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How to Eat for Better Brain Health – January 2023 Edition

    As a speech-language pathologist who works with seniors and their families, I garner great joy in talking about cognitive wellness. It’s wonderful  to see how folks light up when you tell them yes – there actually are actions you can take to optimize and prolong your brain health! Taking control of your own cognitive wellness can start in the kitchen. Here are some tips for eating your way to a better brain. 

         Beginning the day with a cup of coffee or tea is a common morning ritual. The warm – or iced – bevvy is comforting and stimulates an extra pep in our step as greet a shiny new day. It turns out that drinking coffee along with tea daily may also offer us a reduced risk for stroke and dementia. A recent study published November 16, 2021, in PLOS Medicine followed the coffee and tea drinking habits of over 365,000 older adults in the UK for 11 years. Compared with folks who drank no coffee or tea, people who drank two to three cups of coffee along with two to three cups of tea daily had a 32% lower risk of stroke and 28% lower risk of dementia during the duration of the study. The combination of both beverages in the diet appeared to have a stronger association than drinking just one. The study was only observational and it doesn’t prove that drinking coffee and tea always prevents stroke or dementia. Though both beverages do contain plant chemicals known as polyphenols. These may assist in fighting chronic inflammation, something associated with both cardiovascular disease and dementia.  

         A lovely accompaniment to your morning pick me up might be a handful of berries – and it turns out that these may be protective of brain health too! Multiple studies have shown that natural antioxidant/anti-inflammatory compounds found in berries such as strawberries, bilberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries and mulberries may offer a neuroprotective effect against brain-related disease. Inflammation and oxidative stress are two of the main factors that contribute to aging and the development of age-related neurodegenerative diseases. It has been shown that berry fruits may be able to directly modify cell signals to enhance neuronal communication, neuroprotective stress shock proteins, antioxidant/anti-inflammatory action, plasticity, and stress signaling pathways, among other alterations. More clinical trials need to be done to further investigate the effects of berries on brain health, but current research is promising. These tiny fruits may play a big role in lessening or delaying the development of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.  

         One last treat often enjoyed with a caffeinated beverage or juicy berries is cocoa – and this may also show promise for improving brain function. A systematic review of studies on young adults showed that both acute and chronic cocoa consumption positively impacted cognitive outcomes. Following acute intake, there appeared to be an increase in cerebral blood flow or blood oxygenation. After chronic intake of cocoa flavanols improved cognitive performance was seen along with increased levels of neurotrophins -proteins vital for nerve cell function. The systematic review supported possible benefits of cocoa flavanols on brain function and neuroplasticity in early adulthood. More promising for older folks today are the results of a retrospective study that examined the impact of cocoa in the presence of mild cognitive impairment – cognitive deficits that do not interfere with the usual activities of daily living. This review published in 2019 found that  among two groups of folks with MCI, those with a higher intake of cocoa flavonoids had a reduced risk of progressing from MCI to dementia. Further studies with larger sample  sizes are needed to further explore these promising findings.  

    Could you or a loved one benefit from treatment for Dementia or to improve cognitive wellness? Call Speech Care at Home at (813) 344-3207 to schedule an appointment today!