National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

September 1, 2020

September is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month as well Migraine Awareness Week and Organic September. So we thought it might be a good time to look at what nutritional steps you can take to look after your head, brain and mental health.

If you think about it, no pun intended, our brains and minds are working all the time, we don’t need to tell ourselves to think or to speak, breathe or do any of the other millions of actions that happen while we function on a daily basis.

Many of the degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s occur with age and are often considered to be something that happens as we age, and our cells deteriorate or do not repair so well. As we appear to be living longer, we should be endeavouring to live those years well and in good health.

Brain function is considered to deteriorate as we age. It needn’t be an automatic part of growing older if we look after our health with good diet, nutrition and exercise.

As is usually the case when we look at ways to stay in good health, our diet is key. A varied and healthy diet us going to underpin your health and wellness, including how well the body functions and repairs itself. A good diet is also going to help a maintain a healthy digestive system. A good digestive system will help you get the best out of any supplements you take. That doesn’t only make good nutritional sense, it makes good economic sense too. If you spend money on your supplements, you want to get the best out of them.

September is the time for the annual campaign from the Soil Association called Organic September. During the month, all sorts of outlets, food suppliers and skin care manufacturers will be highlighting their product. What better time to try organic, pesticide free food and also natural skin care. Research has shown that exposure to chemicals and pesticides may play a role in how well our brains function. One study in the US found that adolescents whose mothers were exposed to certain pesticides, had decreased brain activity when it came to tasks such as planning an assignment or prioritising than students the same age with a lower level of exposure. So a simple move to an organic diet where your food is free from being sprayed with synthetic chemicals, could make a difference to the health of your brain.

Organic September is a great opportunity to seek out and try some organic produce.

Overall, a diet high in organic food has been shown to have a higher level of nutrients present. For example, organic crops and crop-based foods can be up to 60% higher in a number of antioxidant than conventionally grown crops. If eaten regularly, this could equate to eating the nutrients present in between 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

Organic crops and organic dairy products have been shown to have higher levels of nutrients than their conventionally produced counterparts.

Omega-3 fatty acids are often talked about when looking at brain health and cognitive function. One of the most frequently recommended food sources is oily fish, ideally you need to consume it about three times a week. But did you know that organic daily products can be a source of omega-3 fatty acids? The Soil Association say that as organically raised animals have to eat a more natural grass based diet containing high levels of clover, their diet has to be 60% fresh grass based. Research has shown that the clover can increase omega-3 concentrations in meat and milk.

If eating oily fish or organic dairy products on a regular basis is difficult or you prefer not to do it, taking a supplement is a useful option. Omega-3 supplements are often from fish oil and have been the subject of much research. A lot of which confirms the concept that these essential fatty acids can help improve cognitive function. One such study concluded that the participants’ brains of the group taking supplements, worked ‘less hard’ and achieved better cognitive performance, than prior to the supplementation. If you want to avoid fish all together, you can now get omega-3 supplements sourced from and oil rich algae, Schizochytrium. As a supplement, this algae offers a vegan source of these important fats and gives you a regular intake of omega-3 oils.

Over the past twenty years, there has been a lot of research on the benefits of B vitamins and their role in preventing cognitive decline. Excessive homocysteine levels is something that science has shown may be an early marker for those at risk of heart disease. More recently it has also been concluded that high levels may be linked to dementia. It has also been shown that taking certain B vitamins, folate, B12 and B6, can safely and easily reduce homocysteine levels. Researchers are encouraging doctors to look to these simple and relatively inexpensive nutrients for those patients that may be at risk. Taking a good quality B Complex daily, could be a valuable part of your nutrient regime. Look for B vitamins in their active forms, for better absorption and utilisation.

Choline, although not a true B vitamin, is usually found in a good B complex. When it comes to cognitive health, it is a good addition to your regime. A study on older people aged between 80 and 85 with inefficient memories found that supplementation with choline led to an increased plasma level of the nutrient. Perhaps more important to note is that choline supplementation improved delayed recall on logical memory. This placebo controlled cross over study concluded that supplementing with choline was clearly associated with improved immediate and delayed logical memory.

A newer and recently discovered substance, Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ), is a B-vitamin-like nutrient. Not all B Complex supplements with have it, but it is worth searching for. Featured in a number of studies, it is beginning to show that it has a key role to play in brain health. Often combined with the antioxidant nutrient Co Q10 it was shown to improve memory in elderly subjects after just 3 months.

Both nutrients have antioxidant functions, and this may lead to reduced neurodegeneration along with their ability to reduce mitochondrial damage and their role in cellular energy production.

PQQ will no doubt feature heavily in future research, not least because if uts ability ot signal and activate the generation of new mitochondria. So far, no other nutrient has been shown to be able to do this! It is certainly one to watch for the future and a perfect partner for CO Q10.

It is not only our cells and physical processes that we need to consider when looking at brain health. We need to think about our mental health and wellness too. During the current lockdowns and restrictions around the world, coupled with financial fears and worries about what the future might hold, the number of people seeking support for mental health issues is increasing across all age groups.

Mental health issues appear to be on the rise across all age groups. Good support can be found from a variety of local and national organisations. It’s important to seek help when you need it.

There is a lot of support available through organisations such as MIND who have a lot of information on how to cope with the many and varied issues we may face, be it relationships, money worries or depression problems linked specifically to coronavirus. They can help support someone who is experiencing the issues themselves or a partner, carer or friend that is looking for advice.

From a health and wellbeing perspective, again a good diet is important and you can supplement the diet with various nutrients that may be of use.

Magnesium is a mineral that always features when talking about needing to relax. It is important in helping our muscles to relax and many people find if they take it at bedtime, they feel they have a more restful sleep. It is important for normal psychological function and in reducing tiredness and fatigue. A good nutrient to have in your cupboard.

Magnesium combines well with B vitamins too. They also play a role in the health of the nervous system and in reducing tiredness and fatigue. Just don’t take a B Complex late in the day as some people find they don’t have such a restful sleep. One for breakfast or lunch time.

How many times do we reach to put the kettle on in times of stress or feeling anxious? A cup of tea seems to work wonders for a lot of us, calming us down and making things slightly better. Whether it is the warmth of a hot drink, the time out that we gain by making the tea, or the fact that we might stop and switch off for a few minutes, a cuppa can make a difference.

There is something about a cup of tea that makes us stop and take stock of things for a few moments. That in itself can help us feel better.

However, it might not just be the actions of making a cup that is helping us to calm and relax. Tea, especially green tea, contains and amino acid known as L-Theanine. This amino acid is known to help us calm and relax without feeling groggy or sleepy. Maybe that is the secret in the tea pot.

As a final thought, there are also physical activities you can do that can help look after your brain. Puzzle books, crosswords and mental arithmetic can all help keep the brain agile. As can good conversation and debate. Walking barefoot, especially on grass has been suggested as a way of keeping the brain agile, partly as we are subconsciously making sure we don’t step on anything damaging! Walking in nature has been shown to be good to help us relax and release mental tensions, that can only be good for our overall brain health. A good excuse to get outside and get some fresh air! You are doing it for your brain!

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