It is inevitable that, as we age, the body slows down to some degree, and for many of us the brain is affected in this ageing process. The odd object misplaced or birthday missed won’t have too much of an impact on our lives; however, significantly reduced cognitive function resulting in difficulties and confusion for basic tasks such as paying bills or remembering to meet a friend can be extremely frustrating. Luckily, our brain ‘destiny’ is not only determined by genetics, as nutrition can play a huge role in keeping us on the ball until well into old age.
For some individuals, the effects of an ageing brain may be unnoticeable and have absolutely no effect on their everyday life, but for others the frustrations of regularly forgetting things and difficulty in thinking logically can significantly disrupt quality of life. Even mild cognitive impairment, with symptoms of occasional memory loss, may be a nuisance; ability to concentrate or carry out complex tasks such as paperwork may also be compromised.
If your brain is starting to suffer, make sure that you are also aware of symptoms associated with dementia. Dementia can affect everyone differently; some common symptoms include loss of short-term memory, difficulty following conversations, forgetting names, repeating yourself, problems with thinking clearly, anxiety, depression and confusion. If you are worried that you have several of these symptoms, ensure that you seek advice from your GP.
The causes of reduced memory and age-related brain conditions are complex and, to simplify, they are a result of long-term damage to the brain whilst ageing. Dementia is a term used to describe any condition involving decline in cognitive function, with increased risk as we age. Although dementia is commonly seen in the elderly, it is not an inevitable part of the ageing process, and although genetics play a small role, research suggests that lifestyle factors and diet may be stronger contributing factors in the development of dementia. (1)
The delicate cells in the brain can be damaged over time for several reasons. Free radicals, whether from car fumes, pesticides in food, cleaning products and much more, slowly cause damage to the DNA in our cells. Over many years with repeated exposure, this damage may eventually cause cells to die. An excess of inflammation can also result in cell damage due to a repeated breakdown of cells, which the body may not be able to repair in time. A collection of cells of great importance in the brain when it comes to memory are neurons – these are vital structures that allow transport of messages from cell to cell and to other parts of the body. Without this communication (i.e. if neurons start to die), the brain’s ability to send messages will be limited, impacting memory.
Neuron cells require a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to support their functioning, therefore nutritional deficiencies and habits such as excess alcohol consumption and smoking may increase risk of damage, malfunctions and possibly death of neuron cells. Unfortunately, once neuron cells have died, they cannot be replaced; lack of protection of these delicate cells may therefore lead to loss of matter in the brain, resulting in reduced cognitive function, including reduced memory. Other contributing factors to neuron cell damage include low levels of physical activity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and high levels of homocysteine.
The structure and function of the brain are largely impacted by our nutritional status, so to keep an ageing brain protected against oxidative stress, adopting or maintaining a healthy diet as we age is vital to keep your brain in top form. Research into prevention of cognitive decline focuses, predominantly, on a Mediterranean-type diet, with lowest risk of age-related brain conditions in individuals eating this type of diet which provides plenty of fish, healthy fats and vegetables. (2) A Mediterranean diet, free from processed foods, provides essential fats required for brain structure and cell communication function, protein for brain chemical messengers and antioxidants for cell protection. It is therefore no surprise that this type of diet has shown such promising results for keeping your brain sharp, naturally, as you age.
Fish and meat
We all know that fish is brain food and studies confirm this; there are direct correlations between fish consumption and dementia, with higher consumption of fish associated with lower rates of dementia. (3). Meat consumption, on the other hand, is higher in those with a diagnosis of dementia (3), but these studies rarely distinguish between meat from grain-fed animals that produces meat rich in inflammatory AA, and meat from grass-fed animals that produces a much healthier fatty acid profile. Unless you are specifically sourcing meat from pastured poultry and grass-fed beef and lamb, we would caution against high meat consumption, as too much meat containing AA is inflammatory. (3). It is most important to have a healthy balance between fish and meat consumption, since too much meat containing omega-6 AA fatty acids (i.e. grain and not grass-fed) increases inflammation. The naturally occurring omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids in fish help to reduce inflammation and balance our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
In adults over the age of 65, those consuming fish more than once a week have shown slower rates of cognitive decline when compared with individuals eating fish less than once a week. (4) This really emphasises the fact that consuming fish even as little as once a week can have beneficial health outcomes on brain health.
Antioxidant rich foods
Brightly coloured fruits & vegetables and nuts & seeds are rich sources of antioxidants. As antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage, regular consumption of these foods may help to prevent damage to brain cells and therefore reduce risk of age-related brain conditions. Individuals consuming a diet rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in seeds, is associated with lower long-term risk of dementia. (5)
There has been extensive research on the effects of wine consumption on brain health and its ability to reduce risk of age-related conditions linked to dementia. Wine contains a specific type of antioxidant, polyphenols, one of which, resveratrol, has received particular attention, for its health-boosting effects. Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes and very high quantities are found in red wine. Red wine consumption is inversely associated with decline in cognitive function and memory, (6) so a glass of wine a day (as we all hoped), may actually keep our brains sharp in the long term.
Moderate physical activity has been shown to have beneficial effects on cognitive function, (7) so getting out of the house for an afternoon stroll might do wonders for your brain, helping you to stay sharp (and you’ve earned that glass of wine when you get home).
To keep your brain sharp in old age and to reduce risk of dementia, optimising nutrient intake is vital for maintaining healthy brain function and preventing cognitive decline.
Omega-3 EPA and DHA
Omega-3 EPA and DHA are increasingly important as we age, helping to control inflammation, protecting against the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain, and providing structure to cell membranes, which otherwise declines with age. It has long been known that omega-3 DHA is a major structural fat in the brain; however, omega-3 EPA may be of greater importance when it comes to brain function. In order to optimise brain communication, thereby keeping you sharp, omega-3 EPA is in the limelight when it comes to research, due to its ability to optimise the function of brain cell chemical messengers. Supplementing with omega-3 EPA and DHA has shown excellent results in relation to improving cognitive performance, even in those who already have mild cognitive impairment. (8;9;9).
Omega-3 EPA is also a potent anti-inflammatory, thereby offering protection to the brain against damage. Inflammation is a major contributor to the development of cognitive decline; EPA’s anti-inflammatory effects directly prevent damage to the cells, resulting in reduced risk of age-related brain deterioration. Omega-3 EPA is particularly beneficial in its ability to protect against neuron damage, to reduce risk of developing neuron dysfunction. Studies have shown that higher omega-3 EPA plasma levels correlate with a reduced risk of developing dementia. (10)
B vitamins play an important role in the prevention of damage to brain cells and cognitive decline, particularly in their ability to maintain healthy levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is a natural by-product of processes which occur in the body in a cycle, in order to support healthy cell division, DNA repair, detoxification and much more. If the body has an adequate supply of B vitamins, in particular vitamin B6, B12 and folate, homocysteine is recycled in a healthy manner. If a person is lacking in B vitamins, the cycle becomes unbalanced and homocysteine builds up in the body, accumulating with age, and causing direct damage to cells in the brain due to increased oxidative stress and lower production of antioxidants.
Supplementing with B vitamins as we age is therefore a sensible preventative strategy against this build-up of homocysteine; supplementation can also bring down already high levels. (11)
B vitamins, along with zinc and magnesium, are also used by enzymes required to synthesise neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which support learning, focus and concentration.
As we age, oxidative damage is inevitable, and dementia is strongly linked to oxidative stress. Supplementing with antioxidants enables us to slow this damaging process and therefore reduces risk of age-related cognitive decline.
Vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, as provided in MindCare PROTECT, are particularly useful in preventing cognitive decline as they are neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory. Low selenium plasma levels have been shown to correlate with accelerated cognitive decline and attention in the elderly, (12) possibly due to resulting reduced antioxidant capacity in the brain, whereas a higher intake of vitamins C and E are associated with a slower progression in cognitive decline. (12) A higher antioxidant intake appears, therefore, to have beneficial effects on brain function.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an additional ingredient included in MindCare PROTECT for its potent antioxidant effects, extending its ability to reverse some of the oxidant damage related to the effects of ageing in the brain. Alpha-lipoic acid can also recycle other antioxidants including vitamin C and vitamin E, and increases levels of several antioxidant enzymes, thereby providing optimum protection for brain cells.
Highly absorbable N-acetyl L-cysteine has been added to MindCare PROTECT for a similar reason to alpha-lipoic acid, for its strong antioxidant capabilities. NAC supports detoxification processes, essential for protecting cells against damage, promoting a healthy conversion of homocysteine and therefore reducing accumulation. NAC helps to synthesise other antioxidants and, most importantly, has been shown to protect against oxidative stress-induced neuronal death, helping to maintain healthy cognitive function.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine and acts as a strong antioxidant. Instead of drinking a glass of wine a day, the benefits from these antioxidants can also be obtained in supplement form in MindCare PROTECT. The neuroprotective effects of resveratrol are partly attributed to its ability to increase glutathione, another important antioxidant in the brain. Resveratrol also has beneficial effects on enzymes involved in the ageing process and therefore slows down age-related brain cell damage. Resveratrol may also reduce plaque formation in the brain, a brain abnormality in Alzheimer’s disease. (13).
(1) Barnett JH, Hachinski V, Blackwell AD. Cognitive health begins at conception: addressing dementia as a lifelong and preventable condition. BMC Med 2013; 11:246.
(2) Lourida I, Soni M, Thompson-Coon J, Purandare N, Lang IA, Ukoumunne OC, et al. Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia: a systematic review. Epidemiology 2013 Jul; 24(4):479-89.
(3) Albanese E, Dangour AD, Uauy R, Acosta D, Guerra M, Guerra SS, et al. Dietary fish and meat intake and dementia in Latin America, China, and India: a 10/66 Dementia Research Group population-based study. Am J Clin Nutr 2009 Aug; 90(2):392-400.
(4) Qin B, Plassman BL, Edwards LJ, Popkin BM, Adair LS, Mendez MA. Fish intake is associated with slower cognitive decline in Chinese older adults. J Nutr 2014 Oct; 144(10):1579-85.
(5) Devore EE, Grodstein F, van Rooij FJ, Hofman A, Stampfer MJ, Witteman JC, et al. Dietary antioxidants and long-term risk of dementia. Arch Neurol 2010 Jul; 67(7):819-25.
(6) Nooyens AC, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, van Gelder BM, van Boxtel MP, Verschuren WM. Consumption of alcoholic beverages and cognitive decline at middle age: the Doetinchem Cohort Study. Br J Nutr 2014 Feb;111(4):715-23.
(7) Lovden M, Xu W, Wang HX. Lifestyle change and the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia: what is the evidence? Curr Opin Psychiatry 2013 May; 26(3):239-43.
(8) Bauer I, Hughes M, Rowsell R, Cockerell R, Pipingas A, Crewther S, et al. Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults. Hum Psychopharmacol 2014 Mar; 29(2):133-44.
(9) Cederholm T, Salem N, Jr., Palmblad J. Omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cognitive decline in humans. Adv Nutr 2013 Nov; 4(6):672-6.
(10) Samieri C, Feart C, Letenneur L, Dartigues JF, Peres K, Auriacombe S, et al. Low plasma eicosapentaenoic acid and depressive symptomatology are independent predictors of dementia risk. Am J Clin Nutr 2008 Sep; 88(3):714-21.
(11) Gariballa SE, Forster SJ, Powers HJ. Effects of mixed dietary supplements on total plasma homocysteine concentrations (tHcy): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 2012 Aug; 82(4):260-6.
(12) Rafnsson SB, Dilis V, Trichopoulou A. Antioxidant nutrients and age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review of population-based cohort studies. Eur J Nutr 2013 Sep; 52(6):1553-67.
(13) Karuppagounder SS, Pinto JT, Xu H, Chen HL, Beal MF, Gibson GE. Dietary supplementation with resveratrol reduces plaque pathology in a transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurochem Int 2009 Feb; 54(2):111-8.
We recommend MindCare PROTECT. Targeted dual capsules provide key bioactive nutrients to support the normal function of the brain & protect against age-related oxidative stress. MindCare® PROTECT provides pure, ultra concentrated omega-3 EPA & DHA, N-Acetyl L-Cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, resveratrol and essential micronutrients.
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