Alzheimer’s is a progressive, incurable disease that destroys memory and affects thinking and eventually behavior. Studies find that food nutrients can prevent and protect against diseases, in addition to providing energy and building materials for the body.
Although science has not yet proven that nutrients can prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, research shows that nutrients are vital to support cognitive function and mood balance. In honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we’re exploring how eating certain foods may protect your brain and emotional wellness.
In this article, learn about nutrients that help cognitive function, their effects, and which foods have these nutrients.
Micronutrients are Essential for the Brain
Studies show that the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may slow cognitive decline and lower high blood pressure, which is linked to Alzheimer’s. A related, four-year study of a blend of the two diets, the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, ends this month and will hopefully provide more insights.
Yet, we have plenty research showing that micronutrients are essential to brain development in children, cellular functions throughout life, and protecting brain functions and emotional balance. This list explains how nutrients may help you and what to eat to get them.
Foods to Enjoy for Brain-Supporting Micronutrients
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Reduces cognitive decline in the elderly and is used to treat people with mood disorders. It's also being studied in rodents for help with traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s. Food sources: Fish (salmon), flax seeds, krill, chia, kiwi fruit, butternuts, walnuts.
Curcumin –Improves cognitive decay caused by Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury in rodent studies. Food source: Turmeric (curry spice).
Flavonoids – Improves cognitive function in elderly people and enhances cognitive function in rodents when combined with exercise. Food Sources: Cocoa, green tea, Ginkgo tree, citrus fruits, wine (higher in red wine), dark chocolate.
B vitamins – Supplementations with vitamins B6, B12, or folate improves memory in women of various ages. B12 also improves cognitive impairment in rats fed a choline-deficient diet. Food sources: Various natural sources including fish, eggs, and red meat (especially liver and kidneys). Vitamin B12 is not available from plant products.
Vitamin D – Improves mental actions, processes, and learning in the elderly. Food sources: Fish liver, fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains.
Vitamin E – Reduces cognitive decay in elderly people and improves cognitive impairment after brain trauma in rodent studies. Food sources: Asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, red palm oil, seeds, spinach, vegetable oils, wheatgerm.
Choline – Studies suggest that children’s cognitive function is improved when choline is taken in pregnancy and by children as the brain develops. Choline also reduces memory loss caused by seizures in rodent studies. Food sources: Egg yolks, soy beef, chicken, veal, turkey liver, lettuce.
Combination of vitamins (C, E, and beta carotene) – Antioxidants like these delay cognitive decline in elderly people. Food sources: Vitamin C: citrus fruits, several plants and vegetables, calf and beef liver. Beta carotene: Dark, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and fruits like cantelope and apricots. Vitamin E: see above.
Copper – Copper deficiencies are linked to cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s. Food sources: Oysters, beef/lamb liver, Brazil nuts, blackstrap molasses, cocoa, black pepper.
Iron – Normalizes cognitive function in young women. Food sources: Red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans.
Selenium – Lifelong low selenium levels are connected to lower cognitive function in people. Food sources: nuts, cereals, meat, fish, eggs.
Zinc – An essential trace element, zinc has many vital roles in the body and may be an antidepressant. Your body doesn’t make it, so it must come through food or supplementation. People with Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons typically have low levels of zinc. However, excessive zinc intake may cause an accumulation of zinc in the brain in people with Alzheimer’s, according to studies. If you have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or diabetes, please talk to a health care provider about the right amount of zinc of you. Food sources: oysters, a small amount in beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, sunflower seeds.
Calcium – Calcium intake is also tricky because calcium is needed for several neuronal functions, and it’s involved in long-term memory processing. Too little calcium in the body, hypocalcemia, can cause problems. However, hypercalcemia, higher than normal levels of calcium in the blood, is associated with faster cognitive decline in the elderly. Hypercalcemia is linked to high calcium consumption, so please talk to your doctor about how much calcium is right for you. Food sources: Calcium: milk, coral.
Saturated fats – While all the above nutrients show positive affects on the brain, saturated fats exacerbate cognitive decline as we age. In rodent studies, saturated fats also worsen cognitive impairment after brain trauma. Food sources (to limit): Butter, ghee, suet, lard, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, dairy products such as cream and cheese, meat.
Since many of these foods are on heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet, you may be enjoying them already. Before making major changes to your diet, please consult a nutritionist or health care provider to build the best meal plan for you!