Scientists remain uncertain about what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe it likely develops from a combination of factors which can include genetics and family history as well as environmental and lifestyle influences. While it is not yet clear whether healthier lifestyle choices can prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, scientists do agree that better diets and increased exercise can improve brain health and lower risks for other diseases.
Here are seven foods that can help support better brain health and may contribute to reducing your dementia or Alzheimer’s risk:
- Berries: Berries of all kinds are high in antioxidants, which are great for brain health. Berries contain a type of antioxidant – polyphenol – which helps stop inflammation and improves brain cell functioning. A study at Tufts University found berries can reverse declines in the brain’s ability to process information.
- Spinach (and kale, other leafy greens): We all know spinach and leafy greens are good for us. They are chock full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. A national study showed that women in their 60s who ate more leafy vegetables performed better on verbal and memory tests than those who did not regularly include leafy greens in their diets. New studies also suggest that high levels of vitamin C, found in spinach, may help with dementia prevention.
- Walnuts (and almonds, pecans, hazelnuts): Walnuts are high in vitamin E and flavonoids, which can help protect the brain. They are also filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are shown to benefit brain functioning. The New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that mice given a diet which included walnuts demonstrated improved memory and motor coordination.
- Salmon (and mackerel, sardines, other fatty fish): Fresh fish is a great source of Omega-3s. Fatty fish like salmon are also shown to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein thought to be linked to Alzheimer’s. You can also get Omega-3s from fish oil supplements or chia or flax seeds. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.
- Turmeric:There is much discussion lately about the health benefits of turmeric. The spice – commonly used in Indian and Chinese cultures for both culinary and medicinal purposes – contains a compound called curcumin, which is shown to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties are believed to help with Alzheimer’s prevention. A UCLA study found that curcumin taken together with vitamin D3 helps reduce the formation of the plaque in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s.
- Coffee: Researchers are finding that people over 65 with higher blood levels of caffeine (drinking about three cups of coffee daily) tend to develop Alzheimer’s two to four years later than those with lower caffeine intake. Studies at the University of South Florida and University of Miami are showing that caffeine can also positively impact older adults who are already exhibiting early Alzheimer’s symptoms.
- Dark Chocolate:You may have heard that dark chocolate can be beneficial to your health. This is due to dark chocolate’s high levels of antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, which can improve circulation and help stave off heart disease. Flavonoids may also help slow the effects of dementia. A study in Italy showed that older adults with mild dementia who were given cocoa with high amounts of flavonoids performed better on cognitive tests than their peers given cocoa with medium or low amounts of flavonoids.
While we do not yet know specifically what triggers the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can make lifestyle choices that help support our physical, emotional and brain health as we age. So, remember that you can make healthy choices now – through proper diet and exercise – to optimally feed your body, spirit and brain.