosis and help maintain muscle mass and strength.

Above average intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may delay the development or help prevent a number of types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and cataracts. 

The health status of adults is not necessarily ‘FIXED” by age.; it can change for the better or the worst, or not much at all. It’s up to you.

Diet and Inflammation

“Certain foods encourage inflammation and an anti-inflammatory diet avoids these foods. The body makes compounds called prostaglandins (eicosanoids) that can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Both saturated fat and omega-6 unsaturated fat are building blocks for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega-6 fat is abundant in ulltraprocessed foods (not a good thing); it can contribute to an excessive inflammatory response.” How to Eat, Mark Bittman and David Katz, MD., page 61.

” Diets high in inflammatory foods were linked with global markers of brain aging and cerebral small vessel disease, on MRI. Bottom line: Smaller brain volume seen with diet-driven inflammation” See study below. “Systemic inflammatory processes in the body, including the brain, can be influenced by diet leading to its important contributory role in brain aging, the researchers observed.”

CLICK HERE.

Olive Oil and Health?

Adding more olive oil to your diet may help prevent an early death.?

A recent study from the researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was published online Jan. 10, 2022 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Data from 90,000 men and women, free of cardiovascular disease and cancer were asked to complete a dietary questionnaire every four years. At the end of the data collecting, 36,856 of the participants had died.

From the diet questionnaires, it was found that those who routinely consumed the most olive oil – averaging more than one half a tablespoon a day – had the lowest risk of dying during the 28 – year old follow-up period compared with people who rarely or never consumed olive oil.

The Olive Oil comsumers had:

A 19% lower overall risk of death

A 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease

A 17% lower risk of cancer-related disease

A 29% lower risk of death related to a neurodegenerative condition

A  18% lower risk of death related to a respiratory disease

This may explain why olive oil as a major component of the Mediterranean diet has consistently shown health benefits in numerous studies. The results also suggest that when used as a substitute for products containing animal fat such as butter, we see the same benefits.

Bon appetit!

A new study: Vitamin D, Fish Oil and Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases are a category of conditions where an individual’s immune system acts abnormally, often attacking and destroying healthy tissues by mistake. Many triggers can cause an individual’s body to start making components referred to as antibodies. Usually, antibodies help the body fight off infections. However, in patients with an autoimmune disease, they attack the body’s healthy tissues instead. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or thyroid disease to name a few (possibly 80 of them) and usually affect women more than men. Symptoms vary, but can include pain, fatigue, skin problems, and other chronic conditions. A new study suggests that vitamin D and fish oil supplements may offer over 50 protection.

Study Methods

The study called the VITAL study was published Jan 26, 2022 in the BMJ and was a randomized controlled trial that included 25,871 racially diverse people over the age of 50 who were split into two groups. One group took 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 each day; those in another group took 1000 mg of fish oil and a third group took both. Another group took two placebos. The study was blinded – i.e. no one knew which group they were in.

Results

“During a five-year follow-up, participants reported any diagnoses of any autoimmune disease that were verified with medical records.

Compared with a placebo, vitamin D supplementation was associated with a 22% reduced risk of autoimmune disease overall. The improvement was greater (39%) after the first two years of treatment. Fish oil alone showed less robust results, but still showed fewer participants with confirmed autoimmune diagnoses compared with placebo.”

Toxicity

Both vitamin D and fish oil may have some effects due to the ability of each to regulate or tame the inflammatory response that “drive autoimmune disorders.” It is too soon based on one study to make recommendations that people take either vitamin D or fish oil supplements – but those with a strong family history should consult with their primary health care provider about these decisions. The vitamin D dose used in the study is more than twice the recommended daily intake of 600 IU or 800 IU for people 71 and older. The consequences of overdoses or toxicity can occur at 10,000 IU daily.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Volume 29, Number 10 June 2022.

Drinking for Longevity

From the Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner, page xxii. “Scientific studies suggest that only about 25% of how long we live is dictated by genes, according to famous studies of Danish twins. The other 75% is determined by our lifestyles and the everyday choices we make.” What we drink is only one of them.

CLICK HERE.