It’s normal to expect some decline in mental alertness as we age, however it can be a sign of an imbalance for which we may need to implement some change. If anything, to minimize the risk of it developing into anything more serious.
Chemicals in the brain are responsible for maintaining memory and concentration, specifically one called Acetylcholine. Factors that can also affect mental alertness include inflammation, blood glucose control and digestive health.
Here are some of my top diet and lifestyle tips for improving memory and concentration;
There is recent evidence to suggest that bacteria in our gut can influence cognitive function such as memory and learning. Therefore maintaining a healthy gut by avoiding any of the common culprits if they are problematic for you. You may benefit from live cultures found in unsweetened yoghurts or even a probiotic supplement.
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. People don’t realise that you need a certain amount of cholesterol to produce hormones, however too much cholesterol can stick to your artery walls to form plaque. The type that is considered “bad” is the LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), because it travels through your arteries and can stick to the walls of your arteries, making them narrow. This plaque can build up and may block or narrow the artery. This process is called atherosclerosis. High cholesterol increases your chances of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular diseases are the biggest cause of death for both men and women in Ireland.
Harvard University research has shown that most of the cholesterol in our body is made by our liver, not from cholesterol we eat. The liver is stimulated to make cholesterol primarily by saturated fat and trans-fat in our diet, not dietary cholesterol. A large egg contains little saturated fat (about 1.5 grams). Dr Komaroff from Harvard states that “the saturated fat in butter, cheese, bacon, sausage, muffins, or scones, for example, raises your blood cholesterol much more than the cholesterol in your egg. And the highly refined “bad carbs” in white toast, pastries, home fries, and hash browns may also increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.”
Eggs also contain many healthy nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for the eyes; choline, which is good for the brain and nerves; and various vitamins (A, B, and D).
In 2017, a Randomised cross-over clinical intervention compared an oatmeal breakfast to a two egg breakfast. The study concluded that neither adversely affected the biomarkers associated with CVD risk, but that the eggs increased satiety throughout the day in a young healthy population.
In 2018 an assessment of 2 Randomised cross-over clinical interventions suggested that the dietary cholesterol in whole egg was not well absorbed, which may provide mechanistic insight for why it does not acutely influence plasma total-cholesterol concentration and is not associated with longer-term plasma cholesterol control.
The British and Irish Heart Foundation state that moderate egg consumption – up to one a day – does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals and can be part of a healthy diet.
In fact, since 2000, major world and UK health organizations, changed their advice on eggs and there is now no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat, as long as you eat a varied diet.
Fibre is key to the processes we use to eliminate waste and toxin and low-fibre diets are associated with;
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre slows digestion and helps you feel full for longer. It may also help to prevent or control diabetes because of its effect on blood sugar, and is related to heart health because it can help lower LDL cholesterol.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your waste, helping to prevent constipation and keep your bowels working well.
We need both types of fibre in our diets.
Here are 13 high-fibre foods you can add to your diet.
When upping your fibre intake, it’s better to increase slowly, to give your body time to adjust and avoid stomach problems. Also make sure you increase your water intake. If you’ve been advised by your doctor to eat a low-fibre diet for medical reasons, speak to him or her before adding fibre-rich foods.
Regular bowel movements are important for your health because without them toxins can accumulate and be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. There are many ways to increase bowel movements if you are suffering from constipation and it can usually be managed effectively on your own. Unfortunately too many people rely on laxatives to relieve constipation. This often interferes with kidney function and can cause a large amount of fluid loss and ultimately weaken the muscles that are needed for bowel movements. Additionally, the body rebounds after taking laxatives by holding on to all of the available water it can get, which can lead to water retention and/or bloating.
If you are only having a bowel movement less than three times a week, they are hard to pass or/and are a hard consistency you are likely constipated. Other symptom can include a sense of incomplete emptying, bloating, pain, gas and haemorrhoids. They can even lead to fatigue and skin conditions.
Fortunately, constipation is often preventable and there are many natural relief remedies and lifestyle changes available that can help improve bowel function.
What causes constipation?
Causes can include:
What can I do when I am constipated?
There is no one size fits all and it may be a case of trial and error to see what multitude of things work for you. If you have tried several things and nothing seems to be working it may be worth testing for underlying causes such as Thyroid Function or Gut dysfunction.
Studies show that Nutrition has been implicated in behaviour, mood and in the pathology and treatment of mental illness.
A diet, including fish and enough vegetables and fruits, can be a protective factor for depression, due to it’s anti-inflammatory impact. Also, the inclusion of probiotics could have a positive effect for depressive patients, due to the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effect induced by probiotics. Eating balanced meals on a regular basis and consuming nutrients for mental health including omega-3 fats, antioxidants and B vitamins are suggested.
The Mediterranean diet is one traditional dietary pattern validated in population-based and intervention studies to improve physical health and quality of life. A large prospective study found adherence to the Mediterranean diet was protective against the self-reported development of depression.
These are my top 7 nutrients that I suggest you include regularly in your diet, in order to have a positive affect on your mental health;
1. Omega 3;
Some main food sources: flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.
2. Antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E;
Some main food sources: broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet and white potato, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, butternut squash and carrots.
Some main food sources: spinach, kale, banana, raspberries, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, black beans, peas, asparagus, salmon, mackerel.
Some main food sources: peanuts, cashews, pine nuts, almonds, pumpkin, sesame and hemp seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, shellfish, unprocessed meat.
5. B Vitamins;
Some main foods sources; broccoli, spinach, almonds, sunflower seeds, lentils, beans, cheese, brown rice, fish, chicken and unprocessed meat.
6. Vitamin D;
Main sources: eggs, salmon, mackerel, cheese. Supplementing may be required (get tested annually).
There is recent research suggesting a link between the gut microbiome and depression. Eating probiotic and prebiotic food such as onions, garlic, yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut can support a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Foods to reduce;
It has been established that a diet rich in fast-food, such as pizza, hamburgers, and donuts, has been connected to depression. These food are highly processed and high in simple sugars, which depressed individuals tend to consume more of.
There is also research implicating lack of physical activity, sun exposure and sleep as increasing risk of depression.
Mental health is very individual and there is not a once size fits all approach. If you are currently struggling, please reach out to a family, friend or your primary GP.