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Published on: March 21, 2012
by Dr. Veronica Anderson for Huffington Post
As people become older, brain aging and the risk of developing a degenerative disease become serious concerns. Dementia is a primary cause of disability in the elderly and is associated with significant impairment of life quality and increased health care costs.
The degeneration of the brain associated with aging is caused by several disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, fronto-temporal dementia and other less common types of neuro-degenerative diseases. Symptoms include significant memory loss, a reduction of reasoning skills and impairment of judgement, which can lead to a severely-impaired social life and require in-home or hospital care.
Although the medical community widely accepted the belief that significant degeneration occurs in the brain only after the age of 65, recent research studies revealed that negative changes in the nervous tissues start as early as the 50s or even earlier. Once degenerative alterations have occurred, there are usually very few therapeutic options to effectively regain brain functionality due to their irreversibility. This is why early preventive interventions are especially important to delay the onset of symptoms, prevent mental decline and preserve brain functionality.
1. Lowering Homocysteine Levels May Slow Down Mental Decline
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is naturally contained in several proteins. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, blood vessel abnormalities and brain degenerative processes that lead to dementia.
However, an increased intake of vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and folic acid is effective in lowering homocysteine levels and exerts a protective effect on the brain. Foods rich in these vitamins include whole grains, vegetables and nuts. However, for more consistent results and a steady supply, vitamin supplements may be used.
2. What Is Good for Your Heart Is Good for Your Brain
Major strokes are a leading cause of brain degeneration and mental decline. However, even micro-strokes and minor alterations of blood vessels in the brain can lead to the initiation of degenerative processes. Whille high blood cholesterol and obesity are usually considered risk factors for heart disease, these are equally just as bad for your brain. The cholesterol build-up in the arteries causes the obstruction of blood flow, which reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to brain tissues.
These small alterations frequently cause no obvious symptoms, and the person may not notice the gradual decline in cognitive functions such as spatial orientation, memory, verbal skills and judgement. Regular blood tests to monitor cholesterol levels and gradual weight loss are effective in maintaining your cardiovascular health and preventing early mental decline.
3. The Mediterranean Diet Supplies High-Quality Nutrients for Your Brain
It’s not the fancy name but rather the food choices that makes this diet ideal for preventing mental decline and protecting your brain from early aging effects. This diet is typical for countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece. It involves a dramatic reduction of meat, eggs, butter and animal-derived fat consumption.
The Mediterranean Diet means eating more fish, vegetables, plant-derived oils such as olive oil, whole-grain bread, rice and pasta, plus nuts and seeds. This wonderful diet can lower cholesterol levels and provide a rich supply of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which exert a protective effect on the nervous system cells. Additionally, this diet is a great source of vitamins from the B category and folic acid, which were previously discussed as being effective in lowering homocysteine levels and protecting the brain from degeneration.
4. Engage in Social Communication and Keep Your Brain Busy
People who use their brain to its full capacity are less likely to develop dementia later in life. Musicians, scientists, chess players and writers are less frequently afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other brain degenerative diseases due to the development of a mental reserve. Reading, learning a new language, playing chess, solving puzzles, learning to play a musical instrument and simply communicating with other people are excellent ways to keep your brain busy, which enhances its metabolism and increases its blood supply.
5. Several Chinese Herbs May Be Effective in Protecting Against Mental Decline
Ginko biloba is an herbal supplement traditionally used in the Chinese medicine that gained significant popularity in the Western medicine due to its memory-enhancing properties. However, it can also prevent memory loss and mental impairment, especially in the early stages of dementia. Ginkgo biloba supplements are sold without a prescription, but it is best to discuss the potential therapy with your doctor.
Huperziz serrata, also known as Chinese club moss, is a plant that contains a natural compound that is able to increase the levels of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter of brain signals. The reduction of acetylcholine levels is consistently found in Alzheimer’s patients, and the plant-based supplement may help prevent brain degeneration and mental decline or delay its progression.
6. Excessive Sleeping Is Associated With an Increased Mental Decline
We usually consider sleep as a way to recover our mental abilities, but excessive sleeping is also bad for your brain’s health and fitness. Medical research has discovered that sleeping more than nine hours per night is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia later in life. A great way to prevent mental decline is to sleep not less than six hours and not more than eight hours a night.
7. Mental and Physical Exercises Decrease Mental Decline
Physicians believe that the human mind gets dilapidated and memory worn down with age. Performance and ability to understand and perceive things get affected, but this cognitive decline can be reversed or at least reduced by performing regular physical and mental exercises. Such exercises create a positive impact on certain regions of brain and enhance the cognitive functionality of brain.
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