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Published on: December 21, 2015
by Rachel Woolston for Sunday Express:
Every week, news headlines warn of the impending crisis as the population ages. But developing age-related dementia does not have to be a foregone conclusion if you take the right steps now.
“Research has identified many risk factors associated with dementia,” explains Dr Clare Walton, a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Society. “While it is impossible to eliminate every single one, doing things like eating more healthily and exercising could help undermine the risks.”
Here’s our guide to youth-proofing your brain…
Play computer games
Computer games may seem the sole preserve of teenagers, but recent research shows that gaming could keep your brain youthful, helping to improve concentration, the ability to multitask and your short-term memory.
A group of 60 to 79 year olds was given a computer game to play over a six-month period. Brain scans revealed positive cognitive changes and they all played the game as well as people half their age.
Professor Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, isn’t surprised.
“Recent reports show an unexpected drop in dementia figures,” he says. “This partly reflects the fact that people have grown up using computers, helping to keep minds young and healthy.”
Can’t bear the thought of playing Grand Theft Auto? Try the online brain-training gym Luminosity.
Studies at King’s College London and the University of Rochester in New York have shown that iron deficiency can affect the supply of oxygen to the brain, which affects cognitive function and IQ.
“Ensure you eat a diet rich in iron sources, which includes red meats, chicken, fish, leafy-green vegetables and pulses,” recommends nutritionist Christine Bailey, author Eat To Get Younger (£14.99 ;expressbookshop.co.uk).
Alternatively, try an iron supplement such as Spatone Apple, £10.55 for 28 sachets from Amazon, which also contains vitamin C.
Oil the brain
Just as our skin is more youthful when cell membranes are elastic, it’s the same for brain cells.
“Our brains are 60 per cent fat, composed of omega-3 fatty acids and phospholipids,” explains Christine Bailey. “The body cannot produce these so you need to get them from your diet.”
Good sources of essential fatty acids include oily fish, olive oil, seeds, nuts and avocados.
Diets high in healthy fats, such as those in the Mediterranean, have also been shown to lower blood pressure and increase oxygenated blood flow to the brain, helping to keep it young.
If you feel your diet does not include enough essential fatty acids, try a good-quality, high-dose omega-3 supplement such as Nordic Naturals Arctic Omega, £22.95 for 90 capsules at nutricentre.com.
Keep it watered
Staying hydrated is essential for transporting carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins, all of which keep our organs alive and ensure our brains function optimally.
Losing just one per cent of our body’s normal water volume can cause mild dehydration, resulting in confusion and short-term memory loss, according to research by Tufts University, Boston.
A study by psychiatrists at King’s College London found that 90 minutes of steady sweating can shrink the brain as much as a year of ageing.
“Remaining hydrated is vital for maintaining brain function,” confirms Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at Nutricentre. “Drink up to two litres per day, of water, herbal drinks, diluted fruit juices or coconut water.”
Vegetables with flowering stems, such as broccoli and cauliflower, contain a rich source of choline. This B vitamin is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which sends nerve-cell signals and plays an important role in the control of blood flow to the brain.
Research has also shown people with higher levels of acetylcholine in their nervous systems achieve higher scores on tests to measure understanding, reasoning, memory and thinking skills. Add steamed florets to meals or eat raw in salads. You can also blitz cauliflower with cashew nuts and oil to make a healthy rice.
Diets loaded with sugar, including non-obvious, high-glycaemic-index (GI) foods such as rice, high-sugar fruits and juices, such could prematurely age your brain.
Research by Australia’s Deakin University and National University showed that the part of the brain used for learning, memory and mental health is smaller in people with sugar-rich diets.
“Even mild elevations of blood sugar increase the ability of blood sugar to bind to proteins,” explains neurologist Dr David Perlmutter in Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, CarbsAnd Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers. “This dramatically increases the production of inflammatory chemicals, which directly relates to brain decline.”
Eat a diet containing low-GI foods and protein, all of which release sugar gradually into the blood and help to prevent an inflammatory response. Low-GI foods include nuts, seeds, oats, fish, meat and leafy vegetables.
Half an hour of exercise three times a week is enough to help boost your brain power.
This improves the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood around the body, including to the front of the brain, whose functions include planning, organisation and multitasking.
“It doesn’t really matter what the form of activity is, whether it’s brisk walking or boot camp,” says personal trainer Emma Harwood (fitbitchbootcamp.com). “Just keep it consistent and exercise regularly, although the younger you start exercising the better.”
Boost your B’s
A rapidly shrinking brain is a sign of age-related Alzheimer’s, yet research published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences showed that people who were given B vitamins in a trial showed 90 per cent less brain shrinkage, compared to those who took a placebo.
B vitamins keep levels of the amino acid, homocysteine in check, which is particularly high in Alzheimers patients. Vitamin B-rich foods include eggs, cheese, low-fat milk, meat, fish, grains and leafy green vegetables.
Love your tea? Then you’re in luck. Scientists found those who drank two or three cups of black tea a day were less than half as likely to exhibit early signs of age-related dementia.
The key ingredient that made the difference was the polyphenol compounds found in green tea.
It is believed polyphenols prevent oxidation of brain cells, as well as blocking the build-up of brain deposits in the brain, called plaques, both of which have been shown to inhibit brain function and could lead to age-related decline. Drinking two to three cups daily reduced the risk of illness by about 55 per cent, while for those on six to 10 cups a day it was 63 per cent.
About 20 per cent of the oxygen we breathe is used by our brain, which produces free radicals as a by-product. These free radicals can cause oxidative stress, believed to be involved in the cause and progression of many age-related brain disorders.
Antioxidants mop up free radicals, so boost levels in your diet. Antioxidant-rich foods include soya, rapeseed and sesame oil, as well as beef, liver, heart and oily fish. Alternatively, try the supplement MitoQ, £37.25 for a month’s supply at mitoq.com.
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