Lifestyle and diet changes promote brain health

Perhaps you know someone who’s been affected by dementia. Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with problems with memory and reasoning. Many different types of dementia exist and many conditions cause them.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging, though. It’s caused by damage to brain cells that affects their ability to communicate, which in turn affects thinking, behavior and feelings. Dementia also can also be caused by vascular disorders such as stroke or traumatic brain injuries caused by accidents, falls or concussions. Lifestyle choices can cause dementia, too, include smoking, lack of exercise or sleep, chronic stress and the use of drugs and alcohol.

Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, disorientation and difficulty with tasks. While it’s normal to forget an occasional appointment and remember it later, a person with dementia might forget things more often or not remember them at all. People can get distracted and forget to serve part of a meal. But a person with dementia might have trouble preparing a  meal.  Language problems constitute another symptom of dementia. You intend to say one word, but another comes out. Still other symptoms include poor judgment and spacial skills as well as changes in abstract thinking, mood and personality.

The brain is the most important organ in our bodies. It’s comprised of 100 billion neurons — what we commonly call brain cells.  About 85,000 neural connections die each day, even before we’re born. A decline in total numbers can start as early as age 20.

The brain is not only the most complex organ in the body, but also the most metabolically active and demanding of our energy. Although it only accounts for 3 percent of  body weight, the brain consumes up to 25 percent of blood flow, delivering oxygen and critical nutrients to more than 100 billion neurons and trillions of connections.

Even if you feel perfectly healthy, you could be losing as much a two-tenths of a percent of your brain a year at age 35 and five-tenths of a percent a year at age 60. We only use about 20 percent of our brains, so they shrink each day because neurons don’t connect. Brain shrinkage is a result of lack of connections, not dying brain cells.

What can we do to keep our brains healthy? There are several ways to slow atrophy — managing blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, exercising, staying active mentally and socially and supplements. It’s important as well to drink alcohol sparingly and avoid smoking.

There are some exciting and promising studies in supplementation. Although a healthy diet is always recommended, it’s almost impossible to achieve every day. Supplementing with a product containing guarana seed extract can help dramatically to improve focus and sharpen memory, according to the results of two recent studies. In one study, reaction time improved three times over the control group. Unlike guarana in energy drinks, a good supplement doesn’t rely on caffeine. In fact, a leading reputable supplement contains less caffeine than a cup of decaf coffee.

Chardonnay seed extract is another ingredient to look for in brain supplements that’s been extensively studied. This ingredient has been shown to reduce brain shrinkage by 30 percent. Powerful polyphenols increase circulation, which in turn improves brain health.

The latest studies on brain health also have examined the role of the microbiome — or gut. Microbes are like the worker bees of the gut. The gut is like the workhorse of the body and affects the brain as well as adrenal glands, heart, liver and lungs. Microbes stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic foods and produce key mood-related neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Your microbiome develops over your lifetime and reflects everything about you. There’s evidence the microbiome is also connected to mood disorders. The gut-brain axis is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system. This means the brain directly influences the gut and vice versa.

We can change our microbiome — and improve brain health — through diet. A high-fiber, primarily plant-based diet rich in fermented foods is ideal, along with a comprehensive probiotic from a reputable supplement company.  Look for a probiotic that contains more than 10 billion colony forming units and is tested to survive stomach acid.

Mental decline isn’t inevitable. It can be warded off with a few simple lifestyle and dietary changes.