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Brainpower Boosters

By Jane Noble
June 18th, 2013

Alzheimer’s is on a relentless upward trajectory. It is the 5th leading cause of death in people over 65, surpassing diabetes. In the US alone, someone develops the disease every 70 seconds. While scientists continue their search for a cure, we would all do well to take a long look at our lifestyle and take whatever preventative measures we can to keep Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay.

The better our brains function, the more we can get out of life. Here are some brainpower boosters you may want to adopt to help improve your memory, keep you mentally sharp, and slow down the aging process.

Berry Good For You
Dark berries can do wonders for your brain. These remarkable fruits contain high levels of anthocyanosides, or super antioxidants, which fight memory impairment associated with free radicals and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. So bring on those berries and eat them every day for maximum benefit.

Go Nuts
Nuts, oils, seeds and the wonderfully nutritious avocado all contain another important antioxidant – vitamin E. In one study, researchers found that people who consumed only moderate amounts of vitamin E in food, not supplements, lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 67%. That is a pretty high percentage. Eat these goodies frequently. Aim for 15mg of vitamin E a day – that’s about 2oz of almonds.

Spice it Up
Do you like hot, spicy food like curry?  Then keep on taking out that Thai, because there is a potent spice in curry that is known to fight inflammation. Animal studies have shown that curry’s active ingredient, curcumin (a root of the ginger family), actually clears away proteins in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s called amyloid plaques. More human research is needed, but the results are promising. Eat it as an ingredient in pasta sauces, salad dressings, or meat marinades. Curcumin tends to be poorly absorbed, so mix it with black pepper to increase its absorption up to 2,000%.

Beat the Blues with Bananas
The humble, yellow skinned banana is known to have a soothing effect on the eater. It contains a compound called tryptophan, which improves mood when it gets converted to serotonin. Eating a banana a day facilitates the cross-talk among your brain cells and the effect of mood-lifting brain chemicals like serotonin. Both effects can help keep the therapist away and banish the blues.

Dark & Leafy
Vegetables are good for you. It’s as simple as that. Find different ways to include as many different veggies as possible in your daily diet. Particularly beneficial are the dark, leafy ones, rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, which can help slow mental decline.

Super Omega-3s
Found in fish such as salmon, halibut, and sardines, omega-3 fatty acids are involved in nerve cell communication. Recent research shows that they help protect against the cell damage that leads to Alzheimer’s. You can also take your omega-3s in supplement form.

Get Off the Couch & Help your Hippocampus
“If you only do one thing to keep your brain young, then exercise, “ says Art Kramer, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois. Higher levels of exercise can reduce Dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared with low activity levels, and physically active people tend to maintain better cognition than inactive people. Working out helps your hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory formation. As you age, your hippocampus shrinks, leading to memory loss. Research suggests that exercise can reverse this process. It is never too late to start an exercise program. Just don’t go crazy at first if you haven’t exercised in years – and be sure to find something you enjoy. Every little bit helps.

Pump Some Iron
Don’t put on weight but lift some weights instead! A group of older women who participated in a year long weight-training program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver did 14 percent better on cognitive function tests than a group of women who only did balancing and toning. “Resistance training may increase the levels of growth factors in the brain, which nourish and protect nerve cells,” says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, head of the university’s Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.

Get Your Beauty Sleep
Your brain needs regular, restful sleep in order to function at optimum capacity. Sleep deprivation not only leaves you cranky and tired, but impairs your ability to think, problem-solve, and process, store, and recall information. Deep, dreamy sleep is critical for memory formation and retention. Nightly sleep deprivation can not only slow your thinking and affect your mood, but it may also put you at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Most adults still need those 8 hours. Any less and productivity and creativity can suffer.

Use it, Don’t Lose it
The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but older people can certainly learn new skills. Those who continually stimulate their brain are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, since learning spurs the growth of new brain cells. So take up a new hobby and challenge those little grey cells.

Don’t Say “Ugh,” Say “Omm”
Nothing in your body works as well when you are stressed. Chronic stress floods your brain with cortisol, which shrinks the hippocampus and leads to impaired memory. Finding ways to reduce stress in your life can actually make your brain grow bigger.  Harvard researchers studied men and women trained in a technique called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and showed that easing tension can change your brain and reduce harmful stress hormones.  MBSR involves focusing one’s attention on sensations, feelings and state of mind.  After eight weeks, researchers took MRI scans of the participants’ brains, which showed that the density of gray matter in the hippocampus had increased significantly compared to the control group. So make relaxation time a priority. Breathe deeply – it’s powerful, simple and free.  Also, nourish your inner peace through meditation and reflection.

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