Improve Your Memory with Super Foods for Brain Health

by Jeff Anderson

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not completely understood, but researchers have found links between compounds in the foods we eat and a decreased rate of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. In fact, some researchers believe that food and nutrition should be a key focus in the investigation of routes to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. A study from June 2013  published in the journal, Molecular Neurobiology points to the promise of this type of research, noting that “augmenting neuroprotective [brain protecting] pathways using diet” may be key in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

 “Ordinary” Super Foods that Can Improve Your Memory

While many of the compounds in these foods may be available in pill form as nutritional supplements, they are most readily absorbed and utilized by your body in their natural form – as foods. But that’s not the only reason to seek beneficial nutrients from your diet instead of from supplements. Dr. Susan Taylor Mayne, professor at a Yale University told the Scientific American, “A major problem with supplements is that they deliver nutrients out of context. The vitamins found in fruits, vegetables, and other foods come with thousands of other phytochemicals, or plant nutrients that are not essential for life but may protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic ailments.”

This post accompanies the graphic at right from AlzheimersNet, “Memory Boosting Super Foods That Fight Alzheimer’s.” While it’s true that the foods illustrated and discussed are “super foods,” they that are also ordinary foods that you can find at every supermarket. So next time you go shopping, treat yourself to some of these delicious, nutritious brain-healthy foods.

Leafy Greens and Other Vegetables

Vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables, have been shown to have potentially protective effects on the brain according to research published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. And not just leafy greens that are beneficial. Vegetable intake in general is beneficial. A study in the respected Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging  states clearly: “Increased intake of vegetables is associated with a lower risk of dementia and slower rates of cognitive decline in old age.”

One important note that seniors who take blood thinners such as coumadin should avoid greens like kale, and other substances (like green tea) that are high in vitamin K, as this can cause potentially dangerous drug interactions.

Fish, Nuts, and Flax Seeds

According to research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease last month, omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly found in fish, nuts, and some grains, can potentially help to slow the rate of decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Similar findings were reported in the European Journal of Nutrition in July. That said, both studies acknowledge further research is necessary and the Alzheimer’s Association’s, which is ever cautious in its proclamation, says, “there is not yet sufficient evidence to recommend any omega-3 fatty acids to treat Alzheimer’s disease.” Because foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are naturally some of the healthiest foods there are, they are beneficial to whole-body health even if the scientific community hasn’t completely embraced the conclusion that they can actually reverse or slow Alzheimer’s.

Coffee, Chocolate, and Spices

Coffee and chocolate contain caffeine, which studies have shown may improve memory and brain function. A study in from May in the International Journal of Molecular Science indicated that caffeine may “slow Alzheimer’s disease pathology” through inhibiting a neurotransmitter believed to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, acetylcholinesterase. A study published Molecular Medicine Reports seemed to confirm potential benefits, finding that daily caffeine intake is associated “significantly increased memory capability” and may “reverse memory impairment.”

A science magazine with this eye-catching cover-illustration recently explored the concept of Alzheimer’s as a type of diabetes .

Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric are rich in their own unique compounds that may have multiple cognitive benefits. The study published journal Central Nervous Systems Agents in Medicinal Chemistry says, “the neuroprotective effects of spices have been demonstrated and, whether directly or indirectly, such beneficial effects may also contribute to an improvement in cognitive function.” Spices contain so many compounds that they have multiple potential beneficial modes of action, including “anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, and gluco-regulatory.”

The Diabetes Alzheimer’s Connection

The gluco-regulatory effect may be particularly interesting to researchers who ascribe to the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease is a kind of type 3 diabetes, an idea strongly advocated by science writer, Michael Pollan.

The study also notes that of the compounds found in many spices, a family of chemicals called polyphenols may be most significant. Polyphenols are not only found in spices, but also tea, wine, and the above mentioned delights – coffee and chocolate.

Berries and Dark Skinned Fruits with Antioxidants

Scientists have been exploring the benefits of antioxidants for quite a while, and there is some evidence that dietary antioxidants may improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. For example, study reported on in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that an antioxidant may be able to reduce plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Foods high in antioxidants include berries like strawberries, oranges and raspberries, as well as dark skinned fruits.

Healthy Oils Like Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Coconut Oil

Olive oil contains the above mentioned compounds, polyphenols. The particular phenols unique to olive oil may be particularly neuroprotective according to a study published in Nutritional Neuroscience.

Coconut oil is also being investigated for its Alzheimer’s fighting effect. One study, found in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, even investigated the possibility of using coconut oil to replace an approved medicine used to treat Alzheimer’s (caprylidene). While further research is required, there is strong anecdotal evidence for the benefits of coconut oil. Dr. Mary T. Newport’s book, Alzheimer’s Disease: What if There Was a Cure?, strongly argues that coconut coconut oil may help people with Alzheimer’s disease.