Graceful Aging Series: Nutrition for Cognition
Throughout this series we’ve discussed bones, muscles, and metabolism. But there is one aspect of aging that I feel is even more important than maintaining physical health, and that is our minds. Our minds really determine our quality of life. Beyond living longer, it is important to consider the quality of life we want while aging. There are various ways to prevent or slow cognitive decline, but research has shown that the best prevention is a healthy is diet and lifestyle.
The most well-known type of cognitive decline is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a buildup of proteins and plaques. These proteins and plaques stop the brain from functioning properly. Brain buildup occurs naturally with aging, but brains with AD have much higher amounts of buildup.
Proteins are made up of thousands of amino acids. To learn more about protein structure, check out this article. Homocysteine is a common amino acid in the blood stream, and it is commonly found in meat. Our bodies naturally convert homocysteine into a different amino acid with the help of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. In the absence of one or more of these vitamins our bodies can build up high levels of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease and various forms of dementia and AD.
An easy way to prevent a homocysteine build up is to make sure you’re eating adequate amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. Vitamin B6 is found in pork, poultry, fish, whole grains, eggs, soy beans, peanuts, milk, and potatoes. Vitamin B12 is found in beef, pork, poultry, fish, milk, and eggs. Folate is found in fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, spinach, cabbage, and chickpeas.
Omega-3’s and Micronutrients
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to support cognitive function by improving brain signaling. Omega-3’s aren’t commonly consumed adequately in the American diet. Sources of omega-3’s include fatty fish, flax seeds, krill, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are needed in smaller amounts than carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, but they make a big impact on brain function. Many micronutrients assist in chemical reactions in the brain, making them important for cognition. The best way to ensure you are getting enough micronutrients is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The average adult needs to consume about three cups of fruits and vegetables per day to get enough micronutrients.
The best approach to brain health is prevention. So far research has shown that once cognitive decline starts to shift, there is not much you can do to slow it down. Eating a balanced diet that is rich in omega-3’s and micronutrients gives our brains can have the best support possible. While not addressed in this article, having an active lifestyle supports cardiovascular health, and in turn supports brain health by providing healthy circulation. I hope you all enjoyed this series and use some of these tips to continue to age gracefully.