Healthy Aging: Being Mindful of Brain Health

Regan Jones, RD

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m confronted regularly with a wide variety of people with health-related inquiries. But for all the ways we differ in our individual health needs, there is one commonality we share. Every person on this planet is aging day-by-day.

It’s true that some of us are farther along on the timeline than others, but there’s no denying that we’re all putting days behind us as we move towards the days ahead of us. The question is — what are we doing each day to support that aging process as healthfully as possible? September is Healthy Aging Month and it’s the perfect time to answer this question, especially as it relates to brain health.

Why begin with the brain?

While physical signs of aging like muscle mass decline or weight gain can be seen outwardly, prompting people to lose weight or work out, the changes happening in the brain are often simply dismissed as a natural consequence of growing older — “Oh, I’m so forgetful these days!” The truth is, maintaining cognitive function is critical to healthy aging. The decline in focus and problem solving are common age-related affects among normal aging individuals.

It’s well known that as we age brain metabolism decreases which is associated with cognitive decline.1,2,3,4 There are many factors associated with age-related cognitive decline:

• Oxidative stress and free radical damage5
• Changes in hormone levels6-8
• Poor diet quality9,10
• Stress and social isolation11,12

Is cognitive decline inevitable?

Not necessarily. There are several things you can do to support brain health and cognitive function with age.

The good news is that you can support brain health through commonly recommended practices, such as increasing physical activity, decreasing stress, improving sleep quality and ensuring adequate nutrient intake through healthy eating and supplementation.13-18 With about 90 billion neurons, the brain is a sponge waiting to soak up high-quality nutrients to help it perform optimally.19 Most of that nutrition comes from the diet we eat, but supplements can help by providing additional targeted nutrients.

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Brain

To understand how healthy eating plays a role in brain health, it’s important to look at the research and, most notably, the recent revelation in the scientific community that an eating plan known as the MIND Diet substantially slows cognitive decline with age.20

The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) emphasizes plant-based foods, specifically an increase in berries and green leafy vegetables and a decrease in saturated fats and animal-based foods. The following recommendations align with the MIND Diet21:

• At least three servings of whole grains a day
• A salad and one other vegetable a day
• One glass of wine a day
• A serving of nuts a day
• Beans every other day
• Poultry at least twice a week
• Berries at least twice a week
• Fish at least once a week
• Limiting butter (less than one tablespoon a day), cheese and fast or fried foods

Supplemental Support: Nutrients that Support Brain Health

In addition to eating a healthy diet, targeted nutritional supplementation may also support brain health.

Sage extract

Sage extract has been shown to promote healthy levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and the signaling of neurotransmitters like GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and more. Also of note, in pre-clinical studies, sage extract shows promise in promoting healthy gene expression related to lipid metabolism and insulin.22

Vinpocetine

Derived from the periwinkle plant, vinpocetine has been shown to promote cognitive function, support a healthy inflammatory response and help maintain healthy blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery to brain cells.23

Blueberry extract

Blueberry consumption and supplementation has been shown in many studies to support brain health and cognitive function.24 AuroraBlue® is a complex of blueberry and bilberry species from across the Alaskan tundra that are known to contain powerful antioxidants.

Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an essential part of healthy cell membranes, critical to both brain metabolism and intra-brain connections. Furthermore, PS helps with brain-related glucose metabolism and stimulation of acetylcholine production.25-27

Ashwagandha

By promoting the healthy growth of nerve cell components that support brain and nervous system function, Ashwagandha has neuroprotective effects on the brain. It has been shown to support healthy stress adaptation and cognitive function in aging individuals.28-32

Uridine-5’-Monophosphate

In pre-clinical studies, Uridine-5’-Monophosphate (UMP) has been shown to promote healthy brain function by supporting healthy levels of both acetylcholine and dopamine.33-35

Life Extension created Cognitex® Elite, which contains the nutrients listed above, specifically to provide brain-friendly nutrient support for a healthy brain and cognitive function at any age.

Every day offers a new chance to preserve and protect our bodies and brains from the decline associated with aging. Science has shown that while the risk for decline is real, so are the benefits of lifestyle and dietary interventions. Through the right combination of stress reduction, physical activity and a nutrient dense diet through foods and supplement support, maintaining a sharp mind for many years to come is a reality we can all enjoy.

About the Author: Regan Jones is an award winning registered dietitian and host of ThisUnmillennialLife.com, an iTunes Top 30 personal journal podcast that offers women a roadmap through midlife. Jones, who began her career as an assistant editor at Cooking Light and Weight Watchers Magazines, is now frequently featured in the national media and is the 2017 winner of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s prestigious Media Excellence Award. She is also co-author of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s 2016 Practice Paper, Social Media and the Dietetics Practitioner: Opportunities, Challenges, and Best Practices. Jones enjoys manning the microphone from her home in Georgia, where she lives with her husband and two sons.


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