By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.
Unfortunately, Spanish explorer Ponce de León never did find the mythical Fountain of Youth when he traveled to Florida in 1513. Without this “Elixir of Life,” there seems to be no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline, no single almighty brain food that can restore your aging brain to be as sharp it was when you were young.
As an elder law attorney, I am constantly meeting with super-seniors (85 years and older). Some come with walkers, others come with canes, and a few come in wheelchairs. But many come unassisted — standing tall and walking under the power of their own two feet. (Although, they usually can’t hear too well and have to sit with their good ear facing towards me.)
What impresses me the most is when a super-senior comes in with their mind still as sharp as a tack. To me, that’s the battle, i.e., keeping your mind sharp. Sure, you want to stay physically healthy, i.e., exercise. But it’s your mind you want to keep and protect. “What’s your secret?” I would always ask. The responses vary — from good genes and exercise to a healthy diet and taking vitamins.
Since I hope to have a sharp and clear mind well into my 90s, I’m constantly on the “look-out” for helpful information. Numerous sources say that some foods you might be eating can actually DAMAGE your brain over time. According to a 2012 UCLA study published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers found that a diet of high fructose over time can damage your memory and learning ability.
According to Mike Geary, certified nutrition specialist, “Beyond the harm to your brain, it’s well known in the research world that a high-fructose diet can also cause insulin resistance in your body over time, and possibly lead to Type-2 diabetes and extra body fat…. and also detrimentally affects your triglyceride levels in your blood that cause plaque in your arteries.” (Source: www.truthaboutabs.com/reports/brain-report.pdf)
“Say what?” you ask. Soda and processed junk foods such as cakes and candy, ice cream (and even ketchup) lead to impaired memory and learning in your brain. There’s also an increased risk of diabetes, and increased risk of heart disease and belly fat. Surprisingly, fructose is also found naturally in fruits (e.g., apples, grapes, watermelon), fruit juices, some vegetables (e.g., asparagus, peas and zucchini) and honey.
Although diet soda may offer a short-term reduction in calories, artificial sweeteners commonly found in diet sodas – like aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k – have been linked to serious health problems and can be toxic to the brain. Read product labels carefully and avoid foods containing: fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave syrup, maple-flavored syrup, molasses, palm or coconut sugar, and sorghum.
I found another article that said the same thing. According to www.WebMD.com, avoid fatty and sugary foods. Eating sugar can cause brain fog, sluggishness, and tiredness. These symptoms come from the brain and not your gut. If you have a poor diet with lots of sugar, you can lose important structures and activities in your brain. This can lead to an aging brain and dementia.
You may ask, “What should I try to eat to maximize the awesome power of the brain?” Fortunately, an article on CNBC.com (March 23, 2022) answered this question. In the article, Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard nutritionist, said that your diet affects your whole body, and especially your brain. Certain foods and nutrients help keep your brain healthy so it can power your body.
Dr Naidoo, author of the best-selling book “This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More,” says, “Based on my work with hundreds of patients, below are the six best brain-boosting foods that people aren’t eating enough of. Incorporating them into your diet can improve your mood, sharpen memory, and help your brain work at peak efficiency.”
In addition to adding flavor, spices are known their antioxidant properties. In other words, they help the brain fight off harmful free radicals and therefore prevent oxidative stress, which can damage tissues. One of my favorite spices is turmeric — a standout when it comes to reducing anxiety. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can decrease anxiety and change the corresponding brain chemistry, protecting the hippocampus.
I also love saffron. In 2013, a meta-analysis of five previously published, randomized and controlled trials looked at the effects of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression among participants with major depressive disorder. In all these trials, researchers found that consuming saffron significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to the placebo controls.
2. Fermented foods
Fermented foods are made by combining milk, vegetables, or other raw ingredients with microorganisms like yeast and bacteria. Of course, a favorite breakfast dish in Japan is natto, a fermented soybean. Some other examples include plain yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.
These are all sources of live bacteria that can enhance healthy gut function and decrease anxiety. In the brain, fermented foods may provide several advantages. A 2016 review of 45 studies indicated that fermented foods might protect the brain in animals, improving memory and slowing cognitive decline..
Probiotic-rich yogurt can be a powerful part of your diet, but keep in mind that yogurt that undergoes heat treatment does not have the same benefits. One such example is yogurt-covered raisins — these aren’t going to help your anxiety, as the heat-treated yogurt has no beneficial bacteria left.
3. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is an excellent source of iron, which helps make up the covering that protects neurons and helps control the synthesis of the chemicals and chemical pathways involved in mood.
In 2019, a cross-sectional survey of more than 13,000 adults found that people who regularly eat dark chocolate had a 70% reduced risk of depression symptoms. Dark chocolate also has plenty of antioxidants, as long as you stick to the dark stuff and make sure that it doesn’t have too much sugar.
Avocados have relatively high amounts of magnesium, which is important for proper brain function. The first report of magnesium treatment for agitated depression was published in 1921, and it showed success in a whopping 220 out of 250 cases.
Since then, countless studies have suggested that depression is related to magnesium deficiency. Several case studies, in which patients were treated with 125 to 300 milligrams of magnesium, have demonstrated rapid recovery from major depression, often in less than a week.
Nuts have healthy fats and oils that our brains need to function well, along with essential vitamins and minerals — for example, selenium in Brazil nuts. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts show great promise in improving thinking and memory.
I recommend eating 1/4 cup a day (not more — it’s easy to overdo it with nuts!) as a snack or added to your salad or vegetable side dish. Nuts can even be combined into a homemade granola or trail mix that contains much less sugar and salt than store-bought versions.
6. Leafy greens
When I say that leafy greens like kale make a difference in health, my patients turn up their noses at the idea. But leafy greens contain vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids, which are nutrients that protect against dementia and cognitive decline.
Another benefit is that they’re an incredible source of folate, a natural form of vitamin B9 that is important in red blood cell formation. Where folate deficiency may underlie some neurological conditions, improving folate status has beneficial effects on our cognitive status, and is a necessary cofactor in neurotransmitter production. Greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, and dandelion greens are also an excellent source of folate!
In conclusion, of all your organs, your brain takes the most energy. Your body requires healthy food with certain nutrients and vitamins to fuel your brain. These nutrients help build brain structure, keep cells working, and help you learn, think, and do tasks.
Finally, the other things you can do that can help you have a healthier brain: (1) Don’t drink alcohol; (2) Quit smoking; and (3) Stay active.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.