Nutrition and Memory. Can Certain Foods Help You?
As we age, many of us begin to worry about our cognitive health, which includes memory, language skills and reasoning. It's easy to attribute cognitive decline to routine memory glitches that are quite different. Let’s start by understanding the differences between the two; then we'll consider the risk factors for impairment, review some recent studies and examine steps we can take to help preserve our brain function.
Forgetfulness vs. Cognitive Decline
Generally, we gauge our cognitive health by our ability to remember facts, so a moment of forgetfulness, like wondering where we placed our car keys, can create concern. However, memory loss is a normal part of the maturing process. In fact, we begin losing our brain cells in our 20s. And as the cells decrease, the connections between them gradually deteriorate causing memory lapses. Further, the production of brain chemicals needed to remember and learn facts slows, and the area of the brain responsible for storing and retrieving memories shrinks. This is why we sometimes experience “memory glitches” when trying to recall names, words and numbers. And if it is just age-related memory loss as opposed to a cognitive impairment, we will eventually remember the information.
The risk factors of cognitive impairment
Aging is the greatest risk factor of cognitive impairment, followed by genetics, family history, early-adult head injuries and medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol. Your MDVIP-affiliated physician can monitor your risk for cognitive loss through the MDVIP Wellness Program, as well as coach you on lifestyle behaviors, particularly nutrition, which can help reduce your risk for some of these conditions and help you maintain good cognitive health.
Nutrients boosting brain health
Certain nutrients may be able to keep your brain healthy and functioning properly. For instance, research links vitamin B12 deficiency with memory loss. A recent study found that people with diets high in omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources and vitamins B, C, D and E had healthy brain function and size, as omega-3 fatty acids seem to stabilize brain cells and improve brain signaling, which can protect the brain against dementia. The study also found that people who ate a lot of baked goods, fast food and/or processed meals had declining cognitive function. Because nutrition seems to play a significant role in cognitive function, as well as many other diseases, we provide you with access to healthy recipes and meal plans on your member dashboard, MDVIP Connect.
What can you do?
Get these foods into your diet for their cognitive benefits:
- Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna and herring, as they are high in marine fatty acids which has been shown to help stabilize brain cells.
- Animal products in moderation like beef, seafood and eggs, as they are high in vitamin B12, which seems to help prevent brain shrinkage. If you have been advised to avoid these foods, discuss alternatives with your physician.
- Green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and dairy products, as they are high in B-complex vitamins which are linked with slowing the brain’s aging process.
- Fruits and vegetables like strawberries, oranges and bell peppers, as they are high in vitamin C which helps maintain healthy arteries.
- Eggs and fortified cereals and dairy products, as they are high in vitamin D which prevents some degree of cognitive impairment.
- Spinach, almonds and broccoli, as they are high in vitamin E which has neuroprotective properties.
Embrace these brain-healthy lifestyle behaviors:
- Reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. All of these conditions cause "white matter hyperintensities," which are regions of damaged brain tissue that can become a factor in the development of Alzheimer's.
- Exercising might forestall brain shrinkage by maintaining the oxygen flow to the brain and the production of brain-protecting chemicals.
- Managing weight can help prevent insulin-resistance and diabetes which studies link to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Avoiding smoking, as tobacco accelerates hardening of the arteries which can contribute to other cognitive-decline risk factors.
- Engaging in puzzles, crosswords and video games which can keep the brain active.