Many of us work hard to take better care of our bodies. We eat salads to keep our weight in check, take supplements for heart health, and do daily exercise to keep our muscles strong. But what have you done for your brain lately?
The brain is the command center of the body, and without effective brain function, much of our quality of life is lost. While most people carry on through life taking brain health for granted, there are ways you can be more proactive and increase your chances of retaining this precious asset as you age.
Here are some of the most solidly-backed nutrients that could help keep your brain functioning well into your later years.
Vitamin D is closely tied to many elements of brain health, and a deficiency could be a major risk factor for cognitive decline. Research shows that ample levels of vitamin D can help prevent tangles and plaques from forming on the brain. A 2015 study suggested that people with severe vitamin D deficiency face an increased risk of dementia by more than 120 percent. Those who were rated slightly deficient still experienced a 51 percent higher risk of all-cause dementia. Considering that over 40 percent of Americans are thought to have low levels of vitamin D, consider getting your levels checked and ask a trusted practitioner for advice on supplementation to keep your brain fit and healthy.
Omega 3 fatty acids help build cell membranes in the brain and also may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that could protect brain cells. Omega 3-rich fish is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which is known to be good for the brain, and studies have found an association between higher intake of fish and a lower risk of cognitive decline. However, omega-3 supplements haven’t shown the same effect. Aim for a greater intake of fish rather than just relying on fish oil supplements.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble compound with antioxidant properties, which could help maintain a healthy brain. A 2014 study found that people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease could slow functional decline by 19 percent per year by taking vitamin E. Most people get enough vitamin E by eating a healthy diet. However, deficiency may occur in people on low-fat diets.
Vitamin E is found in:
- Nuts, such as almonds
- Seeds, such as sunflower seeds
- Dark-colored fruits, such as blueberries and blackberries
- Plant-based fats, such as avocados and olive oil
- Vegetables, such as spinach, swiss chard, and butternut squash
“Eat your greens” may be more than just something grandmothers say; it could save your brain health too. A team of Swedish researchers studied 370 people over the age of 75 for three years and found that those with low levels of folate intake had a higher incidence of dementia.
To ensure you’re getting enough folate (also known as vitamin B9, or folic acid in its synthetic form), be sure to eat lots of:
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, and swiss chard
- Beans, peas, and lentils
- Fruits like lemons, bananas, and melons
There is definitely a correlation between cognitive decline and vitamin B12 deficiency, with researchers confirming that a significant percentage of diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients lack this vitamin.
Most people can get enough vitamin B12 through their diet, since it is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. However, a deficiency is common in people with bowel or stomach issues or strict vegetarians. The diabetes drug metformin has also been shown to lower B12 levels.
Ask your trusted practitioner to check your B12 levels and enquire about options to get topped up if you are low in this important brain nutrient.
To complete the trio of brain-healthy B vitamins, we have vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine. Getting enough B6, B9, and B12 could help reduce levels of homocysteine, which is thought to make the brain more vulnerable to beta-amyloid – a toxic substance which is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
An Oxford University study found that the rate of brain shrinkage after two years was 30% lower in people receiving a high-dose B-complex, including B6, B9, and B12.
Phosphatidylserine occurs naturally in all cells, being a universal building block for the dynamic membrane systems that make cells work. Studies have shown that taking phosphatidylserine could help reduce age-related decline in brain function, enhance recall of names, faces, words, and numbers, and improve verbal fluency. Additionally, people who take phosphatidylserine supplements of up to 400 mg per day have been shown to have improved thinking skills and memory.
With a few simple dietary interventions, you could be enjoying a vibrant, healthy brain even as you age.
-The UpWellness Team