By Patrick Holford
Life is a balancing act between making energy by combusting glucose or ketones with oxygen, which generates ‘oxidant’ exhaust fumes that harm the body. Skin goes crinkly and age spots develop – all due to oxidation. That’s what makes apples go brown, leaves change colour and iron rust. In the end, we lose, which is why all oxygen-based life forms have a finite life – and why your brain and body inevitably age.
However, you can not only add years to your life, but also life to your years, by improving your intake of antioxidants and polyphenols found in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
A study in Finland and Sweden which compared those with a ‘healthy’ versus ‘unhealthy’ diet in mid-life for future risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia 14 years later. Those who ate the ‘healthiest’ diet had an 86-90% decreased risk of developing dementia and a 90-92% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the benefits come from low-sugar diets, diets high in omega-3 and B vitamins and some from foods high in antioxidants and polyphenols – which we will focus on here.
Your best bet is probably to both eat a diet with a broad spectrum of antioxidants and also supplement them. The older you are the more you are likely to need. Key antioxidants are:
- Vitamin A, C and E – associated with reducing Alzheimer’s risk
- Lipoic acid (7) – protects the memory-friendly neurotransmitter acetycholine and dampens down brain oxidation and inflammation)
- Glutathione (8) or N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC)(9) – protects the brain and improves methylation thus having potential in dementia prevention.
- Co-enzyme Q10 – protects the mitochondria in the brain from oxidative stress (10)
- Resveratrol – resveratrol has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties and prevent hippocampal brain damage. (11)
So, what do you need to eat and drink to preserve your memory and protect your brain? Basically, eat a Mediterranean style ‘rainbow coloured’ diet. A Mediterranean diet has more fish, less meat and dairy, more olive oil, fruit and vegetables including tomatoes, legumes (beans and lentils), whole grain cereals than a standard western diet. It also includes small quantities of red wine. There are variations of this kind of diet, called the MIND diet and the DASH diet, but the core components are the same and as researchers drill down we are learning what to eat and drink to keep your mind sharp and brain young, and how much.