Most now agree that in the battle against ageing keeping an active brain is just as important as keeping physically fit.
An increasing amount of research is offering evidence that certain supplements and lifestyle changes may be able to help keep us mentally agile.
Foods and Supplements for an Agile Mind
Here we examine the evidence so far and consider which foods, supplements and lifestyle changes could help you.
Choline, one of the B vitamins, is essential for transmitting nerve impulses from the brain through the central nervous system. Research now shows that when embryos are supplemented with choline in the womb the average memory of a baby increases. Choline is found in food sources including wholegrain cereals, milk, legumes such as peas and beans, soya products and egg yolks. It is also found in the supplements B-complex and Lecithin.
Vitamin B12 is linked to the manufacture of acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that aids memory and learning. A Swedish study found that people with low levels of B12 were at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Foods containing B12 include bread products made with yeast, clams, eggs, herring, kidney, liver, mackerel, milk, dairy produce, seafood, soybeans and soya products. It can also be taken as a supplement.
Folic acid is known as a brain food and is required for normal brain function. A Swedish study found that people with low levels of folic acid were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Foods containing folic acid include barley, beef, bran, brown rice, bread products containing yeast, cheese, chicken, dates, green leafy vegetables, lamb, legumes such as peas and beans, lentils, liver, milk, wholegrains and oranges. Folic acid can also be taken as a supplement.
Ginkgo biloba is involved in improving blood flow to the brain and is known to help in age-related memory loss. One year-long study of 168 Alzheimer patients found that 120mg of ginkgo biloba extract a day improved symptoms in those whose impairment was primarily visual. The study also revealed that the plant delayed symptoms in patients with mainly verbal difficulties. Further supplementation with the plant also stabilised symptoms in patients with both types of impairments. This plant can be taken as a supplement.
Food and diet aren't the only things that you should assess for keeping your mind active, a persons lifestyle is very important to the health of your mind.
Keeping the mind active
Any demand you make on the brain increases levels of the chemical messenger noradrenalin, which in turn boosts the rate at which connections form between brain cells. One American study found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 50 per cent lower amongst a group of monks and nuns aged over 65 who were mentally active.
Strategies to help keep the mind active include:
- Reading books
- Learning and memorising new words
- Doing daily crosswords
- Solving academic problems
- Engaging in constructive conversations
- Meditating daily
- Reducing stress and worry in your life
- Doing more physical exercise
Resting the brain
More than 40 per cent of us complain that we have problems sleeping. But research indicates that sleep deprivation interferes with our spatial memory – our ability to navigate to and from a familiar place and to record information about our environment.
Strategies for better sleep include:
- Relaxing the mind before going to bed
- Drinking a warm, caffeine-free drink
- Eating meals two hours before bed time
- Drinking plenty of water
- Meditating for 20 minutes
- Thinking positive memories and thoughts
- Being philosophical about your problems
- Maintaining an average temperature of 15.50C in your bedroom
- Carrying out simple muscle relaxing exercises
- Doing or listening to the things you enjoy most
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.