Everyone has lapses in their memory from time to time. This is especially true when we are multi-tasking, stressed or distracted. But recurrent lapses or worsening memory blocks can be a sign of something more serious such as dementia.
Today we are going to look at what you can do on an everyday basis to protect your brain and memory. As we age our brain ‘shrinks’, and toxins from our daily life (eg alcohol) can create oxidative damage and destroy brain cells. It was once thought that once a brain cell died that was it and there was no repair process. However researchers have found that the brain can repair itself or redirect neurons around the damaged area. This concept has been called ‘Neuroplasticity’.
So what can we do to ensure that our brain works as well as it can and protect our memories and daily functioning. By ensuring that your brain has specific nutrients, you are ensuring that your brain can prevent any potential damage, or repair damage that may be occurring.
The brain is a mass of nerve cells or neurons. These neurons have a fatty layer that envelopes the inner core. This is similar to electrical wiring. The inner section of electrical wiring is a conductive material and the outer layer is there to protect the inner wiring. In our bodies the outer layers are made from fatty acids. Brain cells or neurons are susceptible to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. When we eat foods that contain anti-oxidant nutrients, they offer protection against the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Brain foods are foods that are rich in protective nutrients such as antioxidants to protect against free radicals and Vitamin B group to provide ingredients for neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) as well as being involved in the functioning of the brain and nervous system.
B group vitamin compounds are essential for the health and structure of the brain and nervous system and production of energy required by many cells. Vitamin B1 is required for the production of the myelin sheath (the outer protective layer of the nerve cell), reduces oxidative stress and in involved in neurotransmitter production. Vitamin B6 helps to improve memory and concentration as it is involved in the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid are involved in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. B12 is also involved in fatty acid synthesis and with Folic Acid reduces homocysteine level. Homocysteine is an inflammatory marker used to monitor risk of heart disease and stroke.
Foods that are high in Vitamin B include: eggs, fresh dairy products, meats, beans, green leafy vegetables, raw nuts and fortified breads and cereals. Vitamin B compounds are susceptible to storage conditions and cooking techniques. High temperatures, light and freezing conditions all destroy the B compounds.
Blueberries along with Cherries and other berries are high in anti-oxidative levels. Blueberries are a potent anti-oxidant food. Remember that we mentioned that the brain is sensitive to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Blueberries contain compounds called anthocyanins, which can cross the blood brain barrier, support healthy brain function and can prevent memory loss. Some studies have also shown that blueberries can reverse age related brain decline. Add ½ cup blueberries to your diet daily for the added protection of this anti-oxidant food. Fresh is preferable but the snap frozen berries have been shown to have same amount of anthocyanins as fresh.
Green Tea is a beverage that has had many claims about it but particularly in relation to its anti-oxidant properties. It is proposed by researchers that green tea protects our memory and brain health by preventing the production of Beta-amyloid plaques (linked to Alzheimer’s disease) and reduces the neuronal loss due to oxidative damage. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that the Japanese people over the age of 70 who drank green tea had a better cognitive response.
Red Apples. The old adage of an apple a day keeps the doctor away has merit. The Phenolic compounds in red apples can help to protect the brain from oxidative damage that can trigger degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s disease.
Turmeric. Anyone that knows me knows I add Turmeric spice to any food that I can. I believe that it has so many wonderful properties including it being a powerful anti-oxidant to help protect the brain from harmful free radical damage. But turmeric also prevents Beta-amyloid damage in rat brain cells.
Garlic contains many powerful anti-oxidant compounds but is high in Selenium – a powerful heavy metal detoxifier. Selenium binds to Mercury, Lead and Arsenic to remove them. These heavy metals can interfere with brain chemistry by displacing vital minerals needed for functioning such as Iron, Zinc and Copper.
Wild Salmon contains high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. This food should really have listed first because our brain is mostly made up of a fatty acid known as DHA. Wild Salmon provides the omega 3 oil – DHA, essential for the brain structure and communication between brain cells. Low DHA has been linked to memory loss, ADHD, learning difficulties and depression.
Free-Range Organic Eggs contain choline, lecithin and vitamin B12. We have already discussed Vitammin B12. Lecithin is a fat soluble nutrient which is contains choline, and is essential for healthy cell membranes. Choline is a precursor for a neurotransmitter called Acetylcholine – involved in cellular communication and memory.
The last nutrient that I am going to talk about is Magnesium. This is no one food, as many foods contain magnesium in small amounts. This mineral is essential to our health but particularly in the health of nerve tissue, particularly myelin sheath. Magnesium is required for many enzymatic reactions including detoxification of nerve cells and production of energy for these cells. Magneisum is also vital for the conversion of dietary fatty acids into the primary fatty acid for brain health – DHA. Food sources of Magnesium include green leafy vegetables, almonds, avocados, pepitas, cashews, and meat products. Our current diet generally means that many people are magnesium deficient. Common deficiency signs include muscle spasms and cramps, fatigue, insomnia, migraine, headaches, muscles tension, anxiety and irritability. If you think that you could be deficient, help is not far away on finding out if you are.
Other activities that you can do to promote your memory include: doing something different to your usual routine. For example if you clean your teeth with your right hand use your left. Learn a new language, experience the fun of puzzles. Get out of your normal routine and spice things up. But remember once you have mastered the new activity then enjoy a different activity. This will keep your brain on the ready for new information.
Ensuring that your brain gets optimum oxygen will also help ensure you keep your memory and brain health. Breathing deeply in activities such as meditation or yoga regularly will ensure that your brain gets the oxygen it needs for optimal health.
Ensuring that you get adequate sleep and don’t ‘burn the candle at both ends’ will help your body gets the time to recuperate and rebuild itself. The neurotransmitters that are created during sleep also contribute to good health and anti-ageing.
We have spoken about foods that promote your memory but consider that foods that are high is sugar, alcohol, saturated fats and trans-fats will create an environment that is detrimental to your brain and memory health. Limit these foods to being a ‘Sometimes’ Food.
Many of the foods that we have discussed today are not only nutritious but enjoyable! Include these foods on a daily basis and reap the rewards for your memory and brain health!