Dementia refers to a group of brain diseases that cause gradual but long-term decrease in a person’s ability to think and remember in such a way their daily functioning is affected.
This group of neurodegenerative diseases commonly presents with symptoms that include emotional problems, problems with language and a decrease in motivation.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s. Its earliest symptom of short-term memory loss eventually progresses to problems with language, disorientation, mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self-care and behavioural issues. Such decline often results in withdrawal from family, friends and social interactions.
Much research has focused recently on understanding the cause of Alzheimer’s. Promising findings show the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias could be reduced through a combination of healthy habits, including a good diet, exercising, staying mentally and socially active and managing stress. Essentially, living a brain-healthy lifestyle may prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down or even reverse the process of degeneration. More specifically, preventing risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity, is thought to reduce the progress of neurodegeneration.
Inflammation and insulin resistance damage neurons, inhibiting communication between brain cells. Consequently, Alzheimer’s is sometimes described as “diabetes of the brain,” with a growing body of information suggesting a link between metabolic disorders and decline in brain function. For this reason, a diet that reduces inflammation and promotes normal energy production without sudden spikes in glucose should be maintained.
The Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of brain degeneration. This diet includes mainly plant-based food with high intake of seasonal vegetables, locally sourced oily fish, good oils such as olive oil, seasonal fruits and some whole grains. Notably this diet includes limited dairy and only a small amount of meat, with saturated fats kept to a minimum. Avoiding trans fats from packaged and processed foods is also important in order to reduce inflammation and free radicals that could be degenerative to the brain.
Conversely, good fats are essential for brain function, with some evidence suggesting the DHA in omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent dementia by reducing plaques found in the brain, which are characteristic of the disease.
In most instances, in order to achieve therapeutic doses, supplementation with a high-quality fish oil is required.
Consuming a diet that includes an array of fruit and vegetables is important. When considering the Mediterranean diet, aim for a plate that reflects a rainbow. Eating this way ensures maximum intake of antioxidants and vitamins.
The colour-giving compound of berries, anthocyanins, has been researched in great depth, with some studies showing a diet high in berries containing anthocyanins has positive effects on the brain. Consumption of blueberries and strawberries, for example, has been associated with a slower rate of memory decline in older women.
In addition to eating berries, consuming ginger, green tea and oily fish may help protect the brain from neuro-degeneration. These foods may protect glial cells, which help to remove toxins from the brain. By doing this, the glial cells play a role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases.
Regular consumption of green tea alone not only enhances memory and mental alertness, it also has the potential to slow down or perhaps reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Green tea prevents the formation of toxic plaques associated with the disease while also breaking down existing plaque. White and oolong teas are also particularly good for brain health.
Key nutrients believed to preserve and improve brain function include folic acid (B9), B12, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, carnitine and fish oil. Ginkgo biloba and turmeric are also thought to be beneficial in the prevention or delay of symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s.
By making changes to live a brain-healthy life, the symptoms associated with brain degeneration can at the very least be delayed if not prevented.
Foods to help prevent the onset of dementia
Green tea helps preserve cognitive function by protecting the glial cells, which mop up debris in the central nervous system. Drinking 2-4 cups per day is recommended.
Blueberries stand out when it comes to helping improve brain health; however, remember to include strawberries and dark-coloured berries for a range of brain-boosting benefits.
Researchers have found people who eat one to two servings of green leafy vegetables per day have the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger. Yet another reason to eat your greens.
Walnuts are high in DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is found in high concentrations in the brain and increased intake has been shown to improve cognitive function
This spice has shown promise in preventing or delaying the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Add some to guacamole for a deliciously different summer dip.
Oily fish provides another great source of omega-3 fatty acid to feed the brain. When choosing oily fish, stick with sardines and anchovies where possible to avoid high amounts of mercury.