Do You Have Neuroprotection?

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Friday, November 09, 2018

Alas, no, it’s not acquired by dialing a 1-800 number. Research suggests that healthy eating and active lifestyles can provide this positive benefit. My grandmother always told me to do crossword puzzles because it’s good for my brain. While I’m sad to admit that I still have never been able to fully complete one on my own, the good news is research indicates that there are other ways to keep my brain in shape. Having a nutritionally dense diet and engaging in daily physical activity is great for brain health and can help prevent neurodegeneration (loss of cognitive functioning). To some extent, a loss of cognitive functioning occurs naturally with age; however, scientists are concluding that some forms of neurodegeneration can be prevented. Neuroprotection is the term used to describe the strategies that defend the central nervous system against degenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and dementia. One review in The Lancet Neurology, 2011, estimates that almost one half of all worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented. Being overweight, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes are all risk factors for cognitive degenerative disorders. What’s alarming is that these are all modifiable risk factors, meaning you can prevent them or improve outcomes from dietary and lifestyle changes. Physical activity has long been associated with physical and emotional wellness, but research is now showing how exercise benefits our mental health. Exercise increases fuel utilization by the brain (oxygen and glucose) and promotes neuron growth and survival.  Just like our muscles, your brain needs its exercise, too! Try adding these foods to your meals for neuroprotection: Walnuts. Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning, or what you wore yesterday? A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that walnut consumption, as part of a Mediterranean diet, was associated with better memory scores and cognitive function. Their findings suggest that walnuts, in combination with other antioxidants found in the Mediterranean food choices, may help prevent or slow down cognitive decline. Extra virgin olive oil (or, as Rachael Ray has coined it, “EVOO”) has also been associated with improved cognitive function. Use extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat vegetables and proteins, then grill or bake in the oven to infuse the flavors. Try making your own salad dressings using olive oil as your base. [caption id="attachment_68" align="alignright" width="495"]The Impact of Blueberries. The Impact of Blueberries.[/caption] Berries. Not only are berries a potent antioxidant source, but studies have shown that consuming berries as part of a healthy diet are linked to slower mental decline in areas of memory and focus. Blueberries, which have been nicknamed “brainberries”, can help protect the body and the brain from oxidative stress. Add berries to cereals or yogurts, or enjoy them by themselves as a healthy antioxidant-packed snack. Spinach. This dark green vegetable contains a well-researched antioxidant, lutein. Formally, researched for its role in eye health, newer research supports the role of lutein with brain health. Harvard Medical School researchers found that women in their study who ate the most dark leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline as compared to women who had the least vegetable consumption. Ground flaxseed is another plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids consistently found in Mediterranean diets that offers brain-boosting benefits. Sprinkle ground flaxseed on oatmeal, yogurt or applesauce, or mix in with sauces and stews. In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and compounds demonstrate these positive neuroprotective effects. Yet, evidence suggests that it is the synergy of all the antioxidants, phytochemicals and compounds of a total diet that work together to offer the strongest benefit. This emphasizes the importance of consuming an overall nutritionally-dense diet vs. trying to super-supplement with a specific food or nutrient. For a healthy body and peace of mind, eat healthfully, exercise and, as Grandma recommends, do your crossword puzzles.   Barnes, D.E. & Yaffe, K. (2011). The projected effect of risk factor reduction on Alzheimer's disease prevalence. The Lancet Neurology, 10(9),819-828. Valls-Pedret, C. et al. (2012). Polyphenol-Rich Foods in the Mediterranean Diet are Associated with  Better Cognitive Function in Elderly Subjects at High Cardiovascular Risk. Journal of Alzheimer’s   Disease, 29, 773-782. http://iospress.metapress.com/content/w012188621153h61/fulltext.pdf