Written by Madison Ruhmann. Madison is a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming studying Neuroscience. She works in a lab studying sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease with a focus on how hormones and diet can affect your pathology. She also works at a holistic health store in Laramie and is learning how to apply alternative and holistic care to nervous system wellness. 

The Importance of Diet for Brain Health

When it comes to eating a special diet, many people have a goal in mind. Whether it’s losing or gaining weight, diets can have a large impact on your body and how it functions. It is projected by the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation that by the year 2050 the number of Alzheimer’s disease cases in the US will be about 13 million. Though there may be treatments, currently there is no cure for the disease. Alzheimer’s Disease is characterized by an accumulation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) plaques and Tau protein tangles in the brain which results in irreversible cell death. The number of genetic Alzheimer’s disease cases is less than 1%. The other 99% is believed to be the product of aging combined with lifestyle choices. With these numbers in mind, it is even more essential for us to consider the choices we make even when we are young. Sleeping for 8 hours a night and ensuring we get proper nutrition throughout our lives makes a huge difference in how we age. Simple switches and adjustments to our everyday routines could prevent you from becoming a statistic by the age of 40. The philosophy of food as medicine seems intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. When most people diet it’s for their appearance or to maintain the general health of their body. What if you could eat to maintain the health of your brain? 

Shifting your Diet

The saying “you are what you eat” has never been more true, especially in relation to your brain. Your brain is 70% water and though it may sound extreme, becoming even 2% dehydrated can impair your memory and cognitive function. If you exclude the water, the remaining cells in your brain are 50% fat. In the United States, our diets are typically oversaturated with saturated fats which are negatively impacting our brain functions and can increase the risk of neurological diseases. Foods high in saturated fats include dairy products, red meats, ice cream, bacon, and most desserts. Instead, you should strive to have a diet that encompasses more polyunsaturated fats. These include foods such as avocados, salmon, tuna, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Specifically, foods that are high in DHA omega-3 essential fatty acids are the most beneficial for your brain. DHA makes up 10-20% of phospholipids in your brain and is most concentrated in gray matter. As we age, our gray matter shrinks, this is also a marker for neurodegeneration and the pathological progression of disease. 

Alternative Approaches

In addition to putting more consideration into your regular everyday diet, there are also herbs and plants that have been shown to promote healthy aging. Bacopa monnieri, known informally as Bacopa, has been shown in various studies to be neuroprotective in age-related cognitive deterioration. Extracts of Bacopa monnieri (BME) were shown to decrease Aβ levels in the cortex of mice by as much as 60%. In humans, BME has also been shown to increase cognitive function in elderly patients with memory impairment. Although there haven’t been any clinical studies published regarding the effects of BME on Alzheimer’s patients, the plant has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years to treat memory loss and poor cognition. 

Implementing Change

Nobody is perfect and your lifestyle choices don’t have to be either. A healthy strategy for integrating more brain-nourishing foods into your diet can be simple! Fill up on the healthy stuff to properly nourish your body, and then top that off with some unhealthy favorites here and there. Cutting out unhealthy foods altogether will only make you crave them more, a scoop of ice cream every so often isn’t going to hurt you! Another strategy is consulting your doctor about supplements and herbs that have been shown to be protective against neurodegeneration, such as Bacopa monnieri. The increasing rate of Alzheimer’s Disease with no cure on the horizon is a scary reality, but being informed is the best tool you can use to make healthy choices.


Learn More: 



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