Home » Dementia and Diet: Can Certain Foods Improve Brain Health?
Because there is no one cause of dementia, there’s also no one way to prevent it. That’s not to say it’s an inevitable side effect of growing old, however. The link between preventing dementia and diet is heavily-researched, and findings often point to the same groups of foods and essential nutrients.
Everybody should adopt a healthy diet: that’s not a new fact. Everyone knows we should eat right in order to keep joints, muscles, and all the organs in our body – such as our heart – functioning well. And let’s not forget about our most vital organ: the brain.
Dementia develops when cells in our brain are damaged, which can happen for a variety of reasons. A good diet doesn’t directly prevent dementia, but rather helps maintain a healthy brain and prevents complications that lead to the death of brain cells (such as strokes and inflammation in the brain).
It’s estimated that, by 2030, 20% of people aged over 65 (over 1 million people in the UK) will have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, so prevention is more important than ever before. Dementia develops over a prolonged period, so consistently maintaining a healthy diet is necessary to gain the preventative benefits.
The types of food that help nourish our brains are:
- Rich in vitamins, such as B6, B12, and folic acid.
- Rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E.
- Rich in omega 3 oils.
- Low in salt and saturated fat.
There are many sources of these essential nutrients, particularly those from a Mediterranean diet, which – according to studies – is associated with lower levels of memory and thinking problems.
The prevention of dementia is not linked directly to this type of diet, but rather to having a healthier lifestyle (which this diet promotes) that improves overall wellbeing and thus minimises the risk of long-term issues that lead to dementia.
As alzheimers.org.uk explains: “High levels of antioxidants from the high intake of fruits and vegetables may help to protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as increasing the levels of proteins in the brain that protect brain cells from this damage.”
Why are Vitamin B6, B12 & Folic Acid important?
When our bodies are deficient in these essential vitamins, homocysteine – a toxic acid that can lead to health problems if levels are high – rises in our body.
Studies have suggested that a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s is linked to the level of homocysteine in the body. Plus, your body needs B12 to make neurotransmitters, which are essential to regular brain function.
Eating plenty of foods containing these vitamins ensures homocysteine levels stay low and that your body can make what it needs to stay healthy.
Good sources include:
- B12: Meats such as liver, chicken, pork, and fish.
- B12: Dairy products such as milk, cheese, eggs, and yogurts.
- Folic acid: Meats such as liver, and egg yolks.
- Folic acid: Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, and peas.
- B6: Meats such as turkey, chicken, salmon, and pork.
- B6: Nuts and seeds, such as, hazel, pistachio, and sunflower.
Why are antioxidants important?
The natural process of oxidation in the body can damage cell membranes and other areas of the body. This leads to all sorts of degenerative conditions, including damage to nerve cells in the brain, which can then lead to Alzheimer’s.
Research has suggested links between antioxidants and a reduced risk of dementia, so ensuring you consume a decent amount of antioxidants – such as vitamin C and E – could help prevent it.
Good sources include:
- Fruits such as oranges, grapes, kiwis, mangoes, blueberries, apricots, and strawberries.
- Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, leeks, onions, garlic, and corn.
- Red wine (in moderation).
- Green tea.
- Lean meat and fish.
Why are Omega 3 Oils so Important?
Many people don’t consume enough omega 3 oils and so are often deficient in this essential nutrient. This is understandable – sources of omega 3 are limited as compared to other nutrients, but it’s vital that people make the effort to incorporate foods that are rich in omega 3 into their diet.
It has numerous benefits for the body and brain, including reducing triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood that is unhealthy in excess), blood pressure, inflammation, and more. It’s also crucial for brain growth and development during early life.
Studies have even shown that a higher intake of omega 3 is linked to a decrease in age-related mental decline, and so reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In short, it helps develop the brain and keep it healthy.
Good sources include:
- Oily fish, including mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, herring, and tuna.
- Cod liver oil.
- Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds.
It’s never too late to start improving your diet and supporting your brain’s health.
Incorporating more of these foods into your diet could help reduce your risk of developing degenerative diseases like dementia and help improve your overall health: your entire body will benefit from receiving more of the essential nutrients that the foods listed throughout this article provide.
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Liz has a degree in English and Creative Writing and is skilled at writing about technical subjects in a style that anyone can understand – she enjoys supporting people’s learning. Outside of work, Liz spends her time on hobbies such as writing, reading, gaming, and fine art.