Everyone’s brain grows and develops before eventually beginning to decline. Both the growth and development as well as the speed of the decline in brain function can be controlled by diet and lifestyle.
The main functions of the brain include.
- Attention & concentration
- Motor functions
- Homeostasis (control of body temperature, blood acidity etc)
- Inhibition of behaviours
- Hunger and fullness
- Mental flexibility
- Awareness of your own abilities and limitation
Like I said, with age comes a natural decline in brain function, but sometimes this decline is accelerated in certain people leading to various health issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the population of people over the age of 60 worldwide will reach 2 billion by 2050 (Stevenson et al., 2020). Therefore, they make ‘Aging well’ a priority public health message. We want our aging population to be healthy in both body and mind.
It’s not just the aging population that should think about brain health. Starting young you need to ensure you are looking after you brain by nourishing it with the right foods and exercising it (yes, your brain is a muscle and like all muscles it needs to be exercised or it gets sloppy!)
Nutrition Tips for A Healthy Brain
- Healthy fats are essential for a healthy brain. You need plenty of omega 3 fatty acids and Docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) which you get from.
- oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, cod liver oil
- nuts 7 seeds like chia seed, flaxseeds, walnuts
- plant oils like canola oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil
Other sources of healthy unsaturated fats include.
- Olive oil
- rapeseed oil
- whole eggs
- Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and cabbage are all great sources of vitamin K, Lutein, beta-carotene, and folate which all help slow cognitive decline (Harvard Health Publishing, 2017).
- Berries are great sources of antioxidant and flavonoids. All berries are great, but blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are especially good sources of antioxidants. Research shows that flavonoids may help improve memory (Harvard Health Publishing, 2017) and antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress, which can be harmful to overall health and lead to chronic illnesses.
- The Gut and the brain are closely connected. Thus, eating for a healthy brain means eating for a healthy gut. Eat plenty of fibre, at least 25-38g/day is recommended. You get fibre from fruit and vegetables (it’s better to eat them whole because when you juice them you remove the fibre. You also get most of the fibre from vegetable in the skin). Wholegrains, so that’s your wholegrain pasta, brown rice, wholegrain bread, oats, and certain breakfast cereals too. Nuts and seeds also offer fibre as well as protein and healthy fats.
- Foods that are natural prebiotics (that’s food for the healthy gut bacteria) include things like
- Beans (especially lima beans, but all beans are good)
- Fennel root
- Fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, Tempah and sourdough bread also offer a source of prebiotics from food. You can also get prebiotics in capsule form from your chemist or health food shop, but you can get them from these foods too. Probiotics will help boost your good gut bacteria (Anderson, Cryan and Dinan, 2017).
- Drink less alcohol, or even better, avoid it completely. It is proven that alcohol not only damages neuron ending in the brain, but it also damages the gut bacteria (Anderson, Cryan and Dinan, 2017).
- Finally for the coffee lovers out there. Research has shown that drinking high volumes of coffee long term can lead to smaller total brain volumes and an increased risk of developing dementia later in life (University of South Australia, 2021). So maybe lay off the coffee a little bit, especially if Dementia or Alzheimer’s runs in your family.
Other Steps You Can Take For A Healthy Brain
Exercise regularly. Research shows that exercising and moving your muscles also helps your mind because it increases the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also improves cholesterol levels; blood sugar control relieves stress which can help your brain as well as your heart. Exercise also causes the release of dopamine which is a hormone that makes you feel happy. Dopamine is also your body’s natural pain killer. This is part of the reason why exercise can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Exercise your brain. With muscles if you don’t use them, you lose the, Your brain is no different. If you don’t keep your brain active, it will start to decline. Way to keep your brain active include.
- Reading and writing
- Making up stories and using your imagination
- Crossword puzzles
- Maths’s problems
- Drawing, painting and other crafts
- Working with your hand, so carpentry, working with machinery, building things
Sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for everyone no matter what age you are. You probably already know when you don’t get enough sleep your brain isn’t functioning at its best. Long term sleep deprivation can cause the decline in brain function to increase in adults and in children in can stunt brain development.
Socialise. Being socially isolated can seriously affect your mental health, and this in turn can negatively affect your brain health. Meeting up with friends and family can be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to mental health. Unfortunately Elderly people suffer from social isolation at a time when they really need social interaction. Face to face interactions are best, they internet allows you to be anywhere in the world without leaving your house! Try to find out if there are any groups that meet up online regularly, or if you can get out join a class or a group where you can meet people.
Anderson, S.C., Cryan, J.F. and Dinan, T. (2017) The Psychobiotic Revoloution. WashingtonDC: National Geographic Partners LLC.
Harvard Health Publishing (2017) Foods linked to better brainpower, Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower (Accessed: 26 February 2022).
Stevenson, E.J. et al. (2020) ‘NuBrain: UK consortium for optimal nutrition for healthy brain ageing’, Nutrition Bulletin, 45(2), pp. 223–229. doi:10.1111/nbu.12429.
University of South Australia (2021) Excess coffee: A bitter brew for brain health, ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210722120624.htm (Accessed: 26 February 2022).