Six Proven Ways To Dementia-Proof Your Diet And Lifestyle. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Patrick Holford, Founder of the Food for the Brain Foundation. Patrick will share six scientifically proven (with references) ways to dementia-proof your brain. Risk for Alzheimer’s, which makes up two-thirds of dementia, can be picked up in mid-life. That sounds like bad news, but it isn’t because most people can cut their risk by two-thirds just by making a few relatively simple diet and lifestyle changes in mid-life. Alzheimer’s isn’t ‘in the genes’ – less than one in every hundred Alzheimer’s diagnoses are attributed to genes. Nor is it an inevitable consequence of ageing. It is a preventable disease, and we know much about what people need to do to help prevent it.
Six Proven Ways To Dementia-Proof Your Diet And Lifestyle
The Food for the Brain charity focuses on helping people make simple, positive changes that will upgrade their brain and memory and dementia-proof their future diet and lifestyle.
A free online Cognitive Function Test, available at foodforthebrain.org, not only shows how your brain is working but also a simple questionnaire about your diet and lifestyle that identifies the fundamental changes that will make the most difference to dementia-proofing your future.
So here are the six most common and most effective changes you can make:
Eat Less Sugar And Refined Carbs
The first simple step is to eat less sugar, sugary junk food, sweetened drinks and white, refined bread, rice and pasta. A 2022 U.S. study reported that having a blood sugar level at the high end of the normal range at age 35 increased a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life by 15 per cent. So cutting back on sugar is the first of six simple changes that can cut your risk.
Have more beans, fish, and chicken and less rice, pasta and potatoes. Eat eggs for breakfast or yoghurt, nuts, seeds and berries. Have oats instead of sugary cereals and oat cakes instead of bread. Our sugar expert, Professor Robert Lustig, from the University of California, showed that sweet-toothed teenagers already have shrinking brains and worsening memory. It starts that young!
Eat Fish And Omega-3 Fish Oils (And/Or Vegan Alternative)
The next step to cut your risk is eating fish and supplement omega-3 fish oils. The fat makes up half your brain cell membranes – the bit that does the ‘talking’. D.H.A. (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an important omega-3 fatty acid, and it is found in seafood and certain types of algae.
A study of almost half a million people from the U.K.’s BioBank found that those taking fish oil supplements had a seven per cent lower risk of dementia. The same was true for those with higher blood levels. Eating three servings of fish a week cuts Alzheimer’s risk by a third. The best fish swim in cold water and eat other fish – salmon and mackerel. Sardines, anchovies, herring and kippers are also excellent. The best of all is caviar.
Algal or seaweed-derived D.H.A. is just as good as that found in fish, so this is essential for any vegan wishing to protect their brain. You need at least 200mg daily, ideally double this amount. A minimal amount of A.L.A. (alpha-linolenic acid) in walnuts, chia and flax seeds, and colder climate leafy vegetables convert to D.H.A. These foods are also essential to eat daily.
Supplement B Vitamins
The first study that showed a reversal in the rate of brain shrinkage in people with pre-dementia gave a supplement of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid. The study showed that the B vitamins halved the brain shrinkage rate, cutting the shrinkage in the Alzheimer’s areas of the brain by nine times. The best drug to date has cut brain shrinkage by 2 per cent with virtually no clinical benefit.
B vitamins are needed to help attach omega-3 to your brain. The next big breakthrough came when Professor David Smith’s group at Oxford University showed that the omega-3 fats don’t work nearly so well without B vitamins – and the B vitamins don’t work in people with low intake of omega-3. It would be best if you had both.
“In those with sufficient omega-3 status, B vitamins resulted in up to 73 per cent less brain shrinkage and slowed memory decline,”  says Professor Smith. One in three ended the trial with no clinical signs of dementia. Two other trials, in the Netherlands and Sweden, have confirmed that omega-3 and B vitamins are a dynamic duo, slowing down cognitive decline when both are sufficient.
The three critical B vitamins are vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid or folate, found in green foods (think foliage). We recommend that older people supplement at least 10mcg of vitamin B12 daily, but the study gave 500mcg. Why? Because many older people absorb B12 less well. It needs stomach acid, so those on antacid drugs often lack B12.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health researchers attribute 32 per cent of risk to an inactive lifestyle, 22 per cent to smoking, 22 per cent to lack of seafood or omega-3 and another 22 per cent to a raised blood homocysteine level, which is a measure of B vitamin status.
Increase Antioxidant-Rich In Fruit And Veg
Your brain spends a lot of energy thinking. This makes ‘exhaust fumes’, called oxidants, which age the brain. That’s why smoking is a significant risk factor. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and cacao are rich in brain-friendly antioxidants and polyphenols, which improve circulation in your brain and help keep it young. So, while eating five servings of fruit and veg is good advice, having a handful of berries a day (blueberries being the best) and at least four servings of vegetables are better. Cacao in chocolate is also brain-friendly, but the sugar isn’t. A cocoa drink made with cacao powder (without sugar) is the best of both worlds. Spices such as turmeric, cumin and chilli, cayenne or paprika are also excellent sources of polyphenols.
Have An Active Lifestyle
The online test at foodforthebrain.org assesses your ‘active mind’ and ‘active body’ as well as ‘sleep and calm’. Your brain needs exercise. “For many people, the worst thing they can do for their brain is to retire,” says exercise expert Tommy Wood, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. He has shown that your muscle mass predicts brain volume.
“Exercise, especially resistance exercise, is important because it makes the brain do things that keep it healthy, such as growth and repair,” he says. “When they aren’t stimulated, the health of brain tissues deteriorates, with a knock-on effect on memory and thinking.”
A study on trainee London taxi drivers learning ‘The Knowledge’—which involves memorising 26,000 streets—found that those who passed had built more brain tissue and connections than those who failed.
And it’s not just physical exercise that does this. We also benefit from mental training in activities like solving puzzles or learning a new language. “For many people, the worst thing they can do for their brain is to retire,” says Wood. “They lose much of the stimulation that kept it healthy.” It’s perfect to learn things you’re bad at. Those taking up learning musical instruments did better than professional musicians.
Sleep Well And Stay Calm
Just as you need a period of rest after exercise for muscles to recover, your brain needs sleep after a period of cognitive activity. The quantity and quality of sleep make a big difference. Sleeping only five hours, or nine or more hours doubles dementia risk. The optimal sleep duration is 7 hours, and the optimal time for sleeping is 10 pm. ‘Owls’, who sleep late, are at higher risk. Also, the least disrupted sleep, the better. Stress also takes its toll.
Foodforthebrain.org has tested 380,000 people with the free online Cognitive Function Test. An N.H.S. and University College of London study reported that nine in ten found the test helpful. With the new COGNITION app, which is a personalised, interactive brain upgrade programme that helps you make simple changes to dementia-proof your diet and lifestyle, you not only find out what simple changes will make the most significant difference to your risk but also get support along the way, guiding you step by step. The aim is to help you to dementia-proof your diet and lifestyle.
Alzheimer’s isn’t ‘in the genes’ – less than one in every hundred Alzheimer’s diagnoses are attributed to genes. Nor is it an inevitable consequence of ageing. Professor David Smith, former Deputy Head of the Faculty of Medical Science at the University of Oxford, who is one of a team of world-leading prevention experts at the Food for the Brain Foundation, says that Alzheimer’s is essentially a preventable disease. We know much about what people need to do to help prevent it.
Risk for Alzheimer’s, which makes up two-thirds of dementia, can be picked up in mid-life. That sounds like bad news, but it isn’t because most people can cut their risk by two-thirds just by making a few relatively simple diet and lifestyle changes in mid-life.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick Holford is a Nutrition and Mental Health expert & Founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, VitaminC4Covid, and the charitable Food for the Brain Foundation, where he directs their Alzheimer’s prevention project. Patrick reads hundreds of studies a year, assimilating the latest health breakthroughs and turning them into practical advice to make it easy for everyone to live a healthy life. He is the author of 46 health books translated into over 30 languages. www.patrickholford.com