What Should We Feed Our Brains?
By Susan Stewart
As more and more Americans and people all over the world—24 million at last count—are affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, the search for a cure continues. And while we wait, we work hard to understand, care for, and reduce the suffering of those we love who have dementia. One of the elements being studied is nutrition, the hope being that what we eat can prevent, lessen, or postpone the onset of dementia, and help those already afflicted to have a higher quality of life.
Happily, the preponderance of research on the subject of nutrition and the dementias supports what most of us already know: that a healthy diet can and does help. As a person keenly interested in food, diet, and their relationship to health, I’ve been studying this topic for years. The literature seems to offer some new revelation every few months, often contradicting what came before it. Today we argue the merits of paleo versus veganism, gluten-free versus whole grains, organic versus processed, dairy-free or calcium-rich. It’s confusing, and frustrating. However, the one constant over many decades and across hundreds of experts is that fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed meats and dairy are the mainstay of most healthy diets. The other constant is that we should avoid high sugar, white flour, processed, fast, and junk foods. And the same holds true for what we should be eating (and not eating) to either prevent or cope better with dementia.
A quick Google search revealed the latest studies, three of which provide the newest dietary guidelines for supporting brain health and coping with dementia: The National Center for Biotechnology Information, the Cleveland Clinic, and the National Institutes of Health.
Data from several lines of evidence suggest that the relationship between diet and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is similar to that between diet and coronary disease. Diets containing anti-oxidant nutrients, fish, dietary fats, and B-vitamins may play a protective role. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) may hold the promise of prevention and treatment, though hard proof has yet been found. Diets that emphasize high levels of B vitamins, especially B12, are suggested, since their lack has been found to cause the kind of brain damage found in AD.
Put more simply, a diet like the Japanese or Mediterranean diet, or any diet high in fish, fruits, and vegetables but low in processed meats, white flours, fried and packaged foods are associated with a lower risk of AD. Nuts and seeds are high in the right kind of fats, especially flax and pumpkin seeds, which are easy to add to salads or cereals. Vitamins C and E are also useful. Coffee (in moderation) has been shown to be related to better brain health. That was great news for this coffee lover, especially because this statistic has not been contradicted in many years.
For a more definitive look at nutrition and brain disease, I humbly refer you to the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, plus a very good book by Patrick Holford: The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan. Eat well, worry less, and look for pleasure in the little things! # # #