Alzheimer’s disease is the fastest growing health threat in the United States, according to a 2013 landmark report from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Fighting Debilitating Memory Loss
The latest scientific findings show that diet and lifestyle changes can create a barrier against cognitive decline.
Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project analyzed the diets of thousands of people over years. The findings are groundbreaking: Saturated “bad” fat—found in milk, cheese, and meat—is strongly linked to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, increasing risk more than threefold. Trans fats increase risk fivefold. Avoiding these fats can cut risk dramatically.
Foods rich in vitamin E, such as broccoli, walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, also reduced dementia risk by as much as 70 percent. Other studies show that foods overly rich in iron or copper can promote cognitive loss, while folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 may help protect the memory.
This brain-healthy diet is almost identical to the diet that helps prevent stroke, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic diseases: a low-fat diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Combining this with physical and mental exercise, and avoiding harmful toxins such as aluminum in supplements or cookware, can maximize protection for the brain.
1. Saturated fats found in meats, dairy products, and eggs appear to encourage the production of beta-amyloid plaques within the brain. The Chicago Health and Aging Study reported in the Archives of Neurology in 2003 that people consuming the most saturated fat had more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who generally avoided these foods.
2. Aluminum has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, so it pays to err on the side of caution. Avoid uncoated aluminum cookware and read labels when buying baking powder, antacids, and processed foods.
3. Excess copper impairs cognition—even in mid-adulthood—and ends up in the plaques of Alzheimer’s disease. It comes from copper pipes and nutritional supplements.
4. Excess iron can build up in the brain, sparking the production of damaging free radicals. Sources of excess iron include cast-iron cookware, meats, and iron supplements.
5. Trans Fats, found in doughnuts and snack pastries, have been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk more than fivefold. These “bad fats” raise cholesterol levels and apparently increase production of the beta-amyloid protein that collects in plaques in the brain as Alzheimer’s disease begins.
Brain Protecting Foods
1. Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerves and brain cells. While many people have trouble absorbing
vitamin B12 from foods, B12 in supplements is highly absorbable. Together, folate, vitamin B6, and
vitamin B12 eliminate homocysteine, which can build up in the bloodstream—rather like factory waste—and damage the brain.
2. Blueberries and grapes get their deep colors from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants shown to improve learning and recall in studies at the University of Cincinnati.
3. Beans and chickpeas have vitamin B6 and folate, as well as protein and calcium, with no saturated fat or trans fat.
4. Sweet potatoes are the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth, who are also known for maintaining mental clarity into old age. Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant.
5. Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E, which has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Especially good sources are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseed. Just 1 ounce—a small handful—each day is plenty.
6. Green leafy vegetables provide iron in a form that is more absorbable when the body needs more, and less absorbable when you already have plenty, protecting you from iron overload which can harm the brain. Green vegetables are also loaded with folate, an important brain-protecting B-vitamin.
Power Foods for the Brain, the latest book by Physicians Committee For responsible Medicine president and nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., presents this latest, compelling research on nutrition’s surprising effects on the brain.
Dr. Barnard lays out a three-step plan to protect the mind and strengthen the memory: Put power foods to work, strengthen your brain, and defeat memory threats. The book also includes 75 power-food recipes, sample mental stimulation exercises, guides to choosing aluminum-free foods and medicines, and a guide to physical exercise. Learn more about brain health and purchase Power Foods for the Brain at PCRM.org/Brain.
August 30, 2019
Thank you regarding the possibilities of “Brain Protecting Foods” –
What are your suggestions for real “Brain Protecting” foods that are sources for B12? ………
B12 deficiency is positively linked to memory problems as presented by the Weston A. Price Foundation:
“Accumulating evidence that vitamin B12 supports healthy brain function comes from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (Neurology, Sept 27, 2011;77(13):1276-1282). The study found that methylmalonate, a marker of vitamin B12 deficiency, is associated with a reduction of brain volume and so may contribute to cognitive problems. An earlier study, published in the same journal, found that people who tended to eat vitamin B12-rich foods are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who did not (Neurology, Oct 19, 2010). The best sources of B12 are liver and shellfish—foods that seniors are warned to avoid because they contain high levels of cholesterol.”
The reference made (apparently by DR. NEAL BARNARD, MD) to “Saturated ‘bad’ fat—found in milk, cheese, and meat” that was attributed to the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) is rather curious in light of the CHAP findings on the “accumulating evidence that vitamin B12 supports healthy brain function” especially given that “milk, cheese, and meat” are also sources of B12. However their are two different kinds of dairy and meat products. Ruminating animals (like dairy cows) produce a different superior quality of milk when feeding on their natural diet of mixed live pasture vs confinement dairy cows being fed grain (and worse) that make the cows sick and therefore are put on antibiotics. Consequently this inferior milk is required to be pasteurized supposedly in an attempt to minimize the impact of ill health in the unwary consumers who consume this product. However and possibly more serious is the fact that homogenization destroys the integrity of the fat globules which produce fragments that would not otherwise cross the blood-brain barrier. This is the area where new research should focus! In any case most likely the diets that CHAP analyzed included the comparatively dangerous milk/dairy as well as grain-fed meat.
May 6, 2014
Great article and great magazine. I see copper pipes is a problem. What type of filter should I be using, or should I use a new source of drinking water. Thanks
November 8, 2013
In regards to the aluminum issue…what about aluminum foil?
January 5, 2014
Hi Kim, yes, aluminum foil is an issue when it gets in contact with food. Best thing to do is replace it with parchment paper when baking. For grilling, you can use aluminum paper as the outer wrapper, and parchment as the inner wrapper.