Did you know that the overall volume of our brain already starts to shrink in our 30’s and 40’s, with the rate of brain shrinkage further accelerating around age 60?
The frontal cortex (the region involved in short-term memory and executive thinking) and the hippocampus (the brain region involved in memory) shrink the most as decades pass.
This brain shrinkage goes hand-in-hand with a slow, but steady decline in cognitive prowess.
We start to forget more. We find it more difficult to come up with words. We find it more difficult to put a name on a face.
The brain is the most valuable organ that we have, because it defines who we are. It stores our identity, our character, our memories.
A healthy lifestyle, including supplements, can significantly slow down the process of brain shrinkage and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
So how can we protect our brain? How can we preserve our mental agility, thinking skills, and memories for longer?
We’ve taken the time to dig into all of the latest research into Alzheimer’s prevention and put together a nice overview on how you can keep your brain healthy for the longest time possible.
1. EAT A HEALTHY BRAIN DIET
Food is of course very important for your brain. Your brain uses ten times more energy than normal tissues, and needs large amounts of nutrients to function properly.
So it’s very susceptible to an unhealthy diet that provides too much, or the wrong fuel to your brain.
Also, the brain is very maintenance intensive. So it needs many building blocks to function properly, like magnesium, zinc, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, and many other substances.
Eating well will make you feel better, think better and stay better for longer, staving off not just Alzheimer’s disease but also depression and anxiety.
In fact, nutrition is the best technology we have to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
These are some foods you need to eat to keep your brain at its best:
I. Blue and red fruit – but especially blue fruit
Blueberries, bilberries and blackberries are wonderful brain foods. They contain substances that protect the brain from damage, and can slow down aging, such as anthocyanidins.
But also red fruit, like strawberries and raspberries, are very healthy for the brain.
Blue fruit contains a substance called pterostilbene that has beneficial effects on the aging process (learn more about pterostilbene here). The same for strawberries: they contain fisetin, which is a substance that can slow down aging. However, to achieve these lifespan effects you need much higher amounts than found in these fruits.
Blueberries and strawberries are not just healthy because of the pterostilbene or fisetin they contain, but also because of the many other flavonoids and substances.
The powerful health benefits of herbs should not be underestimated. Oregano, rosemary, turmeric, ginger, sage, and many other herbs and spices reduce inflammation, and are able to protect the DNA from damage, an aging process the brain is very susceptible to.
Learn more about how ginger can slow down aging here.
III. Green leafy vegetables
Kale, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and sprouts are leafy greens that have brain-protective effects.
Green leafy vegetables are full of important minerals, vitamins, and many other substances that the brain needs to stay healthy and function properly.
Also, vegetables don’t cause high glucose peaks in your blood (in contrast to potatoes, pasta and rice) so they are ideal substitutes for these starchy foods. The brain, given its reliance on glucose to function, is very susceptible to high glucose peaks. That’s the reason why some scientists call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes”.
IV. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats are very important for our health, especially for the heart, eyes and brain.
Omega-3 fats are an important component of the membranes of our cells, especially in the brain. There they make the cell membranes healthy and supple, ensuring proper communication between the brain cells.
Additionally, omega-3 fats carry out many other functions in the brain and body: they can reduce inflammation, improve metabolism and increase blood flow.
Reducing inflammation is especially important, because continuous low-grade inflammation damages the brain and accelerates aging (this is called “inflammaging”).
Omega-3 fats are found in animals and plants. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds, for example.
V. Dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao)
Dark chocolate is full of brain-healthy substances like flavanols that protect your brain and blood vessels and can slow down cognitive decline.
Dark chocolate can also boost cognitive performance, partly because it contains substances that widen the blood vessels so that more oxygen and nutrients make it to the brain cells.
VI. Olive oil
Did you know that only 4 tablespoons of olive oil can reduce inflammation just as well as Ibuprofen, a strong anti-inflammatory drug?
Besides various anti-inflammatory substances, olive oil contains substances that have a range of other healthy benefits, like reducing protein accumulation, a process that plays an important role in aging. Examples of such substances are oleocanthal and tyrosol.
VII. Tea and coffee
It’s well known that tea can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease, and can reduce the risk of stroke. It can do this by reducing inflammation and keeping the blood vessels healthy.
Coffee has somewhat of a controversial reputation online, given many websites dissuade drinking coffee, claiming it’s unhealthy. However, if you look at the whole of scientific studies done with coffee, we see that coffee has more benefits than drawbacks. Coffee can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease (and also type 2 diabetes, heart disease and various cancers).
However, don’t drink too much coffee. Keep it to a maximum of 3-5 cups per day, and ideally don’t drink coffee in the late afternoon or evening – otherwise you will have more difficulties falling asleep, which can have an unfavorable effect on Alzheimer’s of its own.
VIII. Reduce sugar and starch intake
Sugar damages your brain. It can do this by increasing inflammation in the brain, and causing aging-related crosslinks. Soft drinks, pastries, cookies, and other sweets cause your sugar levels to rise and can damage your brain (scientists often call Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes”).
But also eat less starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. These foods are made up of starch, which are long chains of glucose. These starch products therefore also consist mainly of sugar, causing our blood sugar levels to rise.
There are also very few vitamins, minerals and other healthy substances in starch products (compared to, for example, vegetables).
IX. Avoid unhealthy fats
These are trans-fats in fried food, junk food, cakes, cookies and pastries and ready-to-eat meals. Such fats are very bad for your brain.
X. Do not drink too much alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol damages the brain. In fact, alcohol is quite neurotoxic. Already regularly drinking more than two glasses of alcohol a day can damage your brain. Also, drinking once in a while five or more glasses in a few hours (binge-drinking) can exert very damaging effects on the brain.
Therefore, limit your alcohol consumption to one glass of alcohol per day, with ideally some alcohol-free days per week.
Human bodies are literally made to move. Our brains need daily movement to keep themselves healthy.
It’s never too late to exercise. A study showed that middle-aged people who went for a regular walk reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s by more than 45% (R).
Exercise can also improve your emotional state. Research found that regular exercise is at least as effective as taking antidepressants. Not only sports, but also dancing is very healthy for your brain (and your body).
3. CHECK IF YOU HAVE UNDERLYING MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Various diseases, some of which you might be unaware, can be detrimental for your brain health, especially in the long term, like high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, diabetes, atherosclerosis (the clogging up of your blood vessels), leaky gut, too much abdominal fat (“a beer belly”), low-grade systemic inflammation, and so on.
For example, hypertension and atherosclerosis damage the thousands of miles of blood vessels in your brain, and increase your risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Too much abdominal fat (having a “beer belly”) secretes substances in the bloodstream that reach the brain and cause inflammation there, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s
(Pre)diabetes is also very unhealthy for our brain. That is why some researchers call Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes”, referring to the fact that insulin resistance of the brain can also significantly contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Learn here to reduce your risk, or reverse, (pre)diabetes.
Get regular medical checkups to catch these problems as soon as possible.
4. CHECK WHICH DRUGS YOU TAKE
Some drugs can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive deterioration, like specific sedatives, antidepressants or antihistaminergic drugs used to fall asleep or treat allergies. Many of these drugs are called “anticholinergics”, which might increase the risk of dementia in the long term.
5. BE SOCIAL
People need other beings to feel happy. We are social animals. Research shows that seeing people keeps your brain young.
Loneliness on the other hand is very bad for our brain, and health. Studies show that loneliness can even activate transcription factors in the brain.
Having little social contacts is unhealthy and increases your risk of dementia, heart disease and general mortality (R).
Therefore, go out with a friend, contact a former colleague or classmate, visit family, join an association, or become a volunteer.
If relaxation was a drug, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster!
Relaxation, or meditation, is super healthy. When you relax, many substances are released that are healthy for your body and brain, such as endorphins. Your body also produces fewer substances that damage the brain, such as cortisol, a stress hormone that causes blood vessels to clog faster, increases blood pressure, and increases sugar levels.
Do meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. You can also do this online, or via meditation apps on your smartphone.
7. DON’T HIT YOUR HEAD
People who sustain head injuries have more risk of dementia. These head injuries can happen during exercising, playing, dancing, work, and so on. When you hit your head hard, brain tissue gets damaged each time. So next time when you want to headbutt a ball, use your head (only figuratively speaking!).
8. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
People underestimate the great importance of sufficient, regular sleep.
Sleep enables our brain needs to recover and repair itself.
Sufficient sleep keeps the brain healthy. People who sleep too little are more at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease (and a lot of other diseases).
We compiled 50 science-based tips to sleep better here.
9. TAKE THE RIGHT BRAIN SUPPLEMENTS
Even if you follow a very healthy diet, it’s very difficult to get enough nutrients that are important for your brain. We explain why here.
There are various nutrients that are important for your brain, and of which many people of deficient. These are supplements like:
- B vitamin complex (containing all B vitamins, like vitamin B12, B6, B3, B1, etc).
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
However, no supplement can provide the hundreds of other micronutrients that are important for brain health, and which you have to derive from a varied, healthy diet.
Besides health supplements, there are also anti-aging or longevity supplements, which specifically slow down aging.
10. IMPROVE YOUR GUT
What’s in your gut has a great impact on your brain.
The 40,000 billion bacteria that live in your gut secrete thousands of different substances that can enter your bloodstream and impact how your brain works, and influence your cognitive abilities and even your feelings.
Scientists call this the “gut-brain axis”. The bacteria in your gut secrete substances such as neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and inflammatory molecules, which influence the brain.
If you eat unhealthy food, you have a gut microbiome that secretes unhealthy substances that make you feel bad and that can impair your thinking.
For a healthy microbiome it’s important to consume a lot of water-soluble fibers from vegetables, fruit, nuts, mushrooms and legumes.
Also eat less sugar and starch (including bread, potatoes, pasta and rice), since starch is made of glucose. Too much glucose can cause overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut (which love glucose).
Also important for proper gut health is preventing deficiencies of vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, iodine and selenium: these vitamins contribute to a healthy, strong intestinal immune system. This immune system can keep the microbiome under control and well-balanced.
You can also take a probiotic, but make sure that it contains sufficiently different types of bacteria (not just lactobacilli). Everyone is different, and even more so their gut microbiomes, so while one brand can work for one person, it does not for another person. So try out different brands, and see which brand works best for you.
11. CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN
Your brain likes being challenged. It’s like a muscle: you need to train it. If you don’t expose your brain to new things, it will wither away.
So instead of watching television passively or mindlessly browsing on Facebook, or gaming like a zombie, do things that engage your brain:
- read a book or magazine
- solve puzzles
- play brain games (e.g. download brain training apps on your mobile)
- learn a new language
- play games like chess, checkers, mastermind, four-in-a-row, bridge…
- learn a new hobby
- try to learn as many things as possible by heart (such as phone numbers, quotes, songs…)
- become a volunteer
- learn to play an instrument
- learn to dance
- learn to paint or draw
Your brain loves new things. New experiences keep your brain sharp and healthy. Go on a journey, make new friends, learn a new hobby, read daily motivational quotes, download podcasts to learn things, read an interesting book, listen to an audio book, discover new music.
Be curious, inspired and motivated. There are so many ways to stimulate your brain, and at the same time keep it fit and young!
12. STOP SMOKING
We all know that smoking is not healthy. But it’s terribly unhealthy for your brain. Smoking damages and constricts the thousands of little blood vessels that run through your brain.
Smoking contains many substances that damage brain cells, increasing your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And at the same time increase your risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, kidney cancer, wrinkles, strokes, emphysema, impotence and so on.
13. PRACTICE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY: BE HAPPY AND AVOID STRESS
A happy brain is a healthy brain. Stress damages the brain, increasing your risk of dementia. Try to learn to be happy. Yes, that’s possible! You can train your brain to be happy!
14. TAKE SUPPLEMENTS THAT SLOW DOWN AGING
One of our previous tips was to take supplements. These are supplements that your brain needs to function properly, like B vitamins, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
However, there are also supplements that aim to slow down aging itself.
These processes cause aging, but also greatly contribute to brain aging and dementia. In fact, we see that for example, accumulation of proteins, plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease.
However, protein accumulation is also one of the reasons why we age, given protein accumulation happens in many other cells beyond just our brain cells.
Very few science-based supplements exist to slow down aging. That’s why we at NOVOS created NOVOS Core.