People have long believed that cognitive decline is an inherent and inevitable symptom of aging. In reality, however, most age-related mental conditions – from minor irritations like forgetfulness to serious neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia – are the product of toxic environments, unhealthy lifestyles, and poor nutrition. For this reason, there are many things that individuals of all ages can do to prevent age-related cognitive decline, including getting enough sleep and exercise, and optimizing gut flora.
Another great way to guard ourselves from cognitive decline, however, is to supplement our diets with superfoods that are scientifically proven to support brain health. The three foods listed below fall into this category.
Raw, organic coconut oil is proven to treat a large number of medical conditions, including obesity, bad skin and hair, heart disease, and more. According to Dr. Mary Newport, however, coconut oil can also prevent cognitive decline due to the high number of ketone bodies present in its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which function as an alternative fuel source for our brain. Since inadequate supplies of our main fuel supply, glucose, is the leading cause of Alzheimer’s and dementia, regularly consuming foods rich in these alternative fuel sources can help us maintain our mental health – and few foods contain more of them than unprocessed coconut oil.
“Humans do not normally have ketone bodies circulating and available to the brain unless they have been starving for a couple of days or longer, or are consuming a ketogenic (very low carbohydrate) diet, such as Atkins,” writes Dr. Newport. “In Alzheimer’s disease, the neurons in certain areas of the brain are unable to take in glucose due to insulin resistance and slowly die off, a process that appears to happen one or more decades before the symptoms become apparent. If these cells had access to ketone bodies, they could potentially stay alive and continue to function.”
The perennial herb, Bacopa monnieri, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat cognitive issues like poor memory and brain fog, and modern research is now catching up with this ancient knowledge. For example, one study presented at the International Brain Research Conference in 1996 proved that long-term consumption of bacopa powder decreased the amount of time subjects needed to learn new tasks by a whopping 50 percent. A later study published in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal in 2002 showed that bacopa had a “significant effect” on the subjects’ ability to retain new information.
As with coconut oil, regularly consuming Bacopa monnieri can also guard us from more serious conditions. Brian M. Kairalla, a researcher at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, found that elderly volunteers who consumed 300 milligrams of bacopa daily demonstrated significant improvements in verbal information processing compared to those who consumed the placebo. This result led Kairalla to conclude that bacopa could help prevent Alzheimer’s: “[L]ong term studies [into Bacopa] might be explored for its potential to play a role in protecting or delaying age related memory decline or delay Alzheimer’s disease onset and/or progression.”
According to the doctrine of signatures, an ancient herbalist philosophy attributed to the Swiss physician Paracelsus, many foods in the natural world physically resemble the organs they benefit. A classic example of this is the walnut: with its two hemispheres and cranium-like shell, the walnut really does look like a brain – and few foods are better for your brain than walnuts.
One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, for instance, found that subjects who ate just half a cup of walnuts daily over a two-month period demonstrated an 11 percent improvement in inferential reasoning compared to the control group. Another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that regularly consuming walnuts can improve cognitive function and memory scores. What are the reasons for these results? Firstly, walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that is known to shield brain cells from oxidative damage. Secondly, walnuts are also rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that can prevent cognitive deterioration.
“[Research suggests] that a diet with walnuts may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly population,” writes Dr. Abha Chauhan, a scientist linked to the study. “This may be attributed to a unique combination of anti-amyloidogenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of walnuts.”