Tag Archives: brain aging

How Does Diet Affect Brain Aging?

Brain FoodDoes your diet affect how your brain functions? Are there foods you can eat that will delay brain aging? If so, what are they?

There’s a fascinating new study dealing with these sorts of questions that was done at Oregon Health & Science University and published in the December 28, 2011, online edition of the journal Neurology.

The study involved 104 volunteers who were elderly (average age 87) but relatively healthy. Researchers analyzed their blood for a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fat, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats.

Then they compared those levels to the participants’ performance on cognitive tests as well as to MRI scans showing the size of their brains.

These are some of the highlights of the study:

  • Participants who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests, including memory tests, than those with lower levels of these nutrients.

    Vitamins B, C and E are high in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids are found primarily in the flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon.

  • These participants also tended to have larger brain size.
  • On the other hand, people who had higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests. They took more time overall to complete the tests and had more trouble with memory and language skills.
  • Trans fats come largely from packaged, fried, frozen and fast foods, along with baked goods and margarine spreads.

  • These people also had more brain shrinkage. (Some amount of brain atrophy, or shrinkage, occurs with aging. However, more significant shrinkage is associated with mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease.)

This study is observational. That means that it observed an association between these nutrients and brain size and function, but it did not establish a cause and effect relationship. Therefore, more research is needed.

In the meantime, however, the advice that we get so often is also suggested by this study: Eat more fruits and vegetables and fish, and avoid trans fats.
Fruits and Vegetables

Kiss Those Senior Moments Goodbye: Studies Show That Physical Fitness Delays Brain Aging

A "Senior Moment" -- Physical fitness delays brain agingAre you plagued by senior moments?

If so, or if you want to avoid them as long as possible, lace up your sneakers and get moving.

According to two recent studies, there is a definite link between good physical fitness and delayed brain aging.

In one of the studies, done at the University of Arizona, the researchers studied 58 men and 65 women between 50 and 89 years old and matched their patterns of neural activation against their performance on treadmill tests.

The result?

According to psychologist Gene Alexander, who led the study team, “Better brain aging is associated with better physical fitness.”

This study is consistent with a growing body of research showing that regular aerobic exercise can help stave off the mild cognitive failings of normal aging and can spur the growth of new neurons in the area of the brain associated with memory and learning (the hippocampus).

One such research study was done at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and it consisted of comparing the brain structure and function in 10 athletes and 10 sedentary people.

The investigators found that the brain’s white matter fiber was better preserved among the athletes than the inactive people.

What’s white matter, and why is it important?

In the human brain, white matter plays the critical role of transmitting messages between different regions of gray matter — areas where functions such as seeing, hearing, speaking, memory and emotions take place.

So, without sufficient white matter, gray matter can’t do its job (as is the case for many people with various forms of dementia).

Physical fitness delays brain aging“Without properly functioning white matter, people can begin to show signs of neurological problems,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine, one of the Texas researchers. “They can lose the ability to do simple daily tasks that we take for granted.”

One of the conclusions of the Texas study, according to Dr. Levine, is that long-term aerobic exercise has definitive, measurable impact on brain health.

In short, we can fight off dementia and some of the other classic signs of aging with a purposeful, consistent exercise regimen.

That, my friends, is the take-away.

A consistent aerobic exercise regimen benefits your brain as well as your heart. It’s a health two-fer.

Medical disclaimer: I am not a physician and I have never played one on television. I haven’t even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. Therefore, always consult with your real doctor before starting or altering your exercise program, especially if you have existing medical conditions.