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Diet plays a role in brain health

The Standard Journal

Growing older isn't something you can avoid, so it is important to focus on the positive aspects of aging and making the changes necessary to ensure a long and healthy life.

As you age, you become more concerned with your brain health. You want to do everything possible to avoid any decline or dementia. The most recent consensus statement from Alzheimer's Association is that 60% of Alzheimer's can be prevented through a comprehensive lifestyle. But specialists believe that they are still understating the influence lifestyle has on Alzheimer's risk.

Research has shown that eating certain foods and avoiding other foods have can slow the aging of your brain by more than seven years and can reduce one's risk of Alzheimer's by more than 50%. The vitamins and nutrients you feed your body serve as fuel for your brain. That fuel affects not only the function of your brain but also the structure.

The Role of a Good Diet on Brain Health

The old saying "you are what you eat" rings true when it comes to brain health. Food high in antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients can lower your risk of cognitive decline by increasing serotonin and "good bacteria."

Serotonin is a chemical that helps your body function. It is sometimes known as the happy chemical because it helps improve your mood. Serotonin also plays an important role in sending messages through your brain, and 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced by what you eat. The serotonin, along with the bacteria produced in the gastrointestinal tract, can help limit inflammation and improve how well you absorb the nutrients and vitamins from your food. This will allow the cells in your brain to function better.

The Damage the Wrong Diet Can Cause

Just as a good diet can help improve brain function, a poor diet can do the opposite. A diet full of fried food, red meat, and processed foods can increase inflammation throughout your body, including your brain cells.

The inflammation can contribute to brain tissue injury and changes to the structure of your brain. It can also increase your risk of depression. It can also result in damage to the lining of blood vessels in the brain, which is a primary contributor to aging, stroke, and cognitive decline.

Tips for a Brain Healthy Life

Just as there is no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline, no single brain food can ensure a sharp brain as you age. Nutritionists emphasize that the most important strategy is to follow a healthy dietary pattern that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Try to get protein from plant sources and fish and choose healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola, rather than saturated fats.

When considering how to optimize brain health, look at a comprehensive plan for your overall wellness and think NEURO:

Nutrition ? As detailed earlier, data from many studies have repeatedly supported a whole-food, plant-based diet as being protective for brain health in general, and Alzheimer's and stroke.

Exercise ? There is plenty of evidence that exercise protects the brain against Alzheimer's and cognitive decline. In a recent study, it was demonstrated that an intensive aerobic exercise regimen reduced one's risk of developing Alzheimer's by as much as 40%. Another study showed that a 6-month structured resistance-training program reversed cognitive impairment among 47% of patients with the beginning stages of dementia, i.e. they had normal scores on cognitive testing after participating in the exercise program.

Unwind ? This entails not only reducing stress but also increasing 'good' or purpose-driven stress. The concept of good stress stems from the fact that challenging and complex cognitive activities grow the brain and provide resilience, which confers protection and even if the brain is riddled with disease.

Restorative Sleep ? For more people, seven-to-eight hours of deep, restorative sleep is critical for continued brain health. Deep sleep is the ultimate brain cleanse and it's during the deep stages of sleep that memories are formed and consolidated. Dysfunctional sleep or sleep apnea can increase one's risk of dementia by as much as 70%.

Optimizing Cognitive and Social Activity ? Research indicates that complexity is central for building brain capacity at any age, which means that you won't find brain vitality in contrived games, but rather in a complex, real life, and most importantly, in purpose-driven activities such as learning a musical instrument, learning a new language, leading a project, volunteering, or even things like playing cards and games with friends.

When it comes to how the human brain functions healthily, there are a lot of unknowns. As a result, it is often difficult to understand disorders that affect the brain - and recognize when one of these disorders impacts you or a loved one. Brain health is important to living your best life as you age. While a simple lapse of memory, misplacing the keys, or forgetting an appointment, are all normal parts of life, they could also be the early signs of cognitive decline. It's important that you talk to your provider regularly about your memory and brain health, especially if you or your family members and friends may have concerns about your forgetfulness.