Health/Wellness

Memory Loss: Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food (Hippocrates)

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Can’t find your car keys? Forgot your grocery list? Can’t remember the name of your child’s teacher? You’re not alone. If we lose our keys, we think that we are losing our marbles.  But in fact, everyone experiences forgetfulness from time to time.  It is a normal side effect of stress, multi-tasking, distractions, and yes, getting older.  What is considered normal forgetfulness and when is their cause to be concern?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.  It is caused by physical changes in the brain and memory loss is an example.  Memory loss can range from typical age related forgetfulness  to Alzheimer’s disease which is a degenerative brain condition with no known cure. Alzheimer’s disease, the #6 killer in the United States, is the most common cause of dementia accounting for 60-80% of all cases. There are many advantages to adopting a predominately plant based diet. Among them is improved memory. While there is no absolute way of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, many studies have shown a significant improvement in memory in people who ate a predominately plant based diet.

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Several years ago, if we wanted to protect our hearts,  brains and memory, we turned to omega-3 fatty acids contained mostly in fatty fish and other seafood.  The thought was that omega-3 fatty acid seafoods were the best source to protect the brain, aid in neurotransmitter function, and prevent heart disease as a side bonus.  Unfortunately, things have changed.  Fish is no longer touted as “brain food” or a health prescription, due to the inherent  heavy metals, toxins, and environmental damage. Today, better sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in chia, hemp, and flax seeds, as well as  sea algae which is where fish obtain omega-3 fatty acids to start.

Alzheimers disease is not an inevitable part of aging.  A healthy lifestyle which includes a combination of diet and exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing this condition.  The typical American diet is high in animal fats, sugar and preservatives, but low in fruit and vegetables and is partially responsible for triggering many chronic diseases and cancers.  Research has shown that following a strictly plant-based or predominately plant based diet such as the Mediterranean diet can reduce the chance of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, peas and beans (legumes) and whole grains.  It contains limited dairy, chicken and fish with very little red meat.  Most fat is unsaturated and comes from olive oil and nuts.   Additionally, there are certain spices and vitamins which studies indicate have the potential to prevent or slow down memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.  Among these are turmeric, saffron, caffeinated coffee, ginger, Vitamin D, folate and Vitamin B12.

A healthy diet not only slims our waistline, but keeps our minds healthy as well.  The brain requires fuel in the form of a healthy diet.  Consuming too many simple or refined carbohydrates such as white flour, bread, pasta, potatoes and rice; processed foods and meats  including American cheese, bacon, sausage, deli and smoked meats, microwave popcorn; and increased amounts of sugar stimulates the production of toxins.  These toxins lead to inflammation and the build up of dangerous plaques in the brain which impair cognitive function, resulting in memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.  The toxic effect of the American  diet applies to all ages, not just to the aging population.

As we get older,  memory erodes due to the loss of nerve cells with each decade of life.  Research has found that adult brains remain capable of forming new memory-building brain networks and with the “right tools” can boost the power of recollection.  Below is a list of ways to improve your memory.

1)     Change dietary habits.  Eat less meat, and  more leafy green vegetables, berries, dark-skinned fruit, nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Eliminate your intake of saturated and trans fats. These “bad” fats increase the production of cholesterol which encourage the production of brain plaques—the hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease.

2)     Avoid multivitamins with iron and copper unless directed by your physician.

3)     Avoid cooking with aluminum pots and pans.  Instead, opt for stainless steel or cast iron cookware.

4)     Exercise regularly.  Get at least 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise or alternatively, 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week.

5)     Get more sleep.  Aim for 7 – 8 hours of sleep daily.

6)     Play brain games.  Participate in less passive activities such as watching television and more active activities.  Puzzles like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and word searches may improve memory and delay brain decline.

7)     Quit multi-tasking.  Studies have shown that it takes 8 seconds to fully commit a piece of information to memory, so concentrating on the task at hand is crucial.

 

By adopting all of the above habits, you may be setting your brain up to be around and functioning properly for a very long time.

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