Diet and Brain Health – There is a Connection

Currently there is no known cure for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, but more research is finding a close link between diet and brain health. We certainly cannot control a possible genetic predisposition towards Alzheimer’s or stop ourselves from getting older, we can certainly make the choices to adopt a healthier lifestyle and control what we put in our mouths.

The Okinawa prefecture in Japan consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 620 miles long, and claims the largest number of centenarians in the world. Centenarians are people who have lived more than one hundred years, and are living examples of successful aging. The Okinawa Centenarian Study revealed that they shared a diet that is low in calories, almost sugar-free and practically devoid of processed or canned food. Further studies of primitive cultures with high longevity showed their diets to be low in fat and devoid of animal fats, processed food, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals.

Diet is obviously not the only factor that contributes to healthy aging, but it certainly seems to play a key role. Elderly Okinawans have among the lowest mortality rates in the world and have a history of aging slowly and often escaping chronic diseases such as dementia, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.

According to a study at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon, people in their late 80s with higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids (found in good fats) did better on cognitive tests and had less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

So what foods should we eat to boost these vitamins in the body?  A Mediterranean diet has been found to be beneficial; this way of eating includes vegetables (particularly leafy greens), fruits, small amounts of meat and fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil.

It is also good to remember that what one DOES NOT eat is also important. Artery clogging saturated fats are off-limits. These may replace the good omega-3 fats in the brain cell membranes, and are associated with systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and endothelial dysfunction – all processes that can have an impact on memory, brain structure and cognition.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology indicates that diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing Dementia. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, has reached epidemic proportions in the US and is due primarily to obesity and inactivity. That being said, it may be good to cut down on those sugary snacks and empty calories. Also, there is certainly no evidence to suggest that fruits and vegetables can do any harm.

If one can take control of their health with good nutrition, and possibly prevent not only diabetes, but dementia as well – why wouldn’t they?

Essentially the advise is – eat real, unprocessed food and you will feel better, have more energy and be feeding your brain. It’s back to basics.