The brain is the most complex of all organs. It serves as the centre of the nervous system and governs all the body’s organs while also performing its own cognitive functions, including concentration and memory recall.
A decline in cognitive function is often associated with ageing. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia, have recently received a lot of attention in scientific research with the hope of better understanding the degeneration of the brain.
The general decline of cognitive function, however, is neither an inevitable part of the aging process nor is it limited to the ageing population.
“Brain fog”, for example, is something that can be experienced by people of all ages and is characterised by confusion, decreased clarity of thought and forgetfulness. While this isn’t considered a “real” or medically defined condition, it does exist. Diet and lifestyle play a large role in how well our brain functions.
As with all organs, if the brain is not nourished with the nutrients it requires or if it is overloaded with toxins, it will underperform and eventually degenerate. Knowing this, we can greatly influence the preservation of our most complex organ.
At some point throughout the day, most of us experience a decline in mental clarity. Memory is weak and concentration is generally poor. This could simply be a sign of a long day and a tired brain, but there are several other things that could also contribute.
Hypertension, obesity, heavy drinking and inflammation are among the factors that can lead to poor cognitive function.
Other contribting causes include smoking, due to its reduction of oxygen to the brain and contribution to systemic inflammation; heavy metal toxicity; digestive complaints such as parasites, anxiety and depression; and a sedentary lifestyle.
Gluten has also been shown to cross the blood barrier and negatively affect brain function. These factors can all be positively influenced by diet.
The Mediterranean diet has proven to be particularly useful in the prevention of cognitive decline. It is high in oily fish, vegetables, fibre-rich foods and, most importantly, low in processed foods. Fibre-rich foods as well as wheat germ oil are rich sources of tocopherols, the group of chemicals we call vitamin E, which act as anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants.
Vitamin E has proven to be hugely beneficial in protecting the brain and its functions. Diets high in trans and saturated fats adversely affect cognition, while those high in vegetables offer the most protection.
It is important, however, to include fat in the diet as the brain is full of a type of fat called Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This type of fat is available in fish oils and flaxseeds.
Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides, and research suggests it could be beneficial in preventing and, in some cases, reversing the signs of some forms of dementia.
Maintaining hydration is crucial to mental clarity as early signs of dehydration often present as confusion and lack of concentration.
Blood circulation is also important to ensure adequate flow of oxygen to the brain. If you feel mental fatigue creeping in while at work, get up and walk around for a bit to circulate blood flow. It’s also important to get regular exercise, and circulatory stimulating foods such as ginger and turmeric will also help.
It has been suggested that the active constituent in turmeric may cross the blood-brain barrier. It also binds to heavy metals, particularly copper and iron, and as a result prevents neurotoxicity caused by these metals.
Specific nutrients proven to be beneficial to increasing memory and concentration include co-enzyme Q10, Alpha lipoic acid and vitamin E.
Co-enzyme Q10 has neuro-protective properties and delays the progression of neuro-degeneration, while Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to improve age-associated decline of memory and can be found in red meat, spinach, brewer’s yeast and wheat germ.
Herbs such as ginkgo and brahmi are also thought to improve memory and concentration.
Read on to learn about how to incorporate blueberries, turmeric, dark chocolate, sage, rosemary and wheat germ into easy everyday meals.
Blueberries are high in anthocyanin, an antioxidant known to guard against neurological diseases. Make a sorbet by blending blueberries with coconut milk, adding coconut oil for extra brainpower.
Cocoa has been shown to delay age-related cognitive decline. Reach for that dark chocolate in the afternoon instead of a coffee to keep your concentration high for the rest of the day.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory action, and will increase blood circulation. Add some to guacamole, along with black pepper to increase the absorption of turmeric’s active constituent.
Sage contains carnosic acid, which provides great antioxidant support. It has been shown to improve memory recall. Create a brain-boosting marinade by combining it with garlic, ginger and olive oil.
A great source of vitamin E, wheat germ will help to protect the brain. Sprinkle ot over your morning muesli or add it to your breakfast smoothie for extra texture, as well as extra brainpower for the day ahead.
A component of rosemary oil called cineole has been shown to improve mental performance once it enters the bloodstream. Try growing some and regularly use it in cooking, such as atop roast potatoes.
Read more about the best foods for brain health.