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Feeding the Mind

by Steven M. Rachlin, M.D.

With aging comes normal changes in cognition, and the desire to slow the process for those most affected. The three specific changes in cognitive health as we age include a greater tendency to be distracted, reduced processing speed, and reduced capacity to remember and process information simultaneously. A large majority of baby boomers fear the loss of mental capacity as they age. Mild cognitive impairment can be defined as cognitive decline that is more than normal for someone of a specific age, and is said to affect up to 25 percent of those that are more than 70 years old. The further rate of decline to dementia is about 10 percent. So, what can be done to help patients remain in good cognitive health?

Research suggests prevention is the key to the slowing of cognitive decline, mainly through nutrition and exercise for people of all ages.

Nutrition for the brain is just as important as nutrition for the rest of the body. Proper nutrition is essential to combat negative factors, like stress, fatigue, depression and prescription medications and their side effects—which can all contribute to cognitive decline. The brain especially needs to be properly nourished through nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and vegetables. The brain is more sensitive to toxins, high sugar levels, pro-inflammatory foods and bad fats. A person needs to get nutritional support with a multivitamin that contains folate, B12 and zinc, and he/she needs a good amount of omega 3s. For those with a family history of Alzheimer’s, it is recommended that they take a curcumin supplement. India has a 70 percent lower rate of Alzheimer’s than the U.S., and this has been tracked back to the high curcumin levels in the diet. Nutrients high in omega-3 fatty acids are important not only for memory, focus and cognitive function but also to help treat age-related cognitive decline. The brain is sensitive to the process of inflammation that underlies all the degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, autism and Parkinson’s disease. The health of the gut modulates inflammation—where there is an imbalance of gut bacteria, various chemicals can escape the gut as it becomes more permeable and enhances inflammation.

Eating the right nutrient-dense foods is only half the battle when it comes to healthy cognitive function—getting plenty of sleep, supplementing when needed and being active are major contributing factors to stay ahead of the brain game. Some additional brain supplements include vitamin D, DHA and omega 3s. Providing the brain with critical nutrients, oxygen and rest are all essential.

Cardiovascular health has long been linked to cognitive health, and new studies show that cognitive function may peak at age 22 and decline as early as 27. That’s why starting early to create better lifestyle habits is crucial. Choices that are made early in life can ultimately impact cognitive function many years later. If patients make the right lifestyle choices at a young age—starting in the 20s—like practicing meditation and getting exercise, it can help manage stress and anxiety, which can later result in better cognitive health later in life. But no matter your age, getting started now and making better diet and lifestyle choices will contribute to the prevention of cognitive decline.

Source: Steven M. Rachlin, M.D., of Rachlin Medical Center, located at 927 Willis Ave., Albertson. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 516-873-7773 or visit RachlinMedical.com

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