After a lifetime of rock 'n' roll will the Foo Fighters still remember their lyrics?
One of my neighbours is well into his 80’s, he still lives independently in his own home. He does receive care that allows him to stay in his own home. He considers himself fortunate for being able to stay in his home and not have to go into a nursing home. As I was chatting to him he told me how twice a week he takes the community service bus trip out to lunch. I told him how wonderful it was that he makes the effort to get out and be social. He told me that, “more than half of the bus has dementia, so the conversations are limited”. We discussed the perils of ageing and whether it is easier to lose your mobility or lose your brain. He felt that he got the better deal in ageing and would rather be immobile than not be able to be coherent.
We all have the occasional senior’s moment, calling the dog your child’s name, forgetting passwords, the list goes on. As our smartphones organise our lives we have to depend less on our memory. We no longer remember phone numbers, directions or important dates.
On a clinical note, loss of memory and cognition is one of the greatest fears of ageing. The medical dilemma is that we are living longer but our brains are not ageing any slower. Every week I have clients that share concerns that their memory is not what it used to be. There may be a history in the family of Alzheimer’s or dementia and their concerns of what they can do to prevent the same devastating decline.
So what can we do to assist our brains to support our now extended lifespan? Definitely exercise, socialisation and mental stimulation all come into play in working the brain and keeping the neurons firing. We can however nourish our brain nutritionally and try to make sure our brain is well fed.
Our brain requires key nutrients to keep it functioning, what we feed our brain may be key to lasting memory and cognition.
Some of the major nutrients include:
B-Group Vitamins: are essential in creating the neurotransmitters required for the brain to function. Depleted levels of folate and B12 are strongly associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. B group vitamins are abundant in a balanced healthy diet, however they are easily depleted by stress, medications and other conditions. Vitamin B12 is exclusively found in animal products so vegans need to supplement B12 to prevent deficiencies. Most medications deplete B vitamins, the addition of a B complex or multi-vitamin if you are on permanent medication is advisable.
Carnitine: in the form Acetyl-l-carnitine has been shown in studies to be linked with improving memory and cognition. In our diets carnitine is found abundantly in meat. Vegan’s may benefit from supplementing with Acetyl-l-carnitine to support their cognitive wellbeing.
Choline: is the precursor to acetylcholine, this important nutrient has been shown to delay dementia and cognitive decline. Food rich in choline include egg yolk, peanuts, liver, some legumes and spinach.
Essential Fatty Acids: a diet that is rich in protein and essential fatty acids will feed the brain more than a diet that is made of simple carbohydrates, saturated fat and processed sugar. Studies have shown a positive relationship between increasing the intake of medium chain triglycerides and slowing the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A simple inclusion of a tablespoon of coconut oil in the morning can improve memory and cognition.
Fish has always been referred to as food for the brain due to the presence of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), the brain portion of omega fatty acids. Try to aim for oily varieties of fish twice a week.
Vegans may wish to include an algae based omega supplement into their diet to compensate for lack of omega 3 fatty acids in their diet.
Curcumin: There has been positive research into the benefits of Curcumin Longa (turmeric) in delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s. Curcumin has the ability to break down metals such as copper, iron and aluminium that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant anti-inflammatory properties. Using turmeric in cooking is highly recommended to reduce dementia risks and reducing systemic inflammation.
Vitamin C and E: are shown to have a positive effect on delaying cognitive decline. This is most likely due to their anti-oxidant properties reducing inflammation in the brain. Studies that were conducted on vitamin E preventing and reducing Alzheimer’s were based on using vitamin E in the mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. If you are using a vitamin E supplement, make sure it is in the natural form not synthetic. Best dietary sources of vitamin E include: egg yolks, wheat germ, olive oil, tahini, nuts, oily fish and butter.
KETO DIET FOR BRAIN POWER?
Keto or ketone diets are becoming quite popular amongst cross fitters and diet gurus. However the ketone diet, which is a diet that compromises of mostly of fat with minimal carbohydrate and protein. The body starved of glucose makes its own through ketosis. This process has a protective and possibly the ability for the brain to build new pathways. The ketone diet has been around since 1921 and was developed to support uncontrolled epilepsy. The keto diet and relevance to memory and cognition is showing some promising research. The subjects of the studies did not need to adhere to the strict ratios of the keto diet but simply increase their intake of medium chain triglycerides. The showed improved memory and cognition and the progression of Alzheimers and Parkinsons was remarkably slowed down. This inclusion of ketones in the diet may be as simple as a tablespoon of coconut oil, MCT oil twice a day. Reading the study by Dr Mary Newport is definitely worth your time.
Keto diets aside, you can look at all the nutrients that are required for healthy brain function and so many rich brain foods are “fatty”. From eggs, oily fish, butter, nuts and seeds. These rich fatty foods provide so much of our essential fat soluble vitamins required for the function and protection of the nerves. The protective sheath around the nerve is called “myelin” and it is made of fat.
CONDITIONS THAT REDUCE OUR BRAIN FUNCTION.
Often there is an underlying condition that may reduce our memory and cognition. For brevity purposes here are the most common two:
Diabetes: Poorly managed diabetes results in loss of cognitive function. This is mainly caused by shrinking of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls memory and cognition, due to insufficient glucose. For any individual concerned about their memory and cognition blood sugar stabilisation is always a nutritional treatment aim.
Thyroid function and brain fog: women in particular will claim that they suffer brain fog as a symptom of hypo thyroiditis. Long term subclinical hypothyroidism is linked to dementia and loss of cognition. This is due to the deficiency of iodine and the inability to metabolise glucose to the brain. Supporting healthy thyroid function may be the key to improved memory and cognition.
I think this wonderful coffee alternative is the perfect brain food. Try one mid-afternoon and compare the difference to the normal cup of tea and coffee. The ketones of the coconut oil will have your brain powering through to the evening. The turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg add a beautiful earthy flavour and stabilise the blood sugars, optimising your energy and mental clarity. For those who are not great breakfast lovers, a golden latte with an egg yolk is a nutritional powerhouse in a glass.
1 cup of full cream milk, almond or coconut milk
1 tablespoon of MCT oil, coconut oil or hemp oil
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of raw honey (optional)
Heat milk either in espresso machine or on the stove top, add milk to spices and stir until well combined. Dust with extra cinnamon and enjoy
M. E. Bégin, M. F. Langlois, D. Lorrain, and S. C. Cunnane, “Thyroid Function and Cognition during Aging,” Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, vol. 2008, Article ID 474868, 11 pages, 2008. doi:10.1155/2008/474868 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/cggr/2008/474868/cta/
Kobayashi, S., Iwamoto, M., Kon, K., Waki, H., Ando, S. and Tanaka, Y. (2010), Acetyl-l-carnitine improves aged brain function. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 10: S99–S106. doi:10.1111/j.1447-0594.2010.00595.x