This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Here are seven things you can do to help keep your brain healthy for years to come:
#1: Amp Up Your Intake of Coconut Oil
For years, the coconut was shunned for its high fat content, but as researchers continue to uncover the medicinal properties of this fruit, the coconut is being embraced with an open mind — primarily for its ability to protect your brain.
Turns out the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil have the ability to produce ketones, a valuable, secondary source of energy for the brain when its cells have a difficult time fueling up with the brain’s primary energy source — glucose.
The most exciting thing about coconut oil for brain health is that studies indicate this protective fat holds potential for both Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment. In fact, some researchers have even dared to say early intervention with coconut oil could reverse signs of Alzheimer’s progression.
To add coconut oil to your regimen, start with one teaspoon in the morning, taken with food. You can gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you are able to tolerate four tablespoons.
#2: Avoid Sugar
“In the U.S. alone, 19 million people have now been diagnosed with the condition, while a further 79 million are considered ‘prediabetic,’ showing some of the early signs of insulin resistance. If Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes do share a similar mechanism, levels of dementia may follow a similar trajectory as these people age.”
This postulation from The New Scientist‘s September 3 article “Eat Your Way to Dementia” is a little frightening. But believe me when I say it’s a reality we may soon have to face. It is predicted that 115 million people will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease by 2050, nearly paralleling diabetes predictions. After all, they don’t call Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes” for nothing.
It’s no secret that glucose is your brain’s favorite source of fuel. While the brain only accounts for 2 percent of our body weight, it utilizes 20 percent of our glucose. But the sweet stuff can also be your brain’s worst nightmare. Too much sugar over a long period of time can alter how efficiently your brain is able to use glucose. This condition, known as insulin resistance, causes the pancreas to overproduce insulin, creating a buildup of both insulin and glucose in the blood. In and of itself, this is a dangerous combination for any organ, but the brain is particularly susceptible to insulin and sugar-related damage.
Interestingly, they noticed improvement in both insulin function and brain performance in the sugar-fed rats when they were also fed omega-3 fatty acids, supporting another recent study which found that omega-3 fatty acids can potentially curb the harmful effects of junk food.
#3: Increase Your Consumption of Curcumin
A 2008 review cited more than 50 studies indicating that to dodge Alzheimer’s, all you have to do is reach into your spice cabinet.
Amyloids, proteins that arise from inappropriately folded proteins and polypeptides, play a role in a number of diseases, but perhaps no amyloid is as devastating as the beta-amyloid clumps thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques assault your brain and take your precious memories hostage by blocking cell-to-cell signaling at the synapses. In addition to this, they promote brain-damaging inflammation, dishing out a one-two punch that, unfortunately, too many people fall victim to.
In a normal brain, these plaques are broken down and eliminated. In the brain of one with early stages of dementia, however, amyloid plaques are never broken down or cleared, leaving them to build up and sever the communication between brain cells.
But, you can help your brain break up and safely eliminate these plaques — by eating foods that can break up or inhibit amyloid plaque build-up.
Due to its low molecular weight, its lipophilic nature and its ability to bind to and breakup amyloid plaques, curcumin has been researched extensively for its potential to provide an answer to Alzheimer’s disease. And the ancient herb has been proven effective in a number of clinical studies. One study found that when mice were given low-dose curcumin, their levels of beta amyloid plaque decreased by 40 percent and their “plaque burden” decreased by 43 percent.
But curcumin’s abilities to thwart this deadly disease doesn’t stop there. In addition to reducing inflammation and providing antioxidant support, curcumin plays a role in breaking up protein tangles that prevent nutrients from reaching critical areas of the frontal cortex.
Want to boost the powers of curcumin even further? Studies indicate that adding additional vitamin D to your regimen can boost the effectiveness of curcumin by activating the body’s immune response responsible for clearing plaques from the brain.
#4: Boost Your Berry Intake
The flavonoids found in berries — specifically blueberries and strawberries — promote autophagy, the brain’s “housekeeping” mechanism. Increasing your intake of these nutrients can improve your brains ability to clear dangerous amyloid brain tangles from the brain before the tangles deteriorate synaptic function. Berries also tackle one of the other culprits: inflammation.
According to a study that appeared last year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, berries possess a remarkable ability to reduce brain inflammation. Authors of the study, Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D. and Marshall G. Miller, concluded that “berry fruits mediate signaling pathways involved in inflammation and cell survival in addition to enhancing neuroplasticity, neurotransmission, and calcium buffering, all of which lead to attenuation of age- and pathology-related deficits in behavior.”
#5: Consume Higher Doses of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty acids make up the building blocks of the human brain, specifically DHA, which accounts for 70 percent of the brain’s myelin. Myelin is a very important substance for brain health. The protective sheath lines every nerve fiber in the brain, ensuring fast and accurate messaging from brain cell to brain cell. But that’s not the only way Omega-3s protect the memory. A study published last year in the journal Neurology found that higher levels of circulating omega-3 fats correlated with lower levels of circulating amyloid plaques.
Researchers studied a group of 1,219 people over the age of 65 with no signs of dementia. Based on 14 months of provided information, the research team found that consuming one gram of omega-3 per day was associated with 30 percent lower blood beta-amyloid levels.
#6: Increase Your Levels of Vitamin B12
One of the signature characteristics of Alzheimer’s and dementia is a rapidly shrinking brain. However, according to researchers from the OPTIMA study, an Alzheimer’s research project out of Oxford, participants taking B vitamins had 90 percent less shrinkage in their brains.
In another study, researchers studied a group of 271 adults between the ages of 65 and 71 who showed no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. After seven years, the researchers found that 17 of the study participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease. Further analysis of blood samples taken throughout the study correlated higher levels of homocysteine with an increased risk of developing dementia. Homocysteine, a protein naturally formed as a result of metabolism, has been linked with increased risk for stroke and heart disease. On the contrary, the researchers found that for every rise in blood levels of B12, Alzheimer’s risk decreased.
#7: Pick Up a New Activity
An exciting new study just came out indicating that while crossword puzzles and sudoku offer great brain training, the real magic happens when you simply try something new!
In the study, researchers split 221 seniors into three groups, assigning each group either a social activity, a stimulating exercise — such as crossword puzzles or sudoku — or a new learned skill. Each study participant engaged in his or her activity for 15 hours per week, every week for three months. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that individuals who were assigned the task of learning a new skill demonstrated a marked improvement in working memory. Interesting, researchers found that even learning to play video games could have a vast improvement on memory.
This certainly supports the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Activities that may be as fun as they are beneficial for brain health include painting, playing cards, reading a book outside your comfort zone, baking, writing or photography.