Top tips for a healthy brain
Our country is officially in mourning with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Whether you’re a fan of the monarchy or not, the Queen was an inspirational character, who from a young age had incredible duty, purpose, passion, drive and determination in both her professional and private life. She certainly adopted some of the most common longevity habits that often underpin good health in old age. Research shows the profound importance of passion and purpose for ageing well, just like our beloved Queen. What we eat is only one ingredient of longevity, and as you’ll see, we need so much more.
Living with Dementia
As Benjamin Franklin said, “wish not so much to live long as to live well”. But too often, old age is marred with illness and disease.
One of these is dementia, which affects around 55 million people worldwide (estimated by The World Health Organization) with figures predicted to rise to 78 million by 2030. Every three minutes, it’s thought that someone in the UK develops dementia.
Dementia is caused by different diseases that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and other types include vascular, mixed, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia. The symptoms depend on the damaged part of the brain and the underlying disease but can include memory loss, difficulties with language or concentration, and changes in mood or behaviour. Dementia is progressive and gets worse over time.
But here’s the thing. Dementia is NOT a normal part of ageing and there is plenty we can do to both reduce risk factors and potentially delay its development.
Dale Bredesen, an American medical doctor, has received international recognition for his research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and his therapeutic multi-pronged approach is showing remarkable results. In ‘The First Survivors of Alzheimer’s, he presents the stories of seven individuals who reversed symptoms of cognitive decline using his therapeutic protocols. Although the studies are small, this gives a glimmer of hope for the millions of people affected by dementia that they can still experience healthy ageing.
With a focus on nutrition and wellbeing, there are practices that we can all adopt from his protocols to ensure that the body and brain can continue to function well and we can enjoy better health as we age.
Lifestyle tips for brain health
- Eat a diet low in sugar and moderate in starchy carbohydrates to prevent insulin resistance. High blood sugar/ insulin leads to reduced beta-amyloid clearance (as the enzyme that clears this also degrades insulin). Beta-amyloid is a bit like ‘scar tissue’ and forms in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
- Since the brain is 60% fat, adequate healthy dietary fats, including omega-3 fatty acids are important. Bad fats contribute to inflammation within the body, which is linked to the development of many chronic diseases.
- Eat plenty of vegetables – these contain vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. They are also high in fibre, which is important for the gastrointestinal system.
- A diet high in sugar and saturated fat reduces levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) – ‘miracle gro’ for the brain!
- There is an intrinsic link between gut health and brain health.
- Poor gut health increases inflammation and this is one of the features of many chronic health conditions, including cognitive decline.
- Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is produced within the gut – any digestive dysfunction will impair its production and negatively impact the brain and body.
- A lack of sleep negatively affects the brain, leading to low mood, depression and increased risk of anxiety.
- Reduced sleep also leads to slowed mental performance and a tendency to make errors.
- Reduced willpower.
- Increased hunger.
- Increase in ‘amyloid beta’ and ‘tau’ (typically found in brains affected by Alzheimer’s disease).
- Stress elevates cortisol (the major stress hormone) and switches off repair mechanisms.
- Chronic (persistent) stress can affect thyroid health, heart health, and immune health and can cause brain shrinkage.
- Find stress reduction activities that work for you. These could include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, massage, breathing techniques, gardening, reading, listening to music, or keeping a happiness and gratitude journal.
- When we learn to manage our stress, we see improvements in our sleep, energy, patience, resilience, focus and memory.
- Physical activity stimulates blood supply to the brain and the production of BDNF.
- Boosts cognitive function and mood.
- Brisk walking is ideal.
- It’s cumulative rather than continuous activity that seems to be the most important.
- Why not try our free chair yoga class?
- Keep your brain active every day.
- Be a lifelong learner – stay curious and involved in your community.
- Read, write, or do crosswords, Sudoku or other puzzles.
- Attend lectures and plays.
- Have conversations.
- Play games.
- Enrol in courses.
By addressing these areas and optimising cognitive function, you will be supporting optimal health too.
For more information and resources on dementia:
For more information on Dr Bredesen and his work: