Food to help counteract cognitive decline, including the most important vitamin for brain health as we age

Cognitive health

Cognitive health

Helping ward off dementia and cognitive decline can be as simple as tweaking your grocery list, experts and evidence say. Photo: David Malan/Getty Images

Research on how we feel about dementia and cognitive decline suggests two things: We’re concerned about it, and most of us aren’t sure we know how to prevent it.

An online survey of 900 people for AARP extension the journal indicated that Alzheimer’s disease/dementia/cognitive decline was second only to cancer as the aspects of aging that respondents were most concerned about. (Memory loss came in eighth, behind loss of mobility.)

And results from a survey of 1,000 Canadians aged 45 and older by Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences showed that only one in five respondents (19%) indicated that they were confident or very confident in their knowledge about dementia prevention. .

So what can we do?

Regardless of diagnosis, from stress-induced memory lapses to Alzheimer’s disease, neuropsychologist and gerontologist Vonetta M. Dotson offers all her patients the same basic recommendations: be physically active, stay socially connected, engage your brain, and follow a healthy diet.

B vitamins

As for diet, in his book,Keeping Your Wits About You: The Science of Maintaining Your Brain as You AgeDotson says what we eat may need to be customized as we get older.

“For example, as we age, we are more vulnerable to deficiencies in vitamins B12, B6 and riboflavin. Research suggests this is due to a combination of getting fewer B vitamins in our diets, our bodies absorbing fewer vitamins from our food, and the body needs more of these particular vitamins to maintain health into our older years. elders,” he writes.

“Lack of B vitamins has been linked to cardiovascular disorders, which in turn can affect our brains. Because of susceptibility to vitamin B12 deficiency, older adults may need a diet rich in more poultry, dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, and other foods rich in vitamin B12.


Dark leafy greens, which Dotson claims, are high in B vitamins. And spinach tops the list for folate (vitamin B9), which has been shown to help minimize age-related cognitive decline . Note: some folate may be lost during cooking, steaming retains more of the vitamin, while spinach is best eaten raw.


Also rich in several B vitamins, including cobalamin (B12), pyridoxine (B6), and riboflavin (B2), salmon is on the list of fatty fish (including cod, trout, sardines, and sole), which are high in fat omega-3 acids. These good, unsaturated fats are essential in building brain and nerve cells and have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that forms harmful lumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Salmon, whether farmed or wild-caught, is also on the list of fish that contain low levels of mercury, high levels can damage organs, including the brain. And not just for Fridays, experts recommend two servings of low-mercury fatty fish per week.


In addition to the B vitamins, berries have also been studied for their health benefits, including those for the brain. Their deep hue is nature’s way of telling us that blueberries (and other deep-colored berries) contain anthocyanins, plant compounds called flavonoids that help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease. brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Research has also shown that flavonoids can help improve memory, with a study from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital finding that women who consumed two or more servings of blueberries (and strawberries) each week delayed memory decline. up to two and a half times. years.

Dark chocolate

Speaking of flavonoids, cocoa powder is rich in these brain-boosting compounds. In one study of more than 900 people, participants who ate chocolate more frequently performed better on cognitive tasks, including those involving memory.

Dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or more) offers the best value, and that includes a caffeine boost. Why it’s a good thing: In addition to boosting mood, caffeine can also aid memory. A Johns Hopkins study showed that participants who had consumed a 200-milligram caffeine tablet (a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains about 25 milligrams) after being shown a series of pictures could identify them better the next day.


Hue is the key to another brain health boost. The polyphenolic pigment curcumin, which gives turmeric its deep yellow color, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has shown promise in the treatment and prevention of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

And we’ve already established that what’s good for cardiovascular health is good for brain health and that includes turmeric. The super spice has been studied for its potential to reverse heart disease by helping regulate blood pressure, and has been found to help lower bad cholesterol. Add turmeric to your food or talk to your doctor about adding a curcumin supplement to your diet to get something closer to the dose used in most studies (5002,000 mg per day).


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