Food for a Healthy Memory

When I saw the lead article in the Washington Post Health & Science Section (6 Jan 2015) by Bonnie Berkowitz and Laura Stanton titled “Food for thought: Is your brain missing something?” I felt obligated to pass it on to my healthymemory blog readers. The neuroscience professor Gay Wenk, author of Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, notes “Our brains need certain nutrients to keep us happy, focused, and functioning at our best. But moderation is key, and gobbling more of a particular nutrient helps only if you are making up for a deficiency.” Now on to substances that are good for the brain.

Antioxidants are important because they delay cognitive decline by neutralizing free radicals, which are by products of our oxygen guzzling metabolism that damage cells by causing inflammation. People who exercise a lot tend to eat more and breathe more heavily, which results in more free radicals. Flavonoids, one type of antioxidant, improve blood flow to the brain and enhance its ability to form memories, especially in conjunction with exercise. Antioxidants can be found in colorful vegetables and fruits, red wine, cocoa, calf and beef liver.

Caffeine seems to protect the brain, although scientists are not sure exactly how. Caffeine is found in coffee, many kinds of tea, cocoa, many sodas, and dark chocolate.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and an important component of brain cell membranes. A deficiency has been linked to brain disorders such as depression. Correcting a deficiency can boost the brain’s plasticity enhancing cognition and learning. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, tuna and other fatty fish, plants such as flaxseed, walnuts and other nuts.

Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make seratonin, an essential mood-regulating neurotransmitter. The brain can’t store tryptophan, so we need to get a regular supply from protein in our diets. Tryptophan is found in eggs, nuts, spinach, meat, fish, and poultry.

Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in the spice turmeric and seems to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and possibly Parkinson’s disease. Turmeric has been used in Asian herbal remedies for centuries to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Curcumin is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Curry and sine mustards contain, and turmeric can be added to many foods. My wife uses it and it is delicious.

B vitamins, folate, or folic acid is needed to keep the enzymes related to energy metabolism humming alone. If a woman is deficient, additional folate may improve memory and ease depression. Studies indicate it may also help protect the brain from dementia. It is found in fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains, orange juice, spinach, and yeast.

Shortly after reading the Washington Post article I received the January 7th Scientific American article, “Get the New Skinny on Dietary Fat.” It included the following quote from David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain. “The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which is unfortunately relatively uncommon in human populations today.” Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat. Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in the risk for developing dementia.”

The article goes on to state that certain types of fats are more beneficial than others. “Good” fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados, pumpkin seads, and polyunsturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil and walnuts.

Olivia Okereke of Brigham & Women’s Hospital tested how different types of fats affect cognition and memory in women. Over the course of four years she found that women who consumed high amounts of monounsaturated fats had better overall cognitive function and memory. Similar findings resulted from a study by researchers in Laval University in Quebec. They found that diets high in monounsaturated fats increased the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for learning and memory. The loss of acetylcholine production in the brain has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Although canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats in its natural form, is often hydrogenated so that it can stay fresh longer in processed foods. Partially hydrogenated foods, also known as Trans fats, were shown to be detrimental to memory in a University of California at San Diego study. According to Beatrice Golomb, “Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food, but reduce the shelf life of the person.”

The article concludes by noting that “a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may still may be the best way to stay healthy. But it’s good to know that a little fat here and there won’t kill you. In fact, it might well help you live a healthier, more productive life.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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