How to Improve Your Cognition and Preserve Brain HealthAug 14, 2022
Just like how your skin starts to wrinkle, changes to your brain functioning can be typical as you age–forgetfulness, delayed processing and can be a few signs. In the past decade, however, we are seeing more cases of moderate to severe cognitive. With research, we are seeing the diagnosis of advanced cognitive decline to be known as dementia.
In the United States, we are seeing those ages 71 and older to have some loss of cognitive and physical functioning (dementia) that impacts their quality of life. Incidence of stroke will also impact your brain’s longevity. The top causes for dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. However, there are some things you can do to help slow any decline in memory and lower your risk of developing dementia, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease (which is the fifth-leading cause of disease-related death in the United States). There is some evidence that genetics can contribute to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but lifestyle habits can impact whether or not these genes get activated. Research is showing that diet and lifestyle makes an impact on whether or not you develop these brain degenerating diseases and can cut our risk by half. With this knowledge, we now can take matters into our own hands to minimize risk for significant cognitive impairment rather than simply waiting for medication to treat this condition.
With every meal you eat you either help or hinder your brain. In fact, food has a much greater impact on your brain than your other organs because this 3-pound organ can consume more than 25% of the body’s energy. When we fail to nourish our bodies properly, we fail to nourish our energy hog of a brain. Research is finding that there are specific foods that offer nutrients to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive functioning.
Fats are not all created equal. There are non-essential and essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are the ones your brain needs regularly, and this includes omega-3s (especially in the form known as DHA). These essential fatty acids contribute to the brain structures that deal with synaptic transmission and reduce oxidative stress. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are the fats that your brain needs and can decrease your risk for dementia. These fats are found in plant sources as well as some marine animals and nuts.
Limit Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Non-essential fats are saturated fats and cholesterol that the body can make and doesn’t need and when they are available in our foods that we eat and can contribute to inflammation and oxidation in our bodies causing undue stress. Foods rich in saturated fat and trans fats include fried foods, pastries, full-fat dairy and large amounts of red meat.
Chronic ingestion of Western diets enriched in saturated fat and cholesterol compromise the blood vessels in our brain and is associated with a range of neurodegenerative disorders including vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. It would be beneficial to shift your focus on fats from whole foods like nuts and avocados.
Limit Added Sugars
Repeated surges of excess sugar create too much energy which causes systemic inflammation and is linked to cognitive decline. It increases the formation of harmful lipids that thicken and harden our artery walls, cutting off the blood supply to our brain. Sugar increases oxidation, which damages cell walls and DNA.
Specific Foods To Include In Your Diet For Brain Health
You can improve blood flow to the brain and improve cognition by eating more of these specific foods daily:
- Berries: Improve Brain function. Research has also found firm evidence in favor of berries decreasing neuron functioning and improving memory performance in animal studies and the Nurses’ Health Study. Berries improve the way the neurons in the brain communicate with each other.
- Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits are packed with flavonoids that help keep the arteries flexible so blood can move more freely to the brain..
- Leafy Greens: Vegetables like leafy greens will preserve your cognition and provide B vitamins like folate and vitamin C and D–important nutrients for optimal brain functioning. They can also open blood vessels through vasodilation which increases blood flow.
- Walnuts: Help arteries relax so they can expand and contract, and also help arteries dilate. Plus, walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your brain. Walnuts also contain ellagitannins, polyphenols that make our gut and brain happy. Other nuts can offer the antioxidant vitamin E that is positively associated with brain health.
- Foods Rich in Soy: Regularly including soy through foods like tofu, soymilk, edamame and other soyfoods and beverages is an easy way to get brain power. Research is tentatively suggesting that it is through soy isoflavones hormone capabilities that reduces our risk of cognitive decline.
- Potassium-rich foods like potatoes, radishes and avocados: Potassium helps brain cells communicate with each other and with cells farther away in your body. It also can help reduce blood pressure.
- Turmeric (circumin): There is research suggesting a potential connection to turmeric and improved cognitive function. With its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it doesn’t hurt to consume this spice in more frequent amounts whenever possible.
- Tomatoes: are among the best foods to help increase blood flow since they’re packed with nutrients such as beta carotene, potassium, vitamin A, C and E, lutein, and lycopene.
Activities That Improve Brain Function
Long periods of inactivity means that less blood is able to make it to your brain. But when you exercise it automatically boosts cognitive function by increasing blood flow–combating clogged arteries, vascular stiffness, insulin resistance and high cholesterol. You don’t have to be a triathlete or marathon runner to achieve significant results. Exercise in any form has an incredible impact on your brain as well as providing a medium to reduce stress and enhance mood–which impacts your brain health as well. There is increasing evidence that consistent exercise and movement throughout our life can pay off with minimizing mental aging.
Getting enough restorative sleep is critical for good brain health. Most of the reason why we need to sleep in the first place is actually for the sake of our brains. We can compare it to the way our body “takes out the trash.” During restful sleep our brain clears any amyloids, or misfolded proteins, that can lead to plaques or “tangles'' linked to Alheimer’s disease. Falling asleep before midnight seems to bring about the most powerful repair to the brain and body. Between 10 pm-2 am is where humans get the most beneficial hormonal secretions and recovery. Our stress glands (adrenals) rest and recharge the most between 11 pm and 1 am and melatonin production is highest between 10 pm to 2 am. Diet can impact our sleep cycle as well. Diets richer in animal protein, salt and lower in fruits and vegetables can affect our cortisol production and disrupt our sleep cycle.
Brain Stimulating Activities
You can optimize your brain by challenging it. And not just by playing sudoku or solitaire. Those intellectual games only stimulate one part of your brain. You want to be able to stimulate multiple parts of your brain at once in order to build more cognitive reserve.
Great multi-domain and multi-functional activities include: learning a new language, learning a musical instrument, computer programing, writing in your journal, writing a book, karaoke, performing standup comedy, teaching a class, learning to dance, group card or board games, mentoring others in your field, making jewelry, crafts, models, art, crocheting, learning a new skill and taking educational courses.
There is good stress and bad stress. Good stress can actually improve your brain function. Good stress is usually short term, and it inspires and motivates you and focuses your energy and enhances performance. Bad stress is uncontrolled stress. It wears you out, can lead to anxiety, confusion, poor concentration, decreased attention, memory and performance.
Find ways to reduce uncontrolled stress that you can’t get rid of. You can do this by meditation, exercise, yoga, listening to music, decluttering your environment, cultivating healthy relationships and doing service for others.
Shift Your Focus-Focus On Eating Plants
If you eat a high nutrient diet and avoid inflammatory foods, you will have more energy to do complex activities and exercise, which will reduce stress and help you sleep better. Everything works together to provide powerful protection for your brain. And if you do these things, your risk of developing dementia, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and many other diseases of the brain drops by as much as 80-90 percent.
What is encouraging from current research is that you don’t have to be the perfect eater to make a difference. Shifting your focus for a dietary lifestyle of eating mostly plants (berries, beans, greens, nuts and seeds) will ultimately provide you with the vitamins and minerals found to significantly improve your brain health and minimize risk of dementia.
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