Eat Smart, Keep your Brain Sharp

Memory is as natural to us as breathing.  It is an ability we all have and yet rarely think of it. Unless we think we may be losing that ability. Everyone has annoying memory lapses, but worse is the anxiousness that comes with these lapses if they become more frequent and probably the greatest fear is dementia.

People have come to expect that, as they age their ability to remember and recall information may deteriorate, but this is not necessarily true. Occasional forgetfulness is natural, but with consistent good diet and optimum nutrition your memory should remain sharp and focussed well into your nineties and beyond.

Memory loss is linked to an insufficient supply of nutrients to the brain. Our blood, via the circulatory system, is designed to carry the nutrients our brain needs to function properly and removes unwanted matter too. Although the brain is only approximately 2% of our total body weight it receives approximately 20% of the body’s blood supply.

Low Glycaemic Foods

Our brain runs on glucose, a simple form of sugar. Brain cells can’t store energy and need glucose delivered steadily, and not in short bursts. A low Glycaemic Index (GI) diet, rich in wholefoods and essential nutrients, will help achieve this and work towards improving and maintaining mental clarity, focus and attention span.

Ideally glucose generated from these foods is released slowly into the blood stream keeping blood glucose levels evenly maintained. Extreme swings in blood sugar levels affect brain function and memory, especially if this happens on a regular basis.

Essential Fats

Our brain is about 60% fat (dry weight) and needs good levels of Omega 3 and 6 Essential Fatty Acids to help you “Stay Smart” and healthy.

Fish has been acknowledged for many years as an exceptionally good food choice for supporting brain heath due to its high levels of Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids. These fats are found in abundance in oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout. Ideally choose a variety of fresh fish, both white and oily, in your diet regularly.

Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts and hazelnuts) and seeds (including sesame, sunflower and pumpkin) and their oils are all good sources of Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids.

Protective Antioxidants

Protective antioxidants also play a key role in cognitive function and memory. A five-year study of 4500 people found that the group with carefully monitored levels of the antioxidants selenium, zinc, beta carotene and vitamins E and C had better decision-making skills, long term memory and overall cognitive function than those in the placebo group.

Oxidative damage to brain cells may impair mental clarity and the ability to retain and recall information.

Water

Make drinking water a healthy habit.

Even slight dehydration of your brain can cause serious problems with memory recall. Research has found it takes only 2% dehydration to negatively affect your attention span and other cognitive behaviour.

Stress

Stress has been linked to cognitive decline. Try identifying any stressors you may have and consider ways to minimise these or seek professional advice to help with this.

Exercise helps reduce stress and is extremely effective in improving mental focus and alertness. This can be especially beneficial when combining physical training with mindfulness practice, such as yoga.

Even 5 minutes aerobic exercise can have an anti-anxiety effect!

Exercise

Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals that support the health of existing brain cells and the growth of new ones.

The many benefits of exercise include a reduced risk of physical and cognitive decline. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps optimise the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.

This is vital for clarity of thought and mental focus. Exercise increases the biochemical process of respiration and energy which explains why we feel so good when exercising regularly.

Eat Smart – Top Tips

Eat a diet rich in wholefoods, especially wholegrains, beans, pulses and fresh seasonal vegetables and salad ingredients. Eat regular meals and avoid snacking.

Eat foods rich in essential fats, including fish, eggs, natural nuts and seeds (and their oils), olives and avocado pear.

Brain cells are particularly susceptible to free radical damage, so protect yourself from environmental toxins by eating foods rich in protective antioxidants, such as seasonal fruits and berries, colourful salads and vegetables.

Identify and address any ongoing stress.

Get enough sleep – sleep helps our body and brain rest, restore and repair.  Lack of sleep will affect clarity of thought, concentration and your attention span.

Maintain a regular exercise regime.

Avoid or minimise.

Fats from fried and processed foods

Refined foods made from white flour and sugar.

Caffeine and alcohol intake

Chemical food additives

Strengthen your Self Defences - Top Tips for Immune Support

 

There is no better time to support your immune system to ensure your bodies response to potential attack is robust and appropriate.

Healthy immune function is linked to many aspects of our health.  When performing well it protects the body against bacterial and viral infections, cancer cells and unwanted foreign substances.  A strong immune system will leave you less susceptible to illness.

Your immune system is composed of lymphatic vessels and organs (lymph nodes, thymus, spleen and tonsils), white blood cells (cells of the immune system), specialised cells in various tissues and specialised chemical factors.


If the immune system weakens, its ability to defend the body also weakens.  This can allow pathogens, including a wide range of viruses to grow and flourish in our bodies.

Any imbalances in your body will reflect in your immune response.

Common signs of a weakened immune system include fatigue, listlessness, repeated infections, inflammation, allergic reactions and slow wound healing.

Nutrient Deficiencies are the Most Common Cause of Low Immune Function

Poor nutritional status effects immune function and even one nutrient deficiency can impair the functioning of the immune system.

A diet with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and good quality protein will provide the broad spectrum of nutrients needed to optimise immune function.

Too much sugar in your diet can lead to lowered white blood cell activity.  Good blood sugar balance helps support immune function.

Alcohol inhibits white blood cell function and increases susceptibility to infections leading to lowered immunity.

Poor digestion impacts gut stimulation of immunity, absorption of nutrients and reduced gut barrier integrity.

Aim to achieve and maintain your optimal weight for optimal immune function.

Studies have shown that both under and overweight individuals suffer from more frequent infections than those who are their optimal weight.

Immune Supporting Foods

Pumpkin seeds, fish (especially shellfish) and lean meat are good sources of the mineral zinc, which supports immune response and good wound healing.

Berries, dark green leafy vegetables, watercress, peppers and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C.  Vitamin C, when combined with bioflavonoids have potent antiviral properties.  Vitamin C helps detoxify bacteria and prevents it from replicating.

Garlic and onions have beneficial anti-viral properties.

Ginger, fennel and chilli are rich in immune supporting nutrients including iron, magnesium and manganese.

Manuka honey has natural protective and antibiotic properties.

Beneficial bacteria from certain foods keep the immune system primed to effectively fight infection from invading pathogens.  Examples of foods containing beneficial bacteria are natural yoghurt and fermented foods.

Red, yellow and orange coloured vegetables and fruits contain beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A.  This essential nutrient supports the body’s defence system and helps fight infection.

Green tea contains good levels of vitamin E, which works alongside vitamins A and C – a powerful antioxidant combination.

Unhelpful Foods

Fatty meat and fatty meat products.

Processed and refined foods.

Sugar and foods containing added sugar, including fizzy drinks.

Other Considerations

Monitor your consumption of alcohol and caffeine and reduce if necessary.

Avoid stressful situations and address any ongoing stress.

Ensure you have enough sleep on a regular basis.

Follow a regular exercise programme.

Do not smoke.

Stress

Stress can play havoc with your immune system, and those individuals who experience ongoing stress are more prone to frequent and more serious viral infections.  An individual’s mental state can suppress immune function.

A positive outlook is important in building a strong immune system.  Taking time to appreciate the simple things in life can have a profoundly beneficial effect on physical and mental wellbeing.

Echinacea

This herb has been found to enhance immune function and is available to take as a supplement.

If your GP recommends you have a vaccination to protect yourself and others, then please follow their advice.

Exercise

For optimal immune function, the correct balance of exercise is key.  Too little or too much will act as an immune suppressor.

Regular, moderate exercise to suit your own lifestyle is ideal.

Sleep.

A good night’s sleep is essential for good health – as important as eating a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Ongoing poor or disrupted sleep can have a major impact on overall health and can weaken the immune system.

See my article on the importance of sleep!

If you would like to discuss your health concerns, please call me for a free 15 minute consultation.

Top Tips for Coping with Menopause

Menopause is a stage in the life of every woman that can’t be ignored or avoided.

Menopause and the symptoms associated with it are different for each woman.

For some it just passes without incident and for others it is a difficult and ongoing challenge involving a series of debilitating symptoms that effect their daily lives.

The fluctuations in oestrogen levels before and during menopause can cause symptoms such as tiredness, hot flushes, poor and interrupted sleep, headaches, night sweats, mood swings, fatigue and lethargy and feeling low and tearful.

Oestrogen stimulates bone formation and its decline at menopause increases the loss of bone mass density that occurs with age & the associated risk of osteoporosis.

The longer-term effects of lower oestrogen levels post menopause increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Eating the right combination of foods and certain lifestyle adjustments may help reduce menopausal symptoms and ease the transition.

Ongoing good diet and lifestyle will help you achieve and maintain optimal health and vitality in the years after your menopause.

Key Dietary Factors

Increase your intake of plant-based foods, especially those rich in naturally occurring plant compounds called phytoestrogens.

These dietary oestrogens have been found to reduce certain menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings.

In simple terms phytoestrogens are thought to work by mimicking the action of oestrogen.  Their chemical structure is very similar to that of oestrogen from the body. There are a wide range of additional benefits of including phytoestrogens in your diet:

  • Normalising blood sugar levels
  • Protecting bone mass density
  • Reducing plaque deposits in the arteries
  • Lowering cholesterol levels
  • Regulating the menstrual cycle

Balance this increase in plant-based foods by reducing the amount of inflammatory red meat in your diet and substitute with lean white poultry and a variety of fish.

Regularly include a wide variety of antioxidant fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in flavonoids.

In addition to helping alleviate menopausal symptoms, these antioxidant foods offer protection from degenerative diseases including arthritis and heart disease.

Phytoestrogen rich foods

Good sources of phytoestrogens include flaxseeds, soy beans and other soy-based foods, garlic, sunflower seeds, olive oil, beans, chick peas, lentils, pistachio nuts, cashew nuts and walnuts.

Flavonoids and Vitamin C

Studies have found that these antioxidant nutrients, found in numerous everyday foods such as citrus fruits, berries, green tea and apples maybe effective in relieving hot flushes.  They act in a similar way to phytoestrogens.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

Regularly include food sources of EFAs in your diet which will help balance your hormones.  Include sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and oily fish such as fresh mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout.  Avoid canned fish as the delicate EFAs are destroyed during the canning process.

Consider avoiding or minimising your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, sugar and very hot & spicy foods which may trigger hot flushes and mood swings in some women.

Blood Sugar Control

As various changes are taking place in a woman’s body during menopause it’s easy to confuse menopausal symptoms with poor blood sugar balance.

Dizziness, excessive perspiration, irritability and poor concentration could all result from hormonal changes or poor blood sugar control.

To improve and maintain good blood sugar balance:

  • Eat small, frequent meals with each meal containing some good quality protein.
  • Focus on a wholefood diet with a variety of wholegrains and fresh produce
  • Always eat a high nutrient, low GI breakfast.
  • Avoid sugar and all foods containing added sugar
  • Restrict consumption of pure fruit juices and dilute them with water.
  • Cook from scratch where possible – you then know exactly what you are eating.
  • Avoid foods containing additives and preservatives.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Take regular exercise
  • Avoid stressful situations, where possible.

Weight Management

Maintaining your optimum weight and following a healthy lifestyle can not only reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms but will also protect against long term health problems associated with loss of oestrogen, as previously mentioned.

Exercise

Physical activity has been shown to help alleviate menopausal symptoms and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Many health benefits are associated with regular exercise during menopause; improved stress management, improved circulation and heart function, improved oxygen and nutrient absorption, increased energy levels, improved self-esteem & mood and reduced blood pressure.

Mindfulness

A study published in January 2019 by the Mayo Clinic suggests that Mindfulness may be associated with fewer menopausal symptoms, and especially individuals struggling with irritability, anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness involves focusing attention on the present moment and observing thoughts and sensations without judgement.  This can help reduce stress and improve overall quality of life.  For further reading on “Mindfulness may ease menopausal symptoms” see:

Water and Hydration

 

The average adult is about 60% water and every body function depends on it, including your brain and nervous system.

Your body uses water in all its cells, organs and tissues.  Each day we need over 4 pints of water to function normally.  Some will be obtained from the food we eat, but most is provided from what we drink.  If you exercise you will need a higher water intake.

Water is involved in the breakdown of food we eat and nutrient absorption – drinking enough water helps the whole process of digestion work efficiently.  If you don’t drink enough water, you are more likely to experience constipation.

 

Good hydration supports your mental focus, alertness and memory and helps avoid brain fatigue and brain fog.

We generally sleep better when we are hydrated

Water helps keep your joints well lubricated.

When exercising water supports your strength, power and endurance.

We need water to keep our skin hydrated too.

Not drinking enough water puts a great stress on the body.  Your kidney and immune function may be impaired; you may feel dizzy and lethargic too.