Health Hub

by Robin Gaudette

We’ve probably read or have the opportunity to read an article a week discussing nutrition for the body, but the brain also requires specific nutrition. Recent research supports that a healthy diet has a positive influence on mental abilities and slows progression of neurodegenerative disorders.

One performance enhancer we are familiar with is caffeine. Caffeine will keep you alert and focused and supports longer activities of brain function. Coffee and tea are preferred versus added caffeine in soft drinks. Healthy green tea has shown to enhance memory, focus, concentration and helps reduce stress. Nuts, seeds and olive oil have positive benefits for the brain.

The nutrients in nuts, seeds and olive oil can influence mechanisms in the central nervous system, lessen inflammation and promote nerve growth and strengthen brain blood flow. Olive oil has a positive effect on prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This group contains vitamins E and B6 and fiber.

Those who eat walnuts have better memory and a quicker reaction time. Brazil nuts seem to enhance verbal skills, drawing and executive thinking.

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring contain omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation and stimulate nerve growth. Fruits and vegetables are active in brain health and slowing brain aging. In healthy portions, they act on atherosclerosis, reducing the risk of stroke and improving blood flow.

Green veggies have shown to improve verbal skills. Beet and beetroot juice have positive effects on blood flow and intellectual processing. By the way, the recommended daily serving of veggies is 2 1⁄2 to 3 cups a day, most Americans consume about 1 1⁄2 cups.

Other foods not mentioned that will positively affect cognition, blood flow or inflammation are hemp seeds, thyme, carrots, Brussel sprouts, pumpkin seeds, asparagus, avocado, peppers, beans, lentils, black rice, turmeric/curry spice, berries, black currants, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, dark chocolate and eggs.

Our brain relies on vitamins and other micronutrients for optimal health. Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to cognitive decline in older adults. Vitamin B improves memory in middle-age people and vitamin B, D and E may help those with Alzheimer’s. Vitamin D supplements may aid in preventing cognitive decline.

We have all heard vitamin E is an antioxidant and has components for anti-aging. Lower levels of magnesium, an important mineral appear to increase free radical damage. Free radicals essentially are just what it sounds like, an unpaired molecule that has a mind of its own and creates havoc by damaging cells. This damage produces progressive adverse changes that accumulate in the body and as we age contribute to diseases. Free radicals are thought to increase inflammation and create damage to the nerve unit.

The Mediterranean diet has proven to be a protective diet in older adults with dementia, memory loss and degenerative disorders. The Mediterranean diet is comprised of high concentrations of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts. It is very low in added sugars, flour, meats and dairy.

In a recent trial, the Mediterranean diet decreased the risk of stroke by 46 percent. Elderly participants in the study demonstrated enhanced memory and other mental tasks. Weight loss in middle-age and older adults has shown to improve cognition and motor skills.

While the brain is being explored and understood we know there are distinct links to brain health and a dedicated nutrition plan. In the new year, explore how you can make small and meaningful changes to your nutrition plan.

— Robin Gaudette is the Aquatics Wellness Coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org

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