Food, vitamins, and brain health: what we know

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Many of us enjoy eating blueberries, leafy greens like spinach and kale, and spices like turmeric for their taste. But, these foods may do more than just satisfy our taste buds.

Some believe that they can help keep our brain healthy. This could be because they might have properties that help to calm down swelling in our body, mop up harmful substances, and provide other benefits.

Despite these ideas, up until now, scientists have not found any proof that eating or not eating certain foods can stop Alzheimer’s disease or the usual decline in thinking skills as we age. Yet, scientists are still searching for answers.

Uncovering the Clues: What the Studies Say

One interesting discovery came from a study of older people’s eating habits. The study found that people who ate a serving of leafy green veggies, like spinach and kale, every day, seemed to have slower mental decline as they aged.

This might be because of some nutrients that protect the brain that are found in these foods.

Another study found that people who eat fish regularly seem to think better and experience slower mental decline as they age.

On the flip side, another study showed that eating a lot of salt could be harmful. The study, done on mice, found that consuming a lot of salt increased the levels of a protein called tau in the brain.

This protein is also found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and can cause thinking problems.

What About Vitamins and Supplements?

Apart from food, researchers have also looked at over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, including vitamins B and E and gingko biloba.

The idea was that these products might help reduce damage or swelling, protect nerve cells, or have other effects that could prevent Alzheimer’s or mental decline.

Despite some early signs of potential brain benefits, no vitamin or supplement has been proven to work in humans. The proof we have is weak, as many studies were too small or didn’t last long enough to be convincing.

One example is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon and certain other fish.

While studies in mice showed that DHA reduced beta-amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s, studies in humans gave mixed results.

In one study, older adults with mental decline who took a DHA supplement every day for 24 weeks showed improved learning and memory.

But in another study of 4,000 older adults, taking omega-3 supplements did not slow down mental decline.

At present, no vitamin or supplement is recommended for preventing Alzheimer’s or mental decline. Even though they are easy to buy from drugstores or online, many of these products have not been tested for their effects on thinking.

We don’t really know if they are safe or effective, and they may interact with other medications.

It’s also important to remember that being deficient in certain vitamins like vitamin B12 or folate can cause memory problems, but these problems can be reversed with proper treatment.

For more information, you can check out the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration websites. They can provide a wealth of information about these topics.

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