“Of all the things in life I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” –Ozzy Osbourne
To have a strong and healthy mind (and body) we need a few very simple key ingredients: good food, physical exercise, happiness, and sleep. Today we are going to look at some of the dietary ingredients which can be incorporated in your weekly meal plan to boost brain power and help prevent cognitive decline. The beneficial effects of these common foods could also be amplified by supplementing the active ingredients.1
What?!? Isn’t that old-fashioned and unhealthy? It turns out that the liver of grass-fed beef is very high in choline, one of the most powerful brain-boosting nutrients known. It turns into acetyl-choline, the neurotransmitter responsible for memory formation and recall, as well as a number of other cognitive functions including concentration and reaction time. Three ounces of beef liver contains about 350 milligrams of choline. A similar amount of chicken or turkey liver contains between 220 to 320 milligrams of choline. Three-ounce portions of lean beef, ham, veal, lamb, bison, chicken, turkey, Atlantic cod, salmon and canned shrimp contain 60 to 140 milligrams of choline.2
We are all aware that fish oil, particularly the Omega 3 fatty acids, are important for our overall health, and many of you will already be supplementing with Omega 3. The body cannot generate these fats on its own, so these are called “essential fatty acids”. The two most important of these are called EPA and DHA. They are essential for cholesterol regulation, circulatory effects, cell membrane integrity, and they reduce inflammation. The DHA component is the most beneficial for memory. It can be found in most fresh fish, but can also be taken as oil. I recommend either Arctic or Norwegian sources, as these are the “cleanest” oceans in the world. Aim for a total of EPA+DHA = 3000mg per day. Cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and tuna contain high amounts of these good fats. Freshwater fish, such as catfish and tilapia, contain significantly less DHA and EPA than their cold seawater relatives. The American Heart Association suggests consuming at least two servings of fish a week. For the vegetarians among us, seaweed contains small amounts of DHA which can be extracted and concentrated. Flax seeds contain the omega-3 fatty acid alphalinolenic acid, or ALA. Walnuts and canola oil are also high in ALA. Our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and, to a much lesser extent, DHA. This conversion is quite inefficient, however, so foods containing ALA cannot be considered a reliable source of DHA3.
As we age, the nerve cells and their connections in the brain will sustain damage and decay. Anti-oxidants like the flavonoids found in blueberries can prevent some of this damage. (We spoke at length about anti-oxidants in my last column when we looked at Glutathione.)4 Flavonoids are natural compounds contributing to pigment in all kinds of berries. They activate a specific growth hormone in the brain called “neurotrophic factor” which plays an important role in the formation of long-term memory. Green tea and grapeseed extract are also excellent anti-oxidants and memory boosters. (Secret tip: so is dark chocolate!!)
Most people consume caffeine in either coffee or tea. The medical evidence on brain benefits from caffeine are mixed, with some studies showing improvement in short term memory, long-term memory, and recall, but other studies refute these findings.5 There can be unpleasant side effects from too much caffeine: jitters, palpitations, insomnia, and withdrawal. Supplementing with L-Theanine (green tea) can reduce these effects. The cognitive benefits of caffeine are thought to be largely related to the indirect action on arousal, mood and concentration.
Here are a few more foods to include in your diet regularly for optimum memory function:
Avocado (Omega 3/Omega 6)
Coconut oil (medium chain triglycerides)
Broccoli (calcium/vitamin C)
Spinach (folate and vitamin E)
Raw nuts (healthy fats)
Remember, there is no “quick fix” to improving cognitive function. You will need to incorporate these foods in your diet over many years to see the benefits. And, don’t forget the dark chocolate!
Your partner in Living Longer Better,
Dr. Grant Pagdin, MD
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