Archive for the ‘nutrition and cognitive skills’ Category

Study Ties Saturated Fat to Alzheimer’s Risk

January 23, 2014

brainfood1A recent study found that dietary saturated fat cut the body’s levels of a key chemical—apolipoprotein E (ApoE)—that helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Study participants who received a high-saturated-fat, high-sugar diet showed a change in their ApoE that made it less able to help clear the amyloid. If left loose in the brain, amyloid beta proteins are more likely to form plaques that interfere with neuron function, the kind of plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Diet also directly affected the amount of loose amyloid beta found in cerebrospinal fluid. People on a high-saturated-fat diet had higher levels of amyloid beta in their spinal fluid, while people on a low-saturated-fat diet actually saw a decline in such levels.

While this study is preliminary, it adds another small piece to the growing evidence that taking good care of your heart is probably good for your brain too. We tend to focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but often overlook that diet is critical for healthy brain aging. In addition, many of the things the brain needs to function properly—fatty acids and certain amino acids, for example—come only from food.

People focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but they overlook that nutrition can be key to cognitive function as well. According to research team member Suzanne Craft, a professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, “Diet is a very underappreciated factor in terms of brain function. It’s quite well accepted for your heart and your cholesterol and your blood, but diet is also critical for a healthy brain aging. Many of the things the brain needs to function properly—fatty acids, certain amino acids— come only from food.”

Optiminds’ brain fitness programs take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, and improving cognitive power and concentration. Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

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Foods That Help Boost Brain Power

September 25, 2013

They say you are what you eat. Following are some foods that researchers have determined can help you improve mental performance.

beets1Beets—Nosh on this root vegetable to boost brain power. Scientists at Wake Forest University determined that natural nitrates in beets can increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental ability.

Sage—They don’t call it “sage” for nothing. A study published in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior found that young adults who took sage-oil extract (50 micro liters) before cognitive tests performed better than those given a placebo. Sage contains compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.

Iron—A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with healthy iron levels performed better on mental tasks and completed them faster than those with poor iron status. Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body and to the brain. In addition to red meat, choose iron-rich dried fruit, cereals and grains, egg yolks, spinach, and beans.

Eggs—The yolks of eggs are a leading source of choline. Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in helping you remember things like where you left the car keys. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs for breakfast can improve overall cognitive performance.

Walnuts—When crunch time comes along, pop a handful of walnuts. Scientists at Tufts University in Boston found that a diet rich in walnuts may improve mental performance. A synergy between the specific type of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in this nut might be at work here to boost brain power.

Vegetables—Harvard Medical School researchers found that women who ate the most vegetables experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline than women who ate the least vegetables. High on the list were green leafy vegetables (spinach and romaine lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower).

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Link Between Healthy Lifestyle and Fewer Memory Complaints

July 25, 2013

While research has shown that healthy behaviors are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, less is known about the potential link between positive lifestyle choices and milder memory complaints—especially those that occur earlier in life and could be the first indicators of later problems.

In a recent study, researchers examined the impact of lifestyle choices on memory throughout adult life, surveying participants about both their memory and their health behaviors, including whether they smoked, how much they exercised and how healthy their diet was.

As researchers expected, healthy eating, not smoking and exercising regularly were related to better self-perceived memory abilities for most adult groups. Reports of memory problems also increased with age. However, there were a few surprises.

Older adults (age 60-99) were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors than middle-aged (40-59) and younger adults (18-39). (For example, only 12 percent of older adults smoked, compared with 25 percent of young adults and 24 percent of middle-aged adults.) So this finding actually runs counter to the stereotype that aging is a time of dependence and decline.

In addition, while 26 percent of older adults and 22 percent of middle-aged respondents reported memory issues, it was surprising to find that a higher-than-expected 14 percent of the younger group complained about their memory too.

multitask1It’s possible that older adults may participate in more healthy behaviors because they feel the consequences of unhealthy living and take the advice of their doctors to adopt healthier lifestyles. At the same time, memory issues in younger people could be due to stress and the increase in multitasking that comes with the use of technology.

These findings reinforce the importance of educating young and middle-aged individuals to take greater responsibility for their health—including memory by practicing positive lifestyle behaviors earlier in life.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain—Part II

May 5, 2013

While the modern American diet is increasing the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it is also wreaking havoc on our brains. Here are more “superfoods” you can add to your daily diet to help increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life.

Whole grains—Oatmeal, whole-grain breads, brown rice and wheat germ are just a few examples of whole grains that can reduce the risk for heart disease. They promote cardiovascular health, meaning good blood flow to your body’s organ system, which includes your brain.

Beans—Often unappreciated for its health benefits, the humble bean stabilizes glucose (blood sugar) levels. While the brain is dependent on glucose for fuel, it cannot store glucose.  It relies on a steady stream of energy, which beans can provide. Any beans will do, especially lentils and black beans.

Pomegranate juice—With its potent antioxidant benefits, pomegranate juice helps protect the brain from the damage of free radicals. And no part of the body is more sensitive to the damage from free radicals than the brain.

greentea2Freshly brewed tea—Tea contains potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promote healthy blood flow.  In addition, the modest amount of caffeine in tea can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood.

Dark chocolate—In addition to powerful antioxidant properties, dark chocolate contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulate the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood. It is best to limit your intake to one-half ounce to 1 ounce a day.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain—Part I

April 25, 2013

There is a lot of focus these days on how much food we consume. We should also be aware of what kind of foods we are consuming, especially when it comes to our brain health. While the modern American diet is increasing the incidence of obesity and diabetes, it is also wreaking havoc on our brains.

The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body. There is mounting evidence that feeding the brain healthy foods can help us maintain a healthy brain well into our old age.

Adding some “superfoods” to your daily diet can help increase your odds of maintaining a healthy brain for the rest of your life. Here are some suggestions:

blueberries1Blueberries—Fresh or frozen, adding blueberries to your diet can help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies have shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats.

Wild salmon—A “clean” fish in plentiful supply, salmon is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines and herring.

Nuts and seeds—Just an ounce a day of nuts and seeds can boost vitamin E levels to lessen cognitive decline as you get older. The choice is wide: walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and unhydrogenated nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini. Raw or roasted doesn’t matter; choose unsalted if you need to restrict sodium.

Avocados—While the avocado is a fatty fruit, it has monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow, which contributes to a healthy brain. Avocados also help with hypertension, a risk factor for the decline of cognitive abilities.

See our May 5, 2003 post for Part II.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Everyday Tips for Maintaining and Improving Your Brain

March 25, 2013

Spring is here and it’s a great time to sweep out the mental cobwebs and get your brain in shape. Here are some tips you can implement every day to keep you and your brain on track.

  • Appreciate your brain as a living, constantly changing entity.
  • Nourish your brain with good food. The brain weighs only 2 percent of body mass but consumes over 20 percent of the oxygen and nutrients we take in. The benefits of eating well extend to your brain as well as your body.
  • Your brain benefits from physical activity. Physical exercise enhances neurogenesis, which is the growth of new neurons in the brain.
  • Think positive, future-oriented thoughts. Eventually, they will become your default mindset. Stress and anxiety can kill neurons and subdue the growth of new neurons.
  • Challenge yourself mentally. The point of having a brain is to learn and adapt to new environments. Once you grow new neurons, where and how long they survive in your brain depends on how you use them.
  • Aim high. Always keep learning. The brain keeps developing , no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
  • Be an explorer and traveler. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment and make new decisions.
  • Don’t outsource your brain to media personalities, politicians or other people. Make your own decisions and your own mistakes—and learn from them.
  • Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. Humans are social animals and need social interaction to thrive.
  • Laugh often, especially to cognitively complex humor.

Above all, practice. Practicing these suggestions every day will turn them into internalized, unstoppable habits.

Concerned about maintaining your mental capacity? Check out our Optiminds Brain fitness programs that take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, plus improving cognitive and concentration power. Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Call us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.

Eating to Improve Brain Power—Part 2

December 22, 2012

With New Year’s resolution time coming up fast, now is a great time to refresh your knowledge about which foods can give you a boost in terms of brain power. Here, in Part 2 of “Eating to Improve Brain Power,” we continue our list of good bets for foods that will give you a “cognitive” edge.

Caffeine. This mild stimulant found in coffee improves mental acuity, which might explain why coffee enthusiasts guzzle 120,000 tons of the stuff each year. Also, coffee’s antioxidant richness helps maintain brain health. And some research suggests that drinking coffee can actually stave off depression in women.

Spinach. Spinach is rich in the antioxidant lutein, which is thought to help protect against cognitive decline. A Harvard Medical School study found that women who reported eating the most leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a markedly lower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who ate the least.

Dark Chocolate. Antioxidant-rich dark chocolate is healthy for your whole body, but its caffeine content is thought to play a role in maintaining mental acuity. Chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidant that helps to improve blood flow (and thus brain health) by regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Avocados. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow, making them another brain food.

Water. When a person becomes dehydrated, their brain tissue actually shrinks. Studies have shown that dehydration can affect cognitive function and impair short-term memory, focus and decision making.

Wheat Germ. Wheat germ is a rich vegetarian source of choline, a nutrient involved in the body’s production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that boosts memory. Eggs are another good choline source.

Beets. Beets are a good source of naturally-occurring nitrates, which help improve blood flow to the brain.

Garlic. Garlic may help stave off some forms of brain cancer, according to research published in Cancer, the medical journal of the American Cancer Society. Investigators found that certain compounds in garlic actually worked to kill glioblastoma cells—a type of malignant tumor cell.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at www.optimindsct.com.

Eating to Improve Brain Power—Part 1

December 15, 2012

Study after study has found a relationship between what we put in our mouths and how well we can perform important thinking and memory tasks. In addition to considering which specific nutrients may help brain function, we also need to look at the totality of our diets. A recent British study found that a diet high in saturated fat actually caused damage to neurons that control energy and appetite in mice. Other studies have shown that when we eat our meals can be a factor in our performance.

Doctors say cognitive abilities can start dropping in your 40s. But there’s mounting evidence that what you eat can help improve brain function right now.

In this blog post (Part 1) and the next on December 15 (Part 2), we list some of the foods that have been shown to improve brain function, protect against age-associated cognitive decline and encourage focus and clarity. Hopefully, you will find some of your favorites among them.

Walnuts. Walnuts are chock-full of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and are the only good nut source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which helps promote blood flow, which in turn allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain.

Olive Oil. Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to actually slow brain aging.

Berries. A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology found that a diet high in blueberries, strawberries and other berries was linked to a slower mental decline in areas like memory and focus in a large sample of middle-aged women.

Sardines. Fatty fishes like sardines and salmon are a well-known brain booster, thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have been linked to lower risk of dementia, improved focus and memory. Sunflower seeds might be a good alternative.

For more brain superfoods, see our blog post for December 15, 2012.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ customized tutoring programs by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at www.optimindsct.com.

Being Overweight Can Affect Brain Function

July 7, 2012

Studies have shown that the brain appears to shrink more and age faster in overweight people. For example, in a study that compared brain images of people who were of normal weight with overweight (body mass index of 25-30) people of the same age, the overweight people had 4 percent less brain tissue and their brains looked eight years older than their normal weight counterparts. The brains of obese subjects (BMI over 30) had 8 percent less tissue and looked 16 years older. The loss of tissue depletes brain reserves and puts people at a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A long-term study of more than 6,500 people in northern California found that those who were fat around the middle at age 40 were more likely to succumb to dementia in their 70s. A Swedish study found that, compared to thinner people, those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a more rapid, and more pronounced, decline in brain function over the next several decades. Another study of 114 middle-aged people (aged between 40 and 66) found that the obese tended to have smaller, more atrophied brains than thinner people; other studies have found similar results. Pronounced brain atrophy is a feature of dementia. While our brains usually atrophy with age, research shows that being obese appears to accelerate this process.

We don’t know yet whether or no obesity-associated brain damage can be reversed. But those two old friends, a healthful diet and plenty of exercise, have repeatedly been shown to protect the brain. Foods like oily fishes and blueberries have been shown to stimulate the growth of new neurons. And whether you are fat or thin, young or old, the best hope you have of guarding your brain is to eat well and exercise.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the study, reading and cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Find out more about Optiminds brain fitness programs and cognitive skills training by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.

Heart-Healthy Diet Also Best for Your Brain

December 6, 2011

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the same conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels—high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol—also appear to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. Researchers speculate that dietary patterns that have demonstrated cardiovascular benefits may also help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Two examples are the so-called “Mediterranean diet” (relatively little red meat, with an emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats) and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan.

And some studies have found that the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fish could also have benefits for your brain.

In addition, foods rich in vitamin E may help stave off mental decline with aging. In results from one study tracing 5,395 people ages 55 and up for nearly a decade, researchers reported that those with the highest dietary intake of vitamin E from food were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s than those consuming the least. The polyunsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils and some spreads (not those containing partially hydrogenated fats) are one healthy way to get dietary vitamin E.

Another study found a link between blood levels of vitamin D in 858 older Italian adults and risk of cognitive decline. Vitamin D may help prevent the degeneration of brain tissue, researchers speculated.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Find out more about Optiminds brain fitness programs and cognitive skills training by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.


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