Dementia is a progressive disease that seriously affects a person’s brain and it’s ability to carry out normal, daily and essential activities. The most common form of dementia amongst older people is Alzheimer’s disease. This initially involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. It is believed that over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. The disease usually begins after age 60, and risk increases with age.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Alzheimer’s. It is a multifactorial disease with genetic and environmental components. The emerging field of epigenetics teaches us that our environment and lifestyle has a profound influence on how our genes manifest.
The MIND diet, short for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, gives guidelines for some specific brain food that can help. The list below includes both western recommendations as well as Ayurvedic recommendations of foods and herbs that may help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Studies show that a diet rich in blueberries improves cognitive function in elderly people. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, powerful phytonutrients that help protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals, which can contribute to age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Blueberries also have anti-inflammatory properties and contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, all essential for optimal brain function as we age.
Turmeric is a superb anti-inflammatory which actively inhibits certain inflammatory pathways within the body, significantly impacting upon external and internal inflammation. This has made turmeric a first choice for inflammations of the musculoskeletal system, digestive system and the circulatory system. Its also a potent brain tonic.
India has one of the lowest levels of Alzheimer’s in the world. This is thought to be due in part to the daily consumption of small amounts of turmeric. Average consumption in India is about 1g per day. A lot of research has been carried out on turmeric for brain health, with some promising results – including its potential to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Although most studies have looked specifically at one of the isolated compounds called ‘curcumin’, it’s thought that the complex of compounds together (around 230 of them in turmeric) may actually be more helpful than isolated curcumin for supporting brain health.
Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and kale are all cruciferous vegetables. They contain folate, an essential B vitamin. This is needed to lower homocysteine levels, an amino acid linked to cognitive impairment and can eventually lead to dementia. Also, broccoli provides many other valuable nutrients needed for overall health and is an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant required to prevent free radical damage to the brain.
Studies have shown that people whose diets contain adequate daily amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in abundance in chia seeds, have 26% less risk of developing brain lesions that cause dementia, compared to those who do not. These essential fatty acids help the brain to stay in shape by reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, regulating neurotransmitters, improving cognitive ability and enhancing memory. So to help prevent age-related dementia, consume chia seeds daily, sprinkled onto cereals, in baking and added to desserts and smoothies.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fat that can provide the brain with an alternate source of energy to glucose, in the form of ketones. These are high energy fuels that nourish the brain. The body can produce ketones from stored fat when fasting, but they can also be converted directly from medium-chain fatty acids, such as those found in coconut oil. The body’s primary source of energy is glucose, but in cases of insulin resistance, as in type 2 diabetes, for instance, where the glucose uptake is impaired, the brain is also capable of using ketones for energy. In fact, it appears that the brains of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and also diabetes seem to prefer ketones as their source of fuel. This information is according to Dr. Mary Newport, a doctor who wrote the book: Alzheimer’s Disease: What if There Was a Cure? It details her discovery and use of medium-chain fatty acids in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Coconut oil also has numerous other health benefits and should be used as a cooking oil, added to smoothies, spread over vegetables, or stirred into morning porridge to help prevent and treat dementia.
Eggs are considered one of nature’s treasure chests for a good reason – they are full of nutrients! To name but a few, eggs are a complete source of protein, they contain essential omega-3 fats, vitamins A and D, minerals, including selenium, iodine, zinc and manganese and all the B vitamins. Most importantly in cases of dementia, eggs are the primary food source of a nutrient called choline. Choline is probably one of the best brain-boosting foods around. Along with other B vitamins, it regulates blood homocysteine levels and maintains the integrity of cell membranes. It is also a pre-cursor to acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter that plays a key role in memory. Alzheimer’s is associated with acetylcholine deficiencies.
Salmon (Oily Fish)
Oily fish, such as wild salmon or trout, are a rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids and are considered to be one of the top brain foods to help stave off dementia. Roughly 60% of the brain is made up of fats that are constantly replenished, making essential fats like omega 3s, vital for optimal brain health. Many mental health conditions, including dementia, have been linked to a deficiency, as it is from these essential fats that our body and brains make prostaglandins. These are hormone-like substances that amongst other roles, boost immunity, decrease inflammation, regulate neurotransmitters, improve cognitive ability and improve memory. Eating oily fish like wild salmon 2-3 times a week is the first line of defense against dementia.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, in addition to its many other uses, can even help in cases of dementia. As we age, the ability to absorb essential nutrients from foods may decrease. This is because we eventually produce less hydrochloric acid, (HCL) a substance in the stomach that starts the process of breaking down and digesting foods. It paves the way for the body’s digestive enzymes to work efficiently. A lack of essential vitamins and minerals derived from foods can adversely affect brain function and appear as symptoms of dementia. Apple cider vinegar taken before meals can stimulate HCL levels, aid better digestion and in turn, optimize nutrient intake from foods.
Carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. They have long been known to improve eyesight and boost night vision, but it turns out they’re good for the brain also! Carrots have high levels of a nutrient called luteolin, which can reduce inflammation in the brain and help prevent age-related memory decline.
Brahmi is primarily used as a tonic to the Brain. It has the dual effect of promoting the intellect and improving cognitive functioning and learning ability, whilst also protecting brain cells against degeneration. Its protective action upon the brain is attributed to this herb containing a high level of antioxidants that have been shown to impact directly upon the cells in the brain protecting them from oxidative damage and inflammation. This provides protection against degenerative conditions that target the brain and cognitive functioning. In addition to this, Brahmi has also displayed an ability to break down plaques in the brain commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, and improve protein synthesis encouraging the regeneration of brain cells.
Gotu kola is an incredibly rejuvenative tonic to the body, with particular effect upon the brain helping to restore cerebral functioning that may have been compromised due to excess stress, trauma or specific pathologies and degenerative conditions.
Gotu kola provides a level of protection against free radicals for the brain tissue and cells, through ensuring a good quality blood supply. Gotu kola improves concentration, intelligence, memory and alertness. It is used in Alzheimer’s disease, senility, stroke and to slow ageing as it benefits sadhaka pitta which promotes the intellect.
Lavender is indicated in chronic degenerative conditions of the mind such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, but may also be helpful after head trauma or injury. Lavender stimulates the cerebral circulation and provides a high antioxidant value that protects against further degeneration.