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Dr. Neal Barnard’s grandfather was a small-town doctor. Back in the days when there was no health insurance, he delivered babies, took care of children and adults and helped people through serious illnesses. When he was about 60, he had a heart attack. Soon folks noticed that he had become forgetful and confused. Sometimes he wondered off from the house without knowing where he was going. Once in a while, a patient would pick him up and bring him home! No one understood what was happening to him. He died in his mid 60s.
I have shared a lot with you this year about diabetes and the impact our choices make on our lives. But if we get to the end of our life and we are able to get out and wonder around town but don’t know what we are doing, what good is that? So while we are busy making better choices to help our bodies live longer and healthier, I want to share some information about what helps us keep our memories and other brain functions.
Dementia is a general term that refers to the loss of our ‘thinking, reasoning or remembering’ ability. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia and actually has specific abnormalities in the brain; it attacks half of us by age 85. There is a genetic trait that is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s. But some people with this gene stay free of the disease while others get it! And while memory problems aren’t just an issue for older folks, more and more evidence is pointing to foods being an issue. Some foods are memory boosters, while others increase the risk of memory lapses.
In 1993, Martha Clare Morris and her team of researchers with the Chicago Health and Aging Project began studying thousands of people in three Chicago neighborhoods. They looked at their diets, exercise patterns and overall health. Then the researchers waited to see who stayed mentally clear and who did not.
Ten years later, the study identified two key culprits for the increased Alzheimer’s risk. First, saturated fat – the solid fat found in bacon, butter, and other foods from animals. Specifically, a person eating 25 grams of saturated fat per day was three times more likely to develop the disease, compared with people eating half that much!
The second culprit was trans fats, the hydrogenated oils found in doughnuts, cupcakes, and other snack foods. Furthermore, trans fats had an even stronger link to Alzheimer’s disease than the saturated fats did. Amazing information.
California researchers following a group of 9,844 people for 30 years found that cholesterol levels measured in a person’s 40’s predicted Alzheimer’s risk in their 70’s.
So what can we do? Evaluate our eating, exercising and sleeping. First, avoid bad fats. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains. Occasionally eat nuts and seeds. Limit exposure to iron, copper and aluminum. Be sure to have a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as fortified cereal or a supplement.
Second, exercise is good for your brain. At the University of Illinois, researchers asked volunteers to take a brisk 10-minute walk three times a week. Each week, they added 5 minutes until everyone was taking 40-minute walks.
Over the next year, this simple exercise program reversed the age-related shrinking of the brain that occurs in most sedentary people, especially the memory part! A brisk walk, a step class, dancing, tennis, all of these are effective exercises.
And finally, get plenty of sleep. When memory lapses occur in young, healthy people, the culprit is often lack of sleep. Go to sleep earlier. Your brain needs that time to file away memories, experiences, and emotions. You’ll find you will be much sharper in the morning.
Take action today to protect yourself. (Adapted from “Feed Your Brain” by Dr. Neal D. Barnard, MD, Vegetarian Times, March 2013)