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A healthy diet and lifestyle can stave off memory loss, says Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy.

Dementia is a disorder of brain aging caused by a range of factors: degeneration of chemical systems in the brain; accumulation of waste products; diminishing blood perfusion leading to many small areas of damage (microvascular infarction); and several other causative factors.

Prevention assumes great significance in this era of chronic and lifestyle diseases; with hypertension, obesity, lipid disorders (high cholesterol) and diabetes (HOLD) being rampant in society. Nutrition underpins both HOLD and dementia.

It is well known that sub-clinical deficiency in essential nutrients can lead to dementia. Research has shown memory deficits in people with low plasma levels of vitamin B 12, folic acid, lycopene, a-carotene, b-carotene, total carotene, b-cryptoxanthin, a-tocopherol etc.

There is mounting evidence for the Mediterranean diet — high consumption of olive oil and fish, hence elevated intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids and v–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids — being protective against age-related cognitive decline. The antioxidant compounds in olive oil (tocopherols and polyphenols), and fatty acids may help maintain the structural integrity of nerve membranes. The naturopathy food pyramid (see figure) is a good indicator of what we should eat in order to remain healthy and prevent dementia.

There is no doubt that red wine consumed in moderation may be beneficial, reducing bad cholesterol, preventing blood clots and protecting the heart. The protection may come from the constituents of red wine made from tannin grapes, which include procyanidins, a class of flavonoids also found in plants, fruits and cocoa beans. Thus moderate red wine consumption maybe good, but only when accompanied by a “healthy” lifestyle.

There is growing evidence that vitamin supplementation has a significant role to play in lowering the risk of dementia. Evidence for vit C, E, B12 and folic acid — as supplements in higher doses — is particularly strong. Indeed, the US FDA has recommended folic acid fortification of foods, for example flour and bread. High vitamin levels due to inappropriate supplementation can, however, be problematic and must be guarded against.

It has long been known that certain plant formulations — Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri), Tulsi (Basil), Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera), Curcumin (in turmeric), extra virgin coconut oil — may enhance memory function and these are subjects of active research. Evidence to support over-the-counter plant formulations is, however, not available.

A well-preserved memory is the cornerstone of a good life; good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will help us achieve this milestone. To paraphrase the great bard, do we not desire to avoid or at least postpone our “sans everything” years?

The writer is a neuropsychiatrist and integrative medicine practitioner in Chennai. www.neurokrish. com www.trimed therapy.com

How to prevent dementia?

Leisure activities: learning a new task/ language/ hobby; playing chess/ Sudoku, solving puzzles

Physical activities: brisk walking for 30-45 minutes each day

Healthy diet: plenty of fruits and vegetables; avoid high calorie pre-processed foods and canned drinks

Not smoking

Low to moderate alcohol consumption, especially red wine

Social and spiritual involvement

Recreational activities- art, culture, literature, sports

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