From mild cognitive impairment to full blown dementia such as Alzheimer's disease, there are several things in common that you can do to protect the health of your brain. Dr. Neal Barnard covers 8 lifestyle points to consider in the following video from a lecture given at a University of New England Center for a Global Humanities event.
Studies have shown that genetics don't have to dictate disease, but rather lifestyle can dictate or suppress genetic expression. A poor diet, exposure to toxic substances, lack of sleep or exercise and vitamin deficiencies can influence the expression of genetic predispositions. However, when healthy lifestyle disciplines are practiced over a majority of a person's lifetime, the potential or genetic risk of disease need never manifest. In the case of Alzheimer's, diabetes or cancer, the genes that are associated with these diseases are merely "suggestive" genes. These genes depend on the exposure to poor lifestyle in order to be displayed.
In the case of Alzheimer's disease, the brain develops plaques made up of Beta-amyloid protein, cholesterol and metals such as iron and copper. The source of cholesterol is animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, cheese, etc. The metals found in the plaque is from food that comes in contact with iron or aluminum cookware and aluminum foil. Drinking water contains copper when run through copper plumbing pipes, and some municipal water systems add aluminum at the purification plant because aluminum precipitates solids. Where the aluminum is filtered back out of the water, there is no harm; however, when the aluminum levels in drinking water exceed 0.11 mg/L, the risk of Alzheimer's disease increases by 50%. Aluminum is also in baking powder and antiperspirants, but there are aluminum free options for these products. Metals in the body become oxidized and cause damage to cells, but vitamin E in foods such as nuts, seeds, mangoes sweet potatoes, flax seeds and spinach offer anti-oxidant protection. A vitamin E supplement may not have all 8 forms of vitamin E which are found naturally in vitamin E rich foods - so don't do the supplement. Omega 3 fats found in flax seeds and nuts are also protective as an anti-oxidant. A fantastic source of omega 3 fat, not mentioned in the following video, is an edible herb called purslane. This is something that you can easily grow in your garden or may even be growing naturally in your yard as it is a common weed. Check it out at this link - purslane.
Homocysteine is a waste product of the body. When the level of homocysteine is elevated, it can be damaging to the cardiovascular system and the brain. No worries, however, if you eat foods that are rich in folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables; B6 is found in legumes or bananas; and B12 in fortified soymilk (B12 should be supplemented on a plant based diet that is soymilk free).
The purple colored anti-oxidant anthocyanin found in foods like grapes, blueberries and blackberries have been found in studies to improve recall and learning in patients with mild cognitive impairment. In like manor, other colorful fruits and vegetables with their respective anti-oxidant phytochemicals have been shown to have powerful protective benefits for brain health.
Physical activity protects the brain from shrinkage and improves memory. The recommendation to achieve this benefit is 40 minutes of brisk walking, three times a week. Also, knowing a second language has been shown to delay cognitive decline by up to 5 years. Other mentally stimulating activities are beneficial for brain health. One option for mental activity is through a web-based human cognitive service available at luminosity.com where you can play brain games to improve memory and cognitive function.
Sleep is important. The brain needs rest to process the information gathered during the waking hours. The first half of a person's sleep cycle is used to file away the words and facts from the day and the second half of the cycle is the dream cycle where the brain integrates emotions. Going to bed by 10 pm will ensure that your brain makes enough melatonin which keeps your sleep cycle unbroken until you have had a complete night's rest.
Medications can affect memory. Some that are listed in Dr. Barnard's lecture are the following: Midazolam, cholesterol lowering drugs, sleeping medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, anxiety medication, blood pressure medications, acid blockers. Medicines add up or can work together to cause memory loss, so be mindful of medications when considering your or a loved-ones cognitive impairment.
An interesting Q&A at the end of the video includes a question regarding the fad movement toward eating low carbohydrates (Paleo, Grain Brain or Wheat Belly followers). Barnard notes that the nations where Alzheimer's used to be rare because of their plant and whole-grain based diets are now experiencing a rise in Alzheimer's due to the influence of the western diet (with high consumption of animal products). Another question was brought up about coconut oil being a solid at room temperature, thus being a saturated fat. Barnard feels that coconut oil is not a good oil choice.
I must note that I don't agree with Barnard's evaluation of how mankind evolved to eat meat or grains. He references Dr. Leaky's explanation of diet transition over the course of human history. As a Biblical creationist, I would like to share my opinion about the diet of ancient mankind. According to the Bible, which is the oldest and most accurate account of the human history, God created mankind (Adam and Eve) and gave them the green herbs, legumes, seeds, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables for food. That's a plant-based diet and I believe mankind began eating as the Bible describes in Genesis chapter 1. I find that the Biblical account is logical as the Creator, who designed mankind to process or digest certain food for fuel, with great wisdom also instructed man to consume that food.
In all other regards, this video was very encouraging to me as I continue in the new lifestyle of a plant-based diet. It has been a fantastic journey toward health and I look forward to sharing some personal testimonies of transformation through diet change in the future. In the meantime, check out this video!
Neal Barnard, M.D.: Power Foods for the Brain
- Avoid bad fats
- Avoid excess metals
- Consume vitamin rich foods
- Get enough vitamin B12
- Get regular physical activity
- Engage in mental stimulation
- Be mindful of medications that affect memory