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The Nutrients You Need for Maximum Brain Health

Keeping your brain healthy is an essential part of aging gracefully, yet few are aware of the best natural ways to do so. 

And just because you’re getting older, doesn’t mean you need to lose your brain function. The good news is you can still boost your memory, cognition and mental capabilities naturally as you age. 

Mental clarity can be achieved by using a healthy, balanced diet, rich in nutrient dense foods full of vital nutrients like vitamin D.

Through the process of new brain cell production, a phenomenon called neurogenesis…aging brains can maintain a high level of function. 

” … New neurons are integrated into functional circuits, and the ongoing neuronal turnover is significant for some functions,” researchers wrote in “Brain Aging: Models, Methods and Mechanisms.”

Vitamin D Deficiency And Dementia

Vitamin D levels are strongly associated with poor outcomes on cognitive testing in Alzheimer’s patients. This is due to the properties of Vitamin D and its protective effects on the brain. 

That’s because it’s an anti-inflammatory and an immunity booster which helps to clear amyloid plaques from the brain giving it powerful neuroprotective capabilities. This all leads to a lower overall risk of cognitive impairment. 

In one clinical study, Vitamin D deficiency was linked to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.1

When evaluating Vitamin D levels, blood tests are the best way to determine if there is a deficiency. Levels should be at least 40 – 60 ng/ml or for best results 50 – 70 ng/ml.

The best way to optimize your levels of Vitamin D is to get plenty of sensible sun exposure. 

Alternately you can supplement daily with vitamin D3. Increasing vitamin K2 intake is also important.

Probiotics And Brain Health

Research shows that certain bacterial strains may positively affect the brain.

According to a study conducted by the University of California (UCLA), women who consumed beneficial bacteria on a regular basis experienced positive changes in many areas of the brain, including the areas associated with sensory processing, cognition, and emotion.2

In a separate study at University College Cork in Ireland, researchers led by by John Cryan, Ph.D., found that mice without any microbes in the intestines were not able to recognize other mice around them.3

Dr. Cryan believes that, these microbes may communicate with the brain and improve our social abilities. He also believes that when they’re lacking, it increases the chances of “high-risk behavior,” and neurochemical changes in the brain.

Researchers found many genetic changes in the germ-free mice, and as explained in The Guardian:

“Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was significantly up-regulated, and the 5HT1A serotonin receptor sub-type down-regulated, in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.
 
The gene encoding the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor was also down-regulated in the amygdala. All three genes have previously been implicated in emotion and anxiety-like behaviors.

BDNF is a growth factor that is essential for proper brain development, and a recent study showed that deleting the BDNF receptor TrkB alters the way in which newborn neurons integrate into hippocampal circuitry and increases anxiety-like behaviors in mice.

Serotonin receptors, which are distributed widely throughout the brain, are well known to be involved in mood, and compounds that activate the 5HT1A subtype also produce anxiety-like behaviors.”

In one recent study the effects of probiotics were examined on the cognitive function of 60 Alzheimer’s patients.4 

What researchers found was that the intake of milk with probiotics led to dramatic improvements in cognitive function. 

In addition, those who took probiotics also experience an increase in their average Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores, from 8.7 to 10.6, while the control group (which drank plain milk) had a decrease from 8.5 to 8.0.

Those who took the probiotic also lowered their triglycerides, decreased inflammation, improved their metabolism, reduced low-density lipoprotein, and C-reactive protein, and had reduced markers for insulin resistance.

Researchers theorize that the cognitive improvements occurred because of these beneficial metabolic changes.

Walter Lukiw, Ph.D., a professor of neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Louisiana State University (LSU), further explained the link between the gut and the brain, “This is in line with some of our recent studies which indicate that the GI [gastrointestinal] tract microbiome in Alzheimer’s is significantly altered in composition when compared to age-matched controls …

…  and that both the GI tract and blood-brain barriers become significantly more leaky with aging, thus allowing GI tract microbial exudates (e.g. amyloids, lipopolysaccharides, endotoxins and small non-coding RNAs) to access central nervous system compartments.”

Increasing dietary intake of fermented foods like fermented grass-fed organic milk like kefir, lassi, various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, carrots, squash, and natto can help add beneficial bacteria to your diet.

You can also take a high-quality probiotic supplement.

Carotenoids And Brain Function

Carotenoids are antioxidant compounds found in certain vegetables and most often in orange produce. 

However, dark green vegetables contain lutein and zeaxanthin.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin help with vision by preventing age-related macular degeneration. However, some scientists also say that they cognitive health by boosting neural efficiency.

In one study, 43 older adults were asked to learn pairs of unrelated words while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Researchers found that higher levels of carotenoids are associated with lower brain activity during memory tasks.

Said another way, the brain doesn’t have to work as hard which slows aging. 

Cutter Lindbergh, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia says, 

“There’s a natural deterioration process that occurs in the brain as people age, but the brain is great at compensating for that. One way it compensates is by calling on more brain power to get a job done so it can maintain the same level of cognitive performance. On the surface, it looked like everyone was doing the same thing and recalling the same words, but when you pop the hood and look at what’s actually going on in the brain, there are significant differences related to their carotenoid levels.”

Increasing the intake of foods that contain carotenoids helps to prevent the aging of brain cells. 

With a few good choices, you can increase your brain function and boost your brain power instead of allowing it to shrink and shrivel up as you age.

In order to increase neurogenesis and encourage the regrowth of brain cells, you need to address a specific gene pathway known as BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This pathway promotes brain cell growth and connectivity.

Here are some of the best ways to improve brain function:

  • Decrease the intake of carbohydrates, including grains and sugar
  • Lower your overall calories and try intermittent fasting
  • Consume more healthy fats, including olives, organic virgin olive and coconut oil, organic butter from raw milk, free-range eggs, nuts like pecans and macadamia, organic grass-fed raw butter, olives, organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, wild Alaskan salmon, avocados, etc.
  • Limit the consumption of unhealthy omega-6 fats and take in more omega-3 fats. Instead of fish oil try Krill oil which is high in astaxanthin which is excellent for the health of the brain.
  • Get regular exercise, the increased physical activity supports biochemical changes in the brain boost learning and memory skills.

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References:

1. Littlejohns, T. J. et al. "Vitamin D And The Risk Of Dementia And Alzheimer Disease." Neurology 83.10 (2014): 920-928.

2. Tillisch, Kirsten et al. "Consumption Of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity." Gastroenterology 144.7 (2013): 1394-1401.e4.

3. Schmidt, Charles. "Mental Health May Depend On Creatures In The Gut." N.p., 2015.

4. Whiteman, Honor. "Probiotics May Boost Learning, Memory For Alzheimer's Patients." Medical News Today. N.p., 2016.

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