Food for Thought

April 23, 2015

We all know a healthy diet protects us against the risks of of many debilitating conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, but we don't often consider the importance of our nutritional regimen for brain health. The fact is ... good nutrition can offer huge benefits toward strong, healthy brain functions throughout our entire lives. New research offers some great, specific information for ensuring your 'gray matter' is in top form!
  • Cocoa flavanols are known to help circulation and heart health; now research shows a possible connection to memory improvement as well. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols on 90 healthy adults ranging in ages 61 to 85 years-old who demonstrated good cognitive skills. Participants were divided into three groups and were given a drink with cocoa flavanols each day. One group received a low dose of 48 mg. of cocoa flavanols, one received a medium dose of 520 mg. and the third was given a high dose of 933 mg. No other changes were made in the participants' diets. At the end of the study, participants who consumed medium or high amounts of cocoa flavanols every day saw significant improvements in executive function, attention and memory skills. It's important to note that the cocoa flavanols were specially processed from raw cocoa beans to maintain the highest amount of flavanols possible, much more than in your favorite candy bar!
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are known to contribute to good heart health, are believed to promote cognitive health and are important for many body functions, including blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Recently, a study published in the journal Neurology offered more evidence that omega-3 fatty acids -- found in fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna -- protect the brain against cognitive loss. The researchers studied  1,575 participants in the Framingham Heart Study and found that participants with the lowest levels of omega-3 acids had significantly lower total brain volume , equal to approximately 2 years of brain aging!
  • Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidic Acid combined are believed to help memory, mood, and cognitive function. Research published in Lipids in Health and Disease found significant benefits for men suffering from stress. Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidic Acid are found in eggs, white beans such as cannelini beans and northern beans, soy beans and organ meats.
  • Walnuts are thought to reduce the risk or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. One study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, used a sampling of thousands of people in the United States aged 20 and older found that those who ate more walnuts performed better on a series of cognitive tests, irrelevant of age, gender or ethnicity.
  • Choline is a water-soluble nutrient that is a member of the B-vitamins complex. It is thought to support the brain during aging and help prevent changes in brain chemistry that result in cognitive decline and failure. It is also important during pregnancy! A study published in Brain Research found that the offspring of pregnant mice fed additional choline had better memories, learned faster, and had larger brain cells compared to those fed a normal diet. Eggs, legumes and cruciferous vegetables are all good dietary sources for choline.
  • Blueberries are known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superstars -- they also have earned the nickname 'brain-berries.' Extensive research from Tufts University is supported by new research published in journal Nutritional Neuroscience from the University of Barcelona found that blueberries are effective in actually reversing age-related deficits in neuronal signaling.
Don't forget the importance of staying fit! Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine did not find the same results from resistance training, balance or muscle toning exercises. Eating and exercising for brain health is the smart thing to do!

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