We’ve been inundated with emails and questions about how to support memory function and inject some life back into our flagging brains. Interestingly, it’s actually our lifestyles that are destroying our ability to remember where we left our keys, if we switched off the oven and what our pin number is. There are so many things you do across your day to support cognitive function, many of which will also lower your risk of most chronic diseases, help you lose weight and perform better.
Ever been in a situation where a word, number or birthday that you know like the back of your hand suddenly disappears from your mind and as much as you try, no amount of thinking can recall it? A very scary version of this happened to me a few months ago where I forgot my email address. MY EMAIL ADDRESS! I’ve forgotten words, important dates and the usual stuff before but never something this obvious that I use several times a day.
I know one of my biggest issues is the lack of mindfulness I implement. I’m rarely doing one thing, multi-tasking is my favourite mode and always thinking ahead rather than staying in the moment. My mind is forever planning, organizing and overthinking everything. It feels uncomfortable with stillness and taking in just one or two pieces of information. Matt laughs at the number of decisions I impose upon myself across a day: cardio or HIIT, porridge or eggs, coffee or green tea, walk or get the bus. This is until he bashes his head on a kitchen cupboard door I’ve left wide open as I’m too busy to finish any task or close any cupboards.
Are Your Genes To Blame?
Another incentive for me to start supporting cognitive function came in the form of my 23andme test results. This is a test you can purchase online that looks at your genetic predisposition to certain diseases. I have one copy of the ε4 variant which is associated with higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Before you feel you need to have this test done it’s important to remember your genes don’t define your health, as Chris Kresser explains:
“Genes are the loaded gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger”
The Coming Storm
It’s estimated 44 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, however, it’s believed only 1-in-4 people with Alzheimer’s disease have actually been diagnosed. It’s most common in Western Europe and least prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 46.8 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2015 and what’s most frightening is this number seems to double every 20 years and it’s predicted to reach around 131.5 million in 2050.
Can We Reverse of Cognitive Decline?
There’s some exciting new trials exploring the reversal of memory loss and improvement sustained. Dr. Dale Bredesen of the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. In small trials he’s been able to demonstrate a combination of dietary changes, brain stimulation, exercise, improved sleep health and nutritional supplements improve brain biochemistry. You can read details of the trial here, where out of the first ten patients, nine displayed significant improvements in cognition within 3-6 months.
What Can You Do
1) Eat Brain Boosting Foods
Prior to getting some foods that aid cognitive function it’s important that you balance blood sugar levels. Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as Insulin Resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes. Ditching any refined carbohydrates and excess sugar is easily the best place to start.
Another important component found within specific foods are antioxidants which protect the brain against free radical damage allowing it to function optimally. Think of eating a rainbow a day with different vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. These offer a concentrated source so dishes like curries, soups and vegetable casseroles are awesome. Chocolate, green tea and coffee are also up there. A 2012 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean style diet was associated with better memory – ironically, they even look a little like a brain.
Omega 3 fats are essential brain fuel and found in oily fish including sardines, salmon, mackerel and anchovies. The tissues in the brain are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, a vital component of cell membranes and the connections between nerves. Animal studies are suggesting DHA supplementation may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, research suggests a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Taking 2 spoonfuls of coconut oil or MCT oil daily as a source of medium chain triglycerides is suggested to have a neuro-protective effect. This can be taken in tea or coffee or added to a smoothie. MCT oil is a concentrated source of coconut oil, however, high doses of these fats can cause loose bowel movements and digestive issues in some people so Nourish Balance Thrive have designed PhatFibre, a powder based MCT supplement with added fibre.
2) Give Your Brain A Workout
Exercise causes the release of something called brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which supports cognitive processes. Studies have show exercise improves blood flow to the brain and aids the learning process. Daily walks first thing in the day are one of the easiest habits to implement and also improve mood health, combining with a couple of sessions of interval and resistance training to improve insulin management and yoga to bring some calmness and breath work into your busy day.
3) Intermittent Fast Or Shorten Your Eating Window
Fasting and just not eating for prolongued periods of time generally can provide a great reboot for the brain. It means the body will start to burn fat for energy and produce ketones to fuel brain function.
There doesn’t need to be a strict fasting regime – you can just skip the occasional meal or have breakfast later and dinner earlier so that you eating window is more like 8-10 hours in a day. Increasing the gap between meals to 3-5 hours is also another means of benefitting from fasting.
4) Support Gut Health
The gut is now often referred to as the second brain as the vagus nerve runs from the brain stem to gastrointestinal tract. There are strong links between infections and imbalances in the gut and neurological dysfunction so supporting your gut with these foods is essential.
5) Eat Egg Yolks
Eggs are worthy of a special mention due to the being a rich source of choline which supports cell membrane function and nerve communication improving both learning skills and memory. I love the story of Emma Morano, Europe’s oldest woman who said the secret to living to 115 yrs old is eating two raw eggs daily (and being single!)
6) Test Your Brain
The Alzheimer’s Society is currently performing research at King’s College London to test the effectiveness of brain training to improve cognitive function in older people. The research so far suggests playing games that challenge people with problem solving improves efificiency in daily tasks and verbal learning skills. There’s lots of website and apps offering free games or you can just go for a golden oldie… puzzle book! You can try luminosity or NeuroNation.
7) Be Mindful And Stop Multitasking
One of our biggest issues today iss our mind are subjected to stimulation 24/7 and we’re addicted. Instead of cooking dinner or walking the dog our minds are elsewhere. Minfuldness is the buzz word being used to encourage people to slow down thought processes and switch off from our daily worries and stress. It simply involves being in the moment, listening to the birdsong as you take the dog for a walk or watching your children play happily. We often spend these beautiful moments planning or worrying about other things in life. Instead of priding yourself on multi-tasking, it’s good to down neuro tools from time to time and simply just chop carrots, sit on a park bench, or enjoy a coffee without scrolling though smart phones or making virtual lists in your head.
8) Get 8-9 Hours Sleep
This is your brain’s chance to restore itself and rest up. The harder we work our minds, the more sleep and recovery we need. To ensure you get a great night’s slumber check out our steps to a good night sleep here.
9) Get outside
When vitamin D receptors are activated they support the growth of nerves in the brain and it’s suggested it may play a role in the hippocampus which is the area in the brain responsible for processing and forming new memories. Having some time outside each day with multiple areas of skin exposed will help boost vitamin D and if needed you can use a nutritional supplement. We’ve covered more details on this here.
Your FREE 3 Day Memory Boosting Menu
Below is a sample menu that will help support cognitive function, as you can see it’s pretty tasty and will also support fat loss goals, immune function, mood health and give you awesome energy levels, what’s not to love!
Pan fried salmon with sliced avocado, sauteed mushrooms and spinach
Walnut, goat’s cheese, beetroot and rocket salad
Jamaican chicken curry with cauliflower rice
Dan’s Italian eggs
Thai Omega Balls and avocado Salad
Salmon and red pepper fish cakes with baked sweet potato and salad
Brainy Breakfast Smoothie
Chilli chicken soup with homemade savoury seed loaf
Anchovy lamb with roasted vegetables
All recipes are taken from our books, Paleo Primer and Fitter Food: A Second Helping, which are available to purchase on amazon now