We recently received a message for a topic suggestion that we’ve avoided tackling for a long time, but it’s a big one. Many people experience the effects of cognitive issues as they get older, either personally or in someone they love. While we aren’t brain researchers, we did dig into the data available to see what you can do about your diet to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
First, we’d like to point out that genes are not a roadmap – for brain health or anything else. The truth is, while some people do indeed develop diseases like Alzheimer’s due to genetic mutations, for most people, risk has much less to do solely with genes and much more to do with the dance of our genes with our health and all the choices we make on a daily basis. Now that is an empowering thought.
In this episode, we provide actionable steps you can take, key foods to include in your diet, suggested supplements, and what not to do when it comes to brain health.
Foods for Brain Health
Omega-3s are the best source of fat for the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, albacore tuna, anchovies, sardines) are the best natural sources. Caviar contains a unique blend of nutrients that are great for the brain, including omega-3 fatty acids, choline (a B vitamin needed to make memories), B6, B12 (needed to support the nervous system), and a good amount of protein. Sure, we’re not going on a caviar diet, but it’s great to know what healthy indulgences are out there.
Another food that comes up often – and one we talked about on our longevity foods episode – is extra virgin olive oil. In that episode, we mentioned studies that tie extra virgin olive oil to the prevention of memory loss and improvement of the ability to learn. High olive oil consumption has been shown to, not only halt the decline of, but improve memory. With all this evidence, it may be time to start up an olive oil shot routine.
The Benefits of BDNF
When it comes to brain health, exercise is equally as important, maybe more important, than food. Many brain researchers endorse running as a way to keep the brain healthy.
Exercise, particularly vigorous cardio, increases something called BDNF – often referred to as fertilizer for the brain – which protects against neurodegenerative diseases. It also eases depression, boosts weight loss, protects and repairs your brain cells, increases the growth of new brain cells, and improves learning, memory and mood. In fact, many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant.
Besides intense cardio, there are also foods that boost BDNF – green tea, turmeric, and any polyphenol sources such as coffee, dark chocolate, blueberries, and colorful vegetables.
There are also studies linking fasting to BDNF production. In mice, BDNF levels rose after 12 hours of fasting. Mark Mattson, a retired researcher at Johns Hopkins University, indicated that when he conducted fasting studies on mice, those that fasted performed better on cognitive tests than those that did not.
Supplements for Brain Health
Let us say first that you should focus on your diet first, then exercise, and then worry about supplements. Supplements alone aren’t the answer, especially in this area. But there’s plenty of evidence that certain supplements can improve brain health.
The supplements that come up most often are B vitamins. The best way to take B vitamins are in a complex or grouping choline, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. Choline and vitamin B6 in particular are crucial for neuronal function. Choline is involved in memory processes, and it’s also found in egg yolks – so eat those yolks! Vitamin B6 is involved in a little bit of everything.
Our B-Sane supplement is our methylated B complex. It’s best to take in the morning (we cover this in our timing episode) and it doesn’t need food for absorption. Also Vitality Greens can be put in your smoothie. Many brain researchers suggest leafy greens or greens powder daily.
Lion’s mane is another great supplement for cognitive health. Studies in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 grams of powdered lion’s mane daily for four months significantly improved mental functioning.
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb which helps your body respond to stress. All adaptogens are helpful, including ashwagandha, macak, sea buckthorn, and more. They all have slightly different functions but they are all beneficial. Rhodiola has been shown to increase BDNF in the brain. It is beneficial for stress management and weight but also touted in Dr Mosconi’s The XX Brain book. There are a few I like in this arena. I’ll list them at the end.
Brain Health and… Flossing?
This is something that you may not associate with brain health, but oral health affects heart health, and some oral bacterias such as gingivalis are neurotoxins. A recent analysis led by NIA scientists suggests that bacteria that cause gum disease are also associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, especially vascular dementia. The results were reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
While we’ve covered a lot of the do’s, let’s go over some of the don’ts when it comes to brain health. There are some called dementogens which we’ll run through quickly:
- Sleep deprivation
- Trans fats
If you’re interested in reading more, we recommend:
You can’t get more important than the brain, and what a great way to wrap up the season. If most or all of this advice seems familiar to you, that’s because what’s good for part of you is likely good for all of you. Look at your sleep, your diet, your exercise, and then supplement to make up for any differences and you’ll be in good shape well into your old age.
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- Read: The XX Brain
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