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.
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.
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 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.
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