In the Times today (UK)https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/week ... -wd9mfz9st
Mind food: what a neuroscientist eats
After years of research, Dr Lisa Mosconi is convinced that what we eat is the key to preventing Alzheimer’s. Here she reveals the foods that will protect your brain
We’re very used to the idea of eating the right foods for our waistlines, but how many of us are eating for our brains? Of all the organs in the body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet.
This has gone largely unnoticed until now, but from its very architecture to its ability to perform, everything in the brain is affected by food. Our brains are literally what we eat.
You can see this on MRI scans, as I often did at the Nutrition and Brain Fitness Lab that I founded at New York University. For example, I put side by side the brain scans of a 52-year-old woman who had eaten a Mediterranean diet for most of her life and one of a
50-year-old woman who had a western-style diet with processed meats, sweets and fizzy drinks. You could clearly see that the latter’s brain had atrophied — an indicator of neuronal loss. As the brain loses neurons, space around the hippocampus and the temporal lobe — regions directly involved in memory formation — is replaced by fluids. This is a sign of accelerated ageing and increased risk of dementia.
Many people continue to believe that the huge global increase in Alzheimer’s cases, predicted to almost triple to 132 million by 2050, is a nearly inevitable result of ageing, bad genes or both. Less than 1 per cent of the population develop Alzheimer’s because of a rare genetic mutation in their DNA. For the other 99 per cent, the risk has more to do with how they live. Recent estimates show that at least one in three cases is potentially preventable by modifying risk factors, and diet is the biggest of these. I think that’s a very conservative estimate: the same research team came out with 50 per cent in their first study.
I am now the associate director at America’s first Alzheimer’s prevention clinic at Cornell University, where we have been working with 600 mainly middle-aged people with a family connection to dementia, showing them how to eat in a more brain-healthy way. I cannot reveal more just yet, but the data looks highly promising.
Interview by Rachel Carlyle
What to eat to protect your brain
Drink eight glasses of water every day to boost the brain by 30 per cent
Water is involved in every chemical reaction occurring in the brain. A decrease in water intake of as little as 3 to 4 per cent will almost immediately affect the brain’s fluid balance, causing fatigue, brain fog, reduced energy, headaches and mood swings. Research shows that eight to ten cups a day can boost your brain’s performance by almost 30 per cent. Of all the tricks I’ve learnt for keeping my mind sharp, staying hydrated might be the one that I follow most religiously.
When you’re consuming coffee or black tea the caffeine actively dehydrates you as you drink it, rendering its water content less than effective. Try drinking a glass of water before or after. My favourite trick is a small glass of aloe vera juice — which is about 99 per cent water and contains more than 200 active components, from vitamins and minerals to fatty acids — every morning.
Eat more fish for essential fats
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the rarest and most precious of brain-essential fats. They include omega-6 and omega-3, which are the only kinds of fat that the brain cannot make on its own.
Studies have identified omega-3s as the No 1 nutrient to fight age-related cognitive decline and dementia. A landmark study of 6,000 participants aged 65 or older showed that people who consumed low quantities of omega-3s had a 70 per cent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Even among people who didn’t develop dementia, a lower intake of omega-3s affected their ability to remember details and switch focus. Those who ate more than 2g a day were unlikely to develop dementia at all.
The goal is to eat at least 4g of omega-3s every day. Just 85g of wild Alaskan salmon (one small fillet) provides almost 2g of omega-3s. The richest sources are cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and cod.
Eat chia seeds, oats and cacao for better mood and memory
Proteins are vital to a healthy brain. They’re made up of amino acids, some of which act as neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that our brains use for communicating and processing information. The neurotransmitter serotonin is essential for mood, memory and appetite. Its production in the brain is based on the presence of the amino acid tryptophan, which cannot be produced in the body at all. The only way to make it available to our brains is via the foods we eat.
The average adult needs 5mg of tryptophan per kilogram of body weight daily — the recommended dose for a 12st 6lb adult is 395mg. Turkey is often thought to be high in tryptophan, but it doesn’t even make the top ten. Chia seeds rank at the top. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain more than 200mg of tryptophan. Raw cacao, wheat, oats, spirulina, sesame and pumpkin seeds are also among the richest sources. Milk, plain yoghurt, chicken and fish such as tuna and salmon are good too.
Fuel the brain with natural sugars from turnips, swede and beetroot
No matter how many people tell you that carbohydrates are bad, the brain runs on glucose, and glucose is a carbohydrate. Foods that we wouldn’t necessarily think of as sugary, such as onions, turnips and swede, are the best natural sources. A small beetroot contains 31 per cent of the glucose that you need for the day. Fruits such as kiwi, grapes, raisins and dates are also excellent, as are honey and maple syrup. To stay active and healthy an adult brain needs about 62g of glucose over a 24-hour period. That’s less than 250 calories a day. Three tablespoons of raw honey will give your brain all the glucose it needs for the day.
Prevent memory decline with B vitamins found in lentils, spinach and eggs
B vitamins have a role in the prevention of dementia. Recent trials tested the effects of high-dose supplementation of B6, B9 (folate) and B12 in patients with mild cognitive impairment, a condition at high risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s. After two years, these vitamins had maintained memory performance and reduced the rate of brain shrinkage.
Many plant-based foods are rich sources of folate, especially black-eyed peas, lentils, spinach, tofu and avocado. Vitamin B12 is found in shellfish, salmon, trout, mackerel, fresh tuna, chicken, eggs, beef and dairy products. For B6 the best sources include sunflower seeds, pistachios, fish (especially tuna), shellfish, chicken, turkey, lean beef, sweet potatoes, avocado and leafy green vegetables.
The brain depends on the B vitamin choline to manufacture the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, crucial for memory and learning. Most of us are deficient in choline. An adult woman needs at least 425mg of choline daily, while men need 550mg. In practical terms, you can get 425mg of choline by eating three eggs. Other choline-rich foods include fish, shiitake mushrooms, quinoa, peanuts and almonds. Adding Marmite to soups and stews is also a smart way to boost your choline levels.
Slow the brain’s ageing with antioxidants found in berries and almonds
Vitamin E (from almonds or flaxseeds) and vitamin C (from citrus, berries and a variety of vegetables) are the body’s main antioxidant defenders. They protect brain cells and tissues from the harmful effects of toxins, free radicals and pollution. Regular consumption of vitamins C and E reduces the speed at which brain cells age, increasing longevity and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Extracted from Brain Food by Dr Lisa Mosconi, published by Penguin Life on Thursday, £14.99
Interview by Rachel Carlyle