Scientists continue to search for new methods of combating age-related cognitive decline. Along the way, they discover that certain conditions might serve as early warnings of impending dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. One that has emerged in a number of studies is brain inflammation.
It’s established that inflammation impacts heart health. But studies show inflammation also may signal declining brain function. For example, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing found that higher levels of inflammation “negatively affect” cognitive processes, including speed of processing, global cognitive function and memory.
The researchers added that brain inflammation “has been linked to incipient dementia and neurodegenerative diseases.”
In another study reported on by the Harvard Medical School, researchers measured inflammation-related biomarkers in the blood of 12,000 middle-aged adults. Over the next 20 years, they also measured the participants’ cognitive function in three different examinations. They found that those with higher levels of brain inflammation showed 7.8% greater cognitive decline than those with low brain inflammation.
The question for most older adults is, “What can I do about it?”
A lot, as it turns out. As researchers noted in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing study, “certain lifestyle factors and modifiable behaviors may also play a key role in inflammatory processes.”
One of those lifestyle factors is what you eat.
Foods That Lower Inflammation, Reduce Cognitive Decline
Inflammation occurs after immune system cells group together to fight an infection.
Brain fog, a condition in which it is difficult to focus, is one symptom of inflammation. Another is a sudden drop in energy level. These may serve as signs it’s time to make changes in your diet. Certain foods lower the chances of brain inflammation, including those on the list below.
Oily fish, especially salmon, rank among the best foods you can eat for improving cognition. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that remove fats from the blood steam and even support healthy skin as you age. These omega-3s also can help maintain good brain function.
Eaten in moderation, nuts provide great benefits to the brain because of inflammation-reducing antioxidants and vitamin E, which also keeps the immune system healthy. Research in China has shown that eating nuts can also improve cognitive function by as much as 60%.
The tiny chia seed provides another great source of omega-3 fatty acids. People typically get them into their diet by sprinkling them on cereal or adding them to smoothies.
Avocados provide an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, the good fats associated with better heart health. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, while unhealthy fats remain solid (think butter or lard). Avocados also contain vitamin E, which can protect brain cells.
Yes, chocolate can help with better brain function! Cacao is natural, raw chocolate without all the added sugar and fats. The taste is different than you might expect from chocolate (more bitter) but you can always try the second-best thing, dark chocolate, which also contains cacao and its anti-inflammation properties.
Leafy Vegetables and Broccoli
Leafy greens such as kale have high levels of vitamin K, which fights inflammation, as does broccoli. In addition, broccoli is one of the foods with the largest amounts of choline, an essential nutrient that impacts the nervous system, muscle movement and liver and brain function.
That morning cup of coffee is actually good for you.
Studies have associated drinking caffeine with a lower chance of cognitive function loss and brain conditions such as dementia.
Many spices are known for anti-inflammatory properties and boosting brain health. They include turmeric, which also may help fight development of the beta-amyloid proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Other inflammation-fighting spices include ginkgo biloba, ginseng and cinnamon.
Fighting inflammation makes good sense for overall health. The latest research shows it might prove key to maintaining brain health. With so many choices for adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, everyone has plenty of options for taking this step to protect good brain function.