Is loss of memory and acuity is not a natural part of aging?
According to David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN, in his book, The Better Brain Book, the many everyday memory-loss problems such as losing our keys, forgetting a name, losing concentration in meetings ~ are actually warning signs of a distressed brain and tools such as better nutrition, lifestyle changes and brain workouts can help us prevent and even reverse these effects of stress and ‘aging’ on your brain.
When asked what he thought was one of the most important things we can do to keep our brains functioning at its peak and prevent brain aging he stated, “You must be vigilant about what you put on your plate. It’s as simple as that. Nutrition is the most important tool for staying mentally and physically fit, and it is by far the most underutilized tool.” He, of course, considers the standard American diet a nightmare, loaded with poor-quality fat that can make your brain cells sluggish. It is scarce in healthy fat that can keep your brain cells flexible and “smart.” It is also packed with highly processed, nutrient-deficient food that is laden with sugar and chemical additives that practically invite free radicals and inflammation to invade your brain.
Unhealthy fats = unhealthy brain.
Understanding the four primary categories of fat in the foods we eat can be very helpful. These include:
(l) Monounsaturated fat (brain-friendly) found in common cooking oils such as olive oil and in nuts and avocados. High in antioxidants, when they become incorporated into your brain cells, they are less vulnerable to free radical attack (less damaging to the cells).
(2) Saturated Fat (creates sluggish brain cells) found primarily in foods of animal origin and are more prone to oxidative damage as well as can raise the level of homocysteine, the amino acid that in excess is toxic to your brain, causing memory problems, mood disorders and may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Perlmutter states that limited amounts are fine (about 10% of your daily caloric intake). If you eat grass fed meats then the fats are healthier because grain fed animals produce unhealthy fats.
(3) Polyunsaturated Fat (good for the brain but we don’t eat enough of them) Includes the all important essential fatty acids. (our bodies do not make this and must be obtained through food and are critical for a well-functioning brain). Omega 3 fatty acids (found in cold water fatty fish, deep green vegetables and some grains and seeds (pumpkin) are broken down into two other fatty acids, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies have no trouble making enough EPA; however, maintaining the proper amount of DHA for the brain can be a problem. And consuming the wrong kinds of fat (saturated and trans-fatty acids) can interfere with the conversion of omega 3s to DHA which then creates a state of decreased cognitive function, depression, moodiness, irritability, slow response time, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The fats we seem to get too much of are Omega 6 fatty acids (found in cooking oils, nuts, and most seeds and cereals. The oils not so healthy for the brain are corn oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil and margarine. And those commercially processed oils and margarine are converted into trans-fatty acids in the body, which in turn promote free radical production and inflammation. As stated above, we all get enough of these in our body; however, one omega 6 fatty acid, gammalinoleic acid (GLA), found in avocados, walnuts, seeds, and borage oil, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
(4) Trans-Fatty Acids ~ Last but not least, these fats make rigid, tough, slow brain cells! Not what we want. Primarily found in baked goods and fried foods, they are so prevalent in the food supply that unless a label for a processed food specifically says “no trans-fatty acids” you must assume that it may contain some. Unfortunately they become incorporated into our cell membranes, making them hard and rigid, destroying the cell’s ability to make energy, get adequate nutrition or communicate with other cells AND interfere with your brain’s ability to perform well AND make you age faster. Trans-fatty acids are also linked to an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease which are associated with an increased risk of dementia and depression. AND they crowd out the good fats so even if you take an essential fatty acid supplement and/or eat lots of good fats, those nasty trans-fatty acids will end up in your cell membranes!
So it looks like the secret is to increase our intake of Omega 3 fatty acids AND decrease our intake of trans-fatty acids and saturated fat. Dr. Perlmutter also recommends taking a DHA supplement daily. I take on a daily basis. What about you? What are your preventative measures for saving your brain from decay?