Brain health is especially important in seniors. Seniors are susceptible to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory problems, and cognitive decline. Which foods boost brain power the most? At Natural Eye Care, we have picked eleven common foods that have brain-saving properties. Scientists have been studying the nutrients in foods for decades. They have isolated specific nutrients that cross the blood-brain barrier. These types of nutrients get direct access to the brain and even the retina. The retina is made from neural tissue. Researchers find that many of the nutrients helpful for the brain also stave off eye diseases such as macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Try adding some of these foods to your regular diet. Seniors need fewer calories than younger folks. Therefore, replace “junk food” like cookies, candy, and chips with these brain-boosters.
If you see a Millennial munching on avocado toast, you are witnessing brain-healthy eating. Free of cholesterol, avocados increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, help lower blood pressure, and promote healthy blood flow. Its delicious green flesh is filled with healthy fats, fiber, and lutein. Lutein is an essential eye nutrient, especially for the macula, and has many brain benefits, including having potent antioxidant properties, improving temporal speed processing, and overall cognitive function. Seniors start losing pigment in their macula, making them vulnerable to macular degeneration.
Serving Ideas: Guacamole. Sliced avocados in salads. Mashed avocado as a sandwich spread or dip.
Blueberries and other dark berries get their color from anthocyanin dye. The dye and flavonoids in blueberries cross the blood-brain barrier, delivering antioxidants to the brain, optic nerve, and retina. The blueberry has been studied for its positive effects on the aging brain. For example, eating blueberries each day resulted in improvements in seniors with cognitive decline, as well as helps to protect against brain injury, stroke, certain neurotoxins and excitotoxicity. This fruit is associated with delaying Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and ischemic diseases.1
Serving Ideas: Drink a small amount of wild blueberry juice daily. Eat fresh blueberries. Make frozen wild blueberries into a compote or smoothie. Black currants, blackberries, and bilberries may have similar anti-aging properties.
Cocoa Powder and Dark Chocolate
The flavonoids in cocoa may improve memory and slow cognitive decline due to aging. Cocoa also contains antioxidants and caffeine that enhance cognitive functioning. Researchers found that subjects had improved cognitive function and visual acuity after eating dark chocolate (720 mg cocoa flavonoids), in contrast to white chocolate (0 mg).2 The researchers attributed the changes to changes in blood flow to the brain and the retina.
Serving Ideas: Enjoy 1 to 2 ounces of 75% or higher dark chocolate per day. Drink milk with cocoa and a low-calorie sweetener such as stevia. Add cocoa powder and sweetener to coffee to make a mocha drink.
Fish and Fish Oils
Fish is a great source of essential fatty acid, including DHA, EPA, and alpha linoleic acid. DHA is found in the retina and brain, supporting neuron communication, helping prevent neuron cell death, reducing inflammation, and improving memory and cognition. Vegetarians can get DHA from algae supplements.
Serving Ideas: Sardines and mackerel are excellent sources of essential fatty acids. Serve fish from a can or cooked from fresh or frozen.
Garlic inhibits platelet aggregation in cardiovascular disease, strengthens the immunity system and boosts levels of natural glutathione. This pungent food also supports working memory and cognitive capacity, and slows cell death due to beta-amyloid accumulation associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The benefits are even higher for aged garlic.
Serving Ideas: Add garlic to recipes regularly. Make roasted garlic as an appetizer. Aged garlic is available as a supplement, or use a recipe to make your own.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) endorses goji berries as medicine and part of a healthy diet. TMC considers goji berries to be a crucial brain tonic. Goji berries may protect against Alzheimer’s disease by stopping plaque from forming in the brain.3 Taking goji berry supplements for three months resulted in increased levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the blood.4 These two nutrients are very important for eye health, especially in seniors.
Goji berries contain high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamins A and C, and reduce oxidative stress and neutralize free radicals.
Serving Ideas: Only dried Goji Berries are available in the United States. Try a handful of dried berries per day, Goji Berry juice, tea, or capsules. Consult your doctor or TCM practitioner regarding dosage.
Brain Food Easiest to Take: Green Tea
Widely available in stores and coffee shops, green tea is a super-antioxidant. Green tea is high in polyphenols, including EGEC. The subject of scientific studies, EGEC helps cellular reproduction, the cardiovascular system, and metabolic functioning. It also helps protect the nerves. Green tea reduces the build-up of beta-amyloid in the brain (related to Alzheimer’s Disease).5 It protects against cognitive decline in seniors.6
Serving Ideas: Drink 3 cups of hot or cold green tea per day to get 725 mg. The tea contains caffeine, so drink it early in the day if this interferes with sleep. Brewing your own green tea costs pennies per cup.
A common Traditional Chinese Medicine remedy, mulberry helps stimulate the production of nervous tissue.7 A flavonoid pigment in mulberries called “anthocyanin” may protect against ischemic stroke. 8 This fruit has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers.
Serving Ideas: Supplement 500 mg per day. If you can get fresh mulberries locally, make mulberry smoothies, pies, and cobblers.
Reishi, Shiitake, and Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
More than food, many mushrooms also have healing properties. Research on Shiitake, Lion’s Mains (Hericium erinaceus), and Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) show they may protect against neurological disease in seniors.
- A study found that Lion’s Mane helps protect against dementia and could reduce neurodegenerative disease-induced cell death. 9
- Reishi mushrooms have an anti-neurodegeneration effect.10
- The B vitamins in Shiitake mushrooms are excellent for the senior brain.11
Serving Ideas: Add fresh or dried mushrooms to soups, stews, and other recipes. For convenience, take a mushroom supplement as directed.
A tasty red drink, pomegranate juice contains very potent antioxidants.12 Its tannins and anthocyanins decrease heart disease. A rich source of polyphenols, this juice lowered amyloid plaque in an animal study.
Serving Ideas: Cut open a fresh pomegranate and eat the seeds and surrounding red or clear flesh — not the rind or white strings. For juice, look in the cold section of the grocery store’s produce department. POM brand is one example. Keep constantly refrigerated to protect its antioxidants. Read the nutrient label, as pomegranate juice can be very high in added sugar.
Walnuts: An Inexpensive Brain Food
Out of all the nuts readily available in the USA, the humble walnut is the overall champion for brain health. Walnuts are higher in antioxidants than any other nut.13 They reduce oxidative stress.14 The thin brown skin on the walnut meat is especially high in polyphenols. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and they have been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Ancient cultures used walnut extract to address dementia symptoms in seniors. Modern research has backed up the walnut’s ability to remove amyloid plaque from the brain.
Serving Ideas: Walnuts are one of the cheapest sources of brain food. Broken nutmeats are less expensive than whole or halves. Eat a small handful – about 1 oz – of raw walnuts daily. Serve as a snack, in salads, or on top of breakfast cereal. If you do not like raw, try roasted walnuts or a supplement. After a meal high in LDL “bad” cholesterol, such as fatty steak, counteract the oxidization with walnuts for dessert.
Editor’s Note: Many brain-healthy foods can be blended into a juice or smoothie. However, try to use organic ingredients whenever possible. Non-organic ingredients can contain pesticide and herbicide residues. These toxins are especially concentrated when blended. Buy organic ingredients for home juicing. Ask your local smoothie shops whether organic ingredients are available.
Michael Edson is releasing a new book called “Natural Parkinson’s Support: Your Guide to Preventing & Managing Parkinson’s” in late 2019. This book covers the foods above in more details, plus much more in regarding to nutrients that help protect the brain for those with Parkinson’s Disease and reduce related symptoms naturally.
Also, watch for Michael’s upcoming book 2020 called “Natural Brain Care: Your Guide to Preventing and Treating Dementia and Alzheimer’s Naturally.”
- Devore, E.E. Kangs, J.H. Breteler, M.M., Grodstein, F.A. (July 12, 2012). “Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline.” Neurology. 72(1):135-43. Doi: 10.1002.ana.23594. Epub 26, 2012 ↩
- Physiol Behav. Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in an acute improvement in visual and cognitive functions. By Field DT, Williams CM, Butler LT. 2011 Jun 1;103(3-4):255-60. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.02.013. Epub 2011 Feb 12. ↩
- Yu M.S, Leung S.K, Lai S.W, editors. et al. Neuroprotective effects of anti-aging oriental medicine Lycium barbarum against beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity. Exp Gerontol. 2005;40:716–27 ↩
- Yu M.S, Lai C.S, Ho Y.S, editors. Characterization of the effects of anti-aging medicine Fructus lycii on beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity. Int J Mol Med. 2007;20:261–8. ↩
- K. Rezai-Zadeh et al,. “Green tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) reduces beta-amyloid mediated cognitive impairment and modulates tau pathology in Alzheimer transgenic mice,” Brain Research 1214 (2008): 177-87 ↩
- L. Feng et al., “Cognitive function and tea consumption in community dwelling older Chinese in Singapore,” Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging 14 (2010: 433-38). ↩
- Kim, H.G., Oh, M.S. (14 July 2012). “Memory enhancing effect of Mori Fructus via induction of nerve growth factor.” British Journal of Nutrition. 110(1):86-94. Doi: 10.1017/S0007114512004710. Epub 27 Nov 2012. ↩
- W. H. Shin, S. J. Park, and E. J. Kim, “Protective effect of anthocyanins in middle cerebral artery occlusion and reperfusion model of cerebral ischemia in rats,” Life Sciences, vol. 79, no. 2, pp. 130–137, 2006. ↩
- Nagai K, Chiba A, Nishino T, Kubota T, Kawagishi HJ Nutr Biochem. 2006 Aug; 17(8):525-30. ↩
- Lai CS, Yu MS, Yuen WH, So KF, Zee SY, Chang RC (2008). Antagonizing beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity of the anti-aging fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Brain Res, 1190: 215-24 ↩
- J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Nov;56(6):P327-39. B vitamins, cognition, and aging: a review. Calvaresi E1, Bryan J. ↩
- Pomegranate juice flavonoids inhibit low-density lipoprotein oxidation and cardiovascular diseases: studies in atherosclerotic mice and in humans. Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Kaplan M, Coleman R, Gaitini D, Nitecki S, Hofman A, Rosenblat M, Volkova N, Presser D, Attias J, Hayek T, Fuhrman B Drugs Exp Clin Res. 2002; 28(2-3):49-62. ↩
- Nat Prod Commun. 2016 Jun;11(6):869-80. Phytochemistry, Bioactivity and Potential Impact on Health of Juglans: the Original Plant of Walnut. Bi D, Zhao Y, Jiang R, Wang Y, Tian Y, Chen X, Bai S, She G. ↩
- Haddad, E.H., Gaban-Chong, N., Oda, K. et al. Effect of a walnut meal on postprandial oxidative stress and antioxidants in healthy individuals. Nutr J 13, 4 (2014) doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-4 ↩