October 16, 2012

October 16, 2012
6 Foods to Lower Your Risk of Dementia

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Tuesday and I hope you are having a beary safe and great week so far. It is another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

One of the problems from living long term with HIV/AIDS and the medications required to fight the virus is the increased risk of having dementia at some point in our lives. Dementia can happen to anyone regardless of HIV status but studies have shown we are at increased risk.

So what can you do nutritionally to lower your risks of having dementia? That is what I will be blogging about during my blogs today and tomorrow.

The food you eat may have a lot to do with the health of your brain as you age, according to the latest nutritional research.

People in their late 80s with higher blood levels of B, C, D and E vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids (found in good fats) did better on cognitive tests and had less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study led by Gene Bowman, a scientist at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

A University of Miami study found that individuals who ate a Mediterranean diet, including vegetables, fruits, small amounts of meat and fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil, had less small blood-vessel damage in the brain. Other studies have highlighted the apparent dementia-fighting benefits of leafy greens and vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower.

What you don’t eat matters, too. Artery-clogging trans fats are a clear no-no, and a recent Mayo Clinic study found that eating fewer than 2,150 calories a day was linked to better brain health.

Simply popping vitamin pills probably won’t protect the brain, says Bowman. “There are hundreds or thousands of different molecules in foods we eat,” he says, so it’s likely that eating a balanced diet is key to staving off dementia.

Mary Ann Johnson, a University of Georgia nutrition scientist and spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition, agrees. “It really reinforces how fundamental healthy eating is to our well-being,” she says.

Further research is needed to confirm the diet/brain health link. In the meantime, consider eating more of the following foods to help protect your brain:

1. Get full o’ beans

Beans and green peas provide a rich dietary source of B-complex vitamins (plus, they provide plenty of protein and fiber). Vitamin B-1 (thiamine), which may affect blood sugar levels, and folic acid, which is important for a healthy nervous system, are often found in enriched grain products and cereals. But older adults should consider taking B-12 supplements, Johnson says, especially if they are among the one-third of people who have been infected with a bug that can cause ulcers, because the infection limits the stomach’s ability to extract B-12 from food. Meat, poultry, fish, dairy and fortified cereals are also excellent B-12 sources.

A 2010 University of Oxford study, meanwhile, found that people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment who took a supplement containing folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 for two years lowered their levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and showed less brain shrinkage than those receiving dummy pills.

2. Don’t forget citrus

Oranges and orange juice are a convenient and inexpensive source of ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C), as are tangerines, limes, lemons and other citrus fruits. Surprisingly, sweet peppers, strawberries, cantaloupes, tomatoes, broccoli, leafy greens, lettuce and cabbage also can raise your C level. People who are taking prescription medications should avoid grapefruit juice, nutritionists and other health experts caution, because it may unpredictably alter the effects of many drugs.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, essential for healthy skin and blood vessel functioning — but its benefits may run deeper. Last summer, Swedish scientists at Lund University reported that in laboratory mice, vitamin C actually dissolves toxic plaques of the kind that accumulate in the brains of human Alzheimer’s patients. That followed on a 2004 Johns Hopkins University study showing that men and women who took multivitamins containing vitamins C and E were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. A 2009 Harvard Medical School study also found a possible protective effect for the brain from long-term vitamin C use in a study of 2,824 women.

3. Add in some almonds

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that works on a molecular level to promote healthy blood vessels. Given the brain’s craving for oxygen-rich blood, it’s easy to see why E is such an important part of a brain-healthy diet — and studies have shown that people with the highest blood levels of Vitamin E have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Vitamin E occurs naturally in almonds, other nuts and avocados, but the most common sources are healthy vegetable oils, like olive, canola and sunflower. Some green vegetables, like spinach, broccoli and collards, also provide this nutrient. But it’s important to get your vitamin E from food, and avoid mega-doses from supplements, because some studies have tied high-dose supplements to serious medical conditions, such as prostate cancer. “In foods, there are at least eight different chemical forms of vitamin E,” Johnson says. “We think they all do something a little different.”

Tomorrow I will conclude this topic with more foods to help prevent dementia. Hope you have a beary safe and great day!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab