Nutrition needed by an ageing brain
Health tips – It’s ironic. Here I am feeling stressed and losing sleep trying to finish a column about how to keep my brain from ageing prematurely. Turns out these are two culprits that can speed up the ageing process of my poor brain, I learned in a recent seminar by neurologist Dr Michael Lara.
Chronic stress turns on a type of cellular inflammation that interferes with my brain’s ability to regenerate, Lara told his audience of health professionals. And lack of adequate sleep can negatively affect our ability to think clearly. Oh how I know that.
I can avoid these problems when I get regular exercise and aim for eight hours of sleep at night, Lara reported. Physical activity and adequate sleep help restore my brain cells and turn down the inflammatory processes associated with premature ageing.
One way to get adequate sleep is to get enough magnesium in my diet, Lara said. This mineral works on nerve transmitters that slow the brain and make it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep. How much magnesium? About 400 milligrams a day – the amount I can get in my daily diet if I include foods such as almonds, spinach, milk and soy foods, whole grains, beans, peanut butter, chicken and bananas.
Healthful foods contain other substances that fight off age-promoting inflammation and help keep my brain cells popping, Lara reported. Polyphenolic compounds – substances associated with improved mental gymnastics – can be found in foods such as green tea, nuts, berries and chocolate.
Eating fish may help keep my mind intact as well. Numerous studies show that the omega-3 fats in fish (EPA and DHA) work against the natural inflammation that occurs in aging bodies and brains. Omega-3’s actually work their way into cell membranes and keep them supple – the better for information to “flow” from one cell to the other, scientists say.
Chocolate? Check. Careful though. Whereas green tea showed improvements in cognitive function at intakes of four cups a day, the optimal beneficial effect from chocolate was seen in daily doses of about ½ ounce of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content.
Eating fish may help keep my mind intact as well. Numerous studies show that the omega-3 fats in fish (EPA and DHA) work against the natural inflammation that occurs in ageing bodies and brains. Omega-3’s actually work their way into cell membranes and keep them supple – the better for information to “flow” from one cell to the other, scientists say.
What about krill oil? someone asked Lara. It’s an oil derived from shellfish, he answered. And like other fish, it contains omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA.
We can also spice up our ageing brains with tumeric (aka curcumin) – a seasoning that appears to protect the brain from premature ageing. And it’s interesting, our speaker noted, that in India where turmeric is a common ingredient in foods, the prevalence of dementia is low.
Coffee – no cream or sugar please – can perk up brain cells as well. Most of this effect is from the caffeine, however.
Put it all together and methinks this is very close to the Mediterranean way of eating: more fish than meat and chicken, plenty of bright-coloured berries, fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes and moderate use of olive oil. As it turns out this eating pattern has been found to fight inflammatory processes that contribute to foggy thinking.
So there really is hope for this ageing brain – if I pay attention to my life choices.
I think I’ll go to bed now. (gulf-times)
By Barbara Quinn/The Monterey County Herald/MCT
lBarbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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