How is your memory?
Do you ever walk into a room to get something and can’t remember what you are there for?
Poor cognitive function is a part of the ageing process. Right?
Wrong! We now know that our lifestyle choices are what impacts our brain health and that if we made smarter choices over the decades, we could maintain healthier brain function for life.
How the brain works
We are designed to be smart people our entire lives. The brain is supposed to work well until our last breath. (Dr David Perlmutter: The Grain Brain)
Our twenty-first century lifestyles have derailed our health. The diseases we are predisposed to today, (eg, heart disease, diabetes, dementia), are brought on by our lifestyle not being in sync with our genetic makeup.
It is correct to think that increased risk factors exist for people with a family history of a particular disease, such as heart disease, autoimmunity or cancer. But succumbing to these diseases is not a fait accompli. The same applies to brain health. Not only do we have the ability to reduce these risk factors, but we can actually reprogram some of our DNA to work more beneficially. Our brains are like plastic. We can repair and regenerate new brain tissue.
What we can do to improve brain function
Our food choices, the exercise we get or neglect to get, our sleep quality, the stress that we feel or avoid and even the relationships we have with friends and family, all have an influence on our genes and the way they are expressed. We now know that we can alter around 70% of the genes that directly impact on our health and longevity. This is exciting news!
A particular type of protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) plays an important role in creating new neurons. Studies of patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, show that these patients had far lower levels of BDNF. Those people who had higher levels of BDNF in their blood had less than half the risk for dementia. Low levels of BDNF are also linked to the following conditions: schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, anxiety, addictive behaviours including alcohol, sleep & eating disorders, obesity and a history of suicide attempts. So, if we know what to do to generate more BDNF, do we have the secret to better brain function? You bet!
Ways of elevating your BDNF
- Exercise: When you exercise, you exercise your genes. Genes that are linked to longevity are turned on. The more we move, the fitter our brain becomes.
- Caloric restriction: Extensive human studies continually report that with caloric restriction comes an increase in BDNF production and improvements in memory and other brain functions. Since 1970, our caloric intake has increased by 23% and most of this is sugar & refined flour. If we returned to our calorie intake of 50 years ago, we would be practicing caloric restriction and better dietary choices. Intermittent fasting also activates the production of BDNF.
- Ketogenic diet: This describes a diet that contains moderate levels of protein, high levels of good fats and low levels of carbohydrates. Eating good fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, fish oils, coconut oil, olives, olive oil and flaxseed have resulted in significant improvements in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. This dietary choice also has been shown to reduce amyloid plaques in the brain (observed in patients with cognitive decline), increase the production of glutathione (a potent brain-protective antioxidant) and an increase in the size of the hippocampus – the part of the brain connected to our memory and emotions. It also helps stimulate the growth of our mitochondria, the ‘mini factories’ contained within our cells where we make our energy. Put quite simply, when the body is in ketosis, it makes ketones for fuel instead of relying on sugar. The brain loves this!
- Gluten: There is increasingly more evidence to show that gluten consumption can impact the health of our brains in much the same way as it can affect our gut lining or the walls of our small intestine. Gluten consumption can cause leaky gut and we now know that it can cause leaky brain. If you experience brain fog and poor memory, avoid gluten for a two to three months and note the changes in your level of cognition and memory. Include other recommendations listed here and you will easily notice the difference!
- Curcumin (in turmeric): This phyto-nutrient has the ability to increase BDNF in the brain. Studies reveal that this translates to an improvement in memory, improved attention and general mood.
- DHA (in fish oils): One-quarter of the brain is DHA, a type of omega-3 fat found in fish oil. This is an important constituent of the cell wall and its presence has a major impact on cell health. If taken as a supplement this nutrient can facilitate the growth & function of the brain, as well as help reduce inflammation in the brain. DHA can help regulate the production of BDNF, which we know benefits brain function.
- Intellectual stimulation: In much the same way that we can stimulate the growth of muscle by lifting weights and eating the right nutrients, our brains can be stimulated and respond with growth and memory improvement. By choosing to learn a new language or musical instrument, solving crosswords and puzzles, further education and reading widely, even exercise like weight training or learning something challenging and new, can bolster our brain function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. I include the act of meditation here as well as the evidence is now undeniable, that regular meditation reduces the chances of developing poor memory with ageing.
Take charge of your brain’s destiny today with smart food and lifestyle choices and maintain great brain health for life!