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Can an Apple a Day Keep Dementia at Bay?: Diet and Brain Health

By Jane Noble
May 28, 2013

As of yet, there is no known cure for Dementia and Alzheimer’s, but more and more research is suggesting a close link between diet and brain health. Though we cannot control a possible genetic predisposition towards Alzheimer’s or stop ourselves from getting old, we can certainly adopt a healthy lifestyle and control what we put in our mouths.

Okinawa prefecture is the southernmost prefecture, or state, in Japan. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 620 miles long, and claims the largest number of centenarians in the world. Centenarians, or people who have lived more than one hundred years, are living examples of successful aging. A study of Okinawan centenarians (known as the Okinawa Centenarian Study) revealed that they shared a diet that is low in calories, almost sugar-free and practically devoid of processed or canned food. Further studies of primitive cultures with high longevity showed their diets to be low in fat and devoid of animal fats, processed food, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals.

Diet is certainly not the only factor that contributes to healthy aging, but it seems to play a key role. Elderly Okinawans have among the lowest mortality rates in the world and have a history of aging slowly and delaying (or even escaping) chronic diseases such as Dementia, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.

According to a recent study at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, people in their late 80s with higher blood levels of B, C, D and E vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids (found in good fats) did better on cognitive tests and had less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

So what foods should you eat to boost these vitamins in the body?  A Mediterranean diet has been found to be beneficial; which includes vegetables (particularly leafy greens), fruits, small amounts of meat and fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil. Research shows that turmeric may help prevent the accumulation of plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and can interfere with communication between neurons.

It is also good to remember that what one doesn’t eat is important. Artery clogging trans fats should be off-limits. These may replace the good omega-3 fats in the brain cell membranes, and are associated with systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and endothelial dysfunction – all processes that can have an impact on memory, brain structure and cognition.

A new study published in Neurology (the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology) reveals that diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing Dementia. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, has reached epidemic proportions in the US and is due primarily to obesity and inactivity. That said, it may be good to cut down on those sugary cookies and empty calories. Also, there is certainly no evidence to suggest that fruits and vegetables can do any harm.

If you can take control of your health with good nutrition and possibly prevent not only diabetes, but also Dementia – why wouldn’t you?

In a nutshell; eat real, unprocessed food and you will feel better, have more energy and be feeding your brain. It’s fundamental.

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