As we age, it’s common to experience forgetfulness or delays in our memory. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, “almost 40% of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss, or age-associated memory impairment, which is considered a part of the normal aging process.” With nearly 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, memory impairment is a national issue. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a memory disorder, or are experiencing normal age-related memory loss, it’s possible to improve your conditions by changes to your diet.
Research has shown that the brain and gut are linked, and the relationship between the two is influenced by what we eat and drink. Our digestive system helps provide nutrients to the body and brain and it also produces hormones that can impact our memory and cognitive function. Certain foods can affect our memory in both positive and negative ways.
Memory and Cognitive Function
Our bodies are exposed to free radicals that can come from both internal and external sources. Stress, poor diet, pollution and the environment can all contribute to the development of free radicals, which can impact our brain and cognitive function. To help protect our brains from free radicals and heal the damage that occurs as a result, our bodies need certain nutrients from our diet. Antioxidants help protect our cells from free radicals, while good fats allow electrical signaling between nerve cells, allowing our brains to communicate with our bodies. Vitamins such as B12, B6, and B9 have memory-boosting benefits and key nutrients necessary for brain function.
Poor Diet Means Poor Memory
Research has suggested that diets high in cholesterol and fat can speed up the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are attributed to the same brain damage found in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Those with higher cholesterol can develop a gene that puts them at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, the build-up of these plaques in blood vessels can damage brain tissue through small blockages resulting in silent strokes or even more damaging strokes. Even if a stroke doesn’t occur, these build-ups can compromise thinking and memory. A study conducted by researchers at Brigham Women’s Hospital found that women who ate foods high in saturated fats, like red meat and butter, preformed worse on think and memory tests.
Foods That Boost Memory
While we can’t control or prevent memory loss entirely, we can use food to help reduce our risk of developing a memory disorder and try to consume foods that improve memory if we’ve already been diagnosed. Here are a few foods with memory-boosting benefits good to add to your diet.
One of the best power foods for the brain are whole grains. Whole-grain foods have a low GI which means they release energy slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert and awake all day long. Eating too few of these complex carbs can lead to brain fog. When you have the option, choose whole-grain items when available. Foods like cereal, bread, rice, pasta, barley, bulgur wheat and oatmeal all come in whole-wheat varieties and will help you stay sharp.
Oily Fish and Essential Fatty Acids
Certain varieties of fish have good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which help build up membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain. They can help improve the structure of brain cells and overall cognitive function. Low levels of DHA and EPA, which are types of omega 3 fatty acids, have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. In addition to improving brain function, researchers believe these nutrients can also help relieve depression.
To add more of these fatty acids into your diet, stick with salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines. If you don’t like fish or choose not to consume it, good plant-based alternatives include flaxseed, soy beans, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Supplements are available, but make sure to consult your healthcare provider before adding them to your diet.
Blueberries and other deeply colored berries contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants act against inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants have also been found to improve or delay short-term memory loss.
Curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, can directly enter the brain and help repair cells. This ingredient has also been shown to clear up amyloid plaque build-up, boost serotonin and dopamine levels, and help grow new brain cells. This spice is found in many different curry powders and also comes in capsule form. Always consult your healthcare provider before taking supplements.
Broccoli is packed with antioxidants and vitamin K, which has been shown to improve memory function and reduce inflammation.
We don’t often think of eggs as brain food; however, they contain several brain-boosting nutrients including B6, B12, folate and choline. Choline helps regulate mood and memory while B vitamins also work to relieve depression and its symptoms.
While eating a healthy diet and adding in more brain-boosting foods to your daily meal plan can help improve brain function, it’s also important to make other small changes. In addition to diet, you might also consider implementing these small steps to help improve overall brain function:
• Getting enough quality sleep
• Stay hydrated by drinking water and eating water-dense foods
• Exercise regularly
• Monitor and reduce stress through yoga, meditation, and journaling
• Reduce alcohol consumption
Improving Brain Function at Maplewood Senior Living
At our Maplewood Senior Living facilities, we know how important a healthy brain is for leading a healthy life. That’s why our head chefs make it a priority to use healthy, local, and brain-boosting foods in each meal they offer. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us here