Optimal health and a lifetime of wellness come from not only achieving physical and emotional health but also attaining optimal cognitive function.
However, today we face many challenges that have a profound effect on both our bodies and our mind. Poor dietary habits, inactive lifestyles, stress, and aging themselves make it difficult to achieve lifelong health and vitality.
The good news is an abundance of research has proven that our lifestyle choices can make a difference. A nutritious diet rich in plant food, more physical activity and daily use of supplements can all positively influence our bodies and our brain throughout life.
This issue of News You Can Use brings you the latest scientific findings in this important area of research.
Shed Kilos; gain smart
Maintaining a healthy weight may not only be good for your body but good for your brain too. In a recent study conducted over 10 years among 6,401 British men aged 39-63 years, researchers found an association between being overweight or obese and impaired cognitive function.
Published in the journal Neurology, study investigators compared body mass index (BMI), metabolic conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, and cognitive function at the beginning of the study and again at 5 and 10 years.
Study subjects were assessed on measures of cognitive function such as reasoning and memory. The researchers found two interesting trends:
- At the end of the study, men with a lower BMI had better cognition.
- Over time, men who were obese and had multiple metabolic conditions were significantly more likely to show a faster rate of cognitive decline.
The results of this study suggest that vascular problems associated with excess body weight might affect brain function and that maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent declines in cognitive function that occur with aging.
Protecting brain function with a diet rich in antioxidants
A stroke is a medical emergency and occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die after only a few minutes.
Sudden bleeding in the brain can also cause a stroke if the bleeding damages brain cells.
Studies have shown that stroke can be prevented by controlling risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
It can also be prevented through healthy lifestyle practices – not smoking and eating a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants.
To prove the point, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden evaluated the diets of 36,715 women over an average of 11 years.
Among 5,680 subjects already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease researchers discovered that women who ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tea, and dark chocolate were 46-57% less likely to suffer a stroke.
Researchers also calculated their antioxidant intake and found women with the highest antioxidant intake ate fruits and vegetables twice as often and drank 17 times more tea (known for its high polyphenol content and potent antioxidant activity) than those with the lowest intake.
This was the first study to connect antioxidant intake with stroke risk among people already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and draws attention to the importance of a diet rich in phytonutrients.
Need a brain booster, take green tea?
A growing amount of research suggests green tea may promote brain performance and protect brain cells from neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Although studies have varied in their design from scanning people’s brains to forming Alzheimer’s plagues in a test tube, the focus of these studies has been on the polyphenolic compounds found in Green tea.
In one recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers used MRI scans of the brains to evaluate brain function in healthy subjects as they performed tasks testing their working memory – the type that allows the brain to both store and process information at the same time.
Subjects’ brains were scanned after consuming two different doses of a beverage containing green tea extract or a placebo.
Compared to the placebo, consuming green tea beverages increased key areas of brain activity related to working memory processing.
Researchers noted that this was the first study of its kind to show that MRI brain scans could be used to examine the effects of green tea extract on brain performance.
Berry intake may slow cognitive decline by 2.5 years
Cognitive function is a measure by which the brain can manage and use available information for activities of daily life and changes as we age.
And while everyone has to age, it appears some people are better than others at successfully curbing the effects of aging on cognitive function. Could it be due to differences in diet and other lifestyle habits? Recent research suggests it may.
A diet rich in berries-blueberries and other berry fruits may protect brain function from declining as we age.
In addition to their well-known antioxidant effects, berries contain flavonoids that appear to directly affect the brain by boosting its signaling functions, preventing inflammation in the brain, and protecting cognition and motor control.
The scientific support for the brain health benefits of berries was recently boosted by one of the longest and largest studies of its kind.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a cohort of 16,010 women age 70 and older who completed dietary surveys every four years, beginning in 1980, and who were tested for memory and other cognitive functions every two years between 1995-2001.
Publishing their findings in the Annals of Neurology researchers found that women who consumed more berry fruits (such as a half cup of blueberries per week) saw slower declines in cognition equal to 2.5 years of delayed cognitive aging.
Fatten up your brain
Although some of the strongest scientific evidence for the beneficial effects of Omega-3 fatty acids is in the area of heart health, the latest research continues to show that consuming a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may also offer brain health benefits. In a new study published in the journal
In neurology, researchers took blood samples from 1, 575 participants with an average age of 67 from the running Framingham offspring Cohort.
They measured blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and then compared them to performance on cognitive tests and MRI. The smaller brain volumes were estimated to be equivalent to about 2 years of structural age-related brain aging.
Although this study did not measure changes in brain function and size over time. It does provide more evidence that consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial to cognitive health and aging.