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Do you Mind? - Medically Speaking, Volume Two - Number Two, 8/21/2014

It's back to school time!

Do you remember the name of your 1st grade teacher? Can you name all of the planets in our solar system? Can you recall the basics of cell biology from that high school class you took? We all want our memories to last as long as possible.

Recent findings suggest that diseases of the body can often affect the brain. There is also evidence that links obesity, high blood sugar, high insulin levels, high blood pressure, inflammation, and cardiovascular concerns, such as elevated homocysteine levels, to various forms of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease (AD).

Nutrition can play an important role in brain health. Perlmutter suggests that brains of people who suffer from Alzheimer's may have a diabetes-like condition called type 3 diabetes, which results from high insulin levels in the brain. People living with hypertension and high cholesterol are statistically more likely to have a stroke, which impairs cognitive function. High homocysteine levels and elevated C-reactive protein are indicators of an inflammatory response and vascular issues in the heart, which can also lead to stroke and impaired brain function.

Obesity alone can increase the likelihood of impaired cognitive function or dementia. Estimates suggest that individuals who are obese are at a three times greater risk of developing AD and a five times greater risk of developing vascular dementia than normal-weight individuals due to an increase in fat cells and hormone response.

Free radicals are formed in the body as a waste product when your body uses fuel to create energy. Free radicals become important in brain health because it uses a lot of fuel. (The brain is only about 3% of your body weight, but uses up to 17% of your energy.) Because of this, your body needs a large amount of antioxidants to clean all of the free radicals out. Consuming large a-mounts of antioxidants can help in preventing, and possibly even reversing damage to brain tissue. Here are some of the top foods that help promote a healthy brain.

Berries – Berries are good sources of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant credited for preventing AD, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Some studies suggest that berries may help maintain appropriate levels of microglia or "housekeeper" cells in the brain that often slow down as we age.

Dark Greens/Cruciferous Veggies- They're filled with antioxidants like vitamin C and plant compounds called carotenoids, which are particularly powerful brain protectors.

Curry – Eating your favorite Thai or Indian dish will provide curcumin. Curcumin is credited with clearing away Alzheimer's-causing proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques.

Avocados – This favorite is a good source of Vitamin E. In one study, researchers found that people who consumed moderate amounts vitamin E—from food, not supplements—lowered their risk of AD by 67%.

Whole grains – When grains are consumed in their natural form they provide a rich supply of B – complex vitamins. B vitamins are essential for a healthy mind and energy.

Oily Fish – Salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines are full of omega-3 fatty acids. About 40% of the fatty acids in brain cells are DHA, which happens to be one of the main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. This chemical helps in the transmission of signals between brain cells. Researchers at Tufts University found that people who ate fish 3 times a week, and had the highest levels of DHA in their blood, reduced their risk of Alzheimer's Disease by 39%.

Nuts and sunflower seeds – Many nuts and seeds are good source of Vitamin E. Some also contain Omega 3 fatty acids. Both of which prevent damage to brain cells.

Dark chocolate – If you haven't already switched from eating milk chocolate to eating dark chocolate, you should. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids that can prevent oxidative stress in the body.

While the link between nutrition and brain health is still being studied, it is apparent that there is a very strong connection. Eating a diet high in antioxidants and plant chemicals can prevent and even reverse damage to the brain and keep our minds vivid and healthy for years to come.

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