Improving Brain Function Through Nutrition

A growing body of evidence supports a strong relationship between cardiovascular problems and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.

People with subclinical cardiovascular disease are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, research has found. As with cardiovascular disease, diet and nutrition also may play a role in diseases of the brain.

Research has not yet proven that exercise and nutrition can reverse Alzheimer’s, but eating well and moving more may slow the progression of the disease. At a recent seminar, Arnold Alejandrino, Regional Culinary Services Director for Elder Care Alliance, gathered information about improving brain function with the right nutrition.

What are some of the causes of Alzheimer’s and how can nutrition help?

Many Possible Causes

Experts cite a number of causal factors for Alzheimer’s, with some relating to nutrition. In some cases, they cite oxygen blockage to the brain in individuals who suffer from arterial sclerosis.

Genetics also can play a role, with a defect in the APOE gene — which provides instructions for creation of a specific protein — contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s. In addition, dehydration can lead to shrinkage of brain tissue. One of the first symptoms of dehydration is a headache.

Diet and malnutrition can also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, experts say. Micronutrient malnutrition can result from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the daily diet. A lack of access to nutritious foods — which is often the case in so-called “food deserts” — can leave immobile people unable to make proper meal choices. The typical standard American diet also focuses on processed foods, to the exclusion of fruits and vegetables.

How Can Nutrition Help?

Daily changes that result in better nutrition may help increase brain function, reduce symptoms and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. What are some positive steps individuals can take to improve their diets?

  • Significantly lower consumption of saturated fats (i.e. cream, butter, red meat).
  • Eat a plant-based diet, which can help increase the levels of the telomerase enzyme in the body. When human cells are exposed to telomerase, the rate of cell aging slows, and cells function as if they were younger.
  • Stopping smoking, lowering stress, losing weight and increasing exercise also may help restore telomere function.
  • If you have difficulty getting the nutrients you need through diet, work with your doctor to create a supplementation regimen. Your doctor may recommend that you supplement vitamins and minerals like manganese, B vitamins, vitamins A, C and D, folate and omega 3.
  • Consume plenty of fiber- and antioxidant-rich foods, including beans, berries, apples, nuts and whole grains. Antioxidants help prevent damage from free radicals, the unstable molecules that can negatively affect cells. Fiber aids in cleaning the arteries; the FDA recommends that most people get 25 to 30 grams per day.
  • To boost your gut health — which is connected to good brain health — eat foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt with live cultures.

Improving your overall well-being through physical activity and good nutrition can play a significant role in protecting your brain. To maximize your nutrition each day, focus on fresh – not processed – food.