Three Foods to Keep Your Brain Young

It's an agonizing disease with no known cure...

Today, more than 6 million Americans live with an Alzheimer's diagnosis. And that number is likely to rise to 14 million by 2060.

It's likely you've known – or even cared for – someone with Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that eats away at memory and eventually other mental functions. In later stages, people lose the ability to speak, dress themselves, and even swallow.

But according to a study published in May out of the University of California, around 1 in 3 cases of Alzheimer's disease and Alzheimer's-related dementia in the U.S. is associated with eight modifiable risk factors:

  1. Midlife obesity
  2. Physical inactivity
  3. Low educational attainment
  4. Current smoking habit
  5. Depression
  6. Diabetes
  7. Midlife hypertension
  8. Hearing loss

The factors that we know most increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's involve what we eat and what we weigh. So when it comes to eating (and maintaining a healthy weight), your choices matter and can either harm or help your brain as you age...

Avoiding highly processed foods with added sugar is key. Over time, eating food with added sugar causes chronic inflammation and can restrict blood flow to the brain. It can also lead to cognitive decline and memory problems.

Fortunately, there are lots of incredible food options available that can improve your brain function and lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Today, I'm sharing three delicious food choices that will help protect your brain throughout life...

Brain Food No. 1: Olive Oil

In our bodies, we have a fantastic "trash disposal" system. It's called autophagy, which comes from a Greek word meaning "self-devouring."

Your cells find debris that needs to be broken down, and they use the autophagy process to move those bits of trash to the proper place for destruction. Trash includes proteins that don't work correctly, useless byproducts of normal processes, or external bits that get into the system.

Here's the thing... researchers think Alzheimer's starts when your brain's autophagy system stops working.

And a 2017 study out of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University may have proved it.

Researchers at Lewis Katz bred mice to have the three key characteristics of Alzheimer's:

  1. Memory impairment
  2. Amyloid plaque buildup in the brain tissue
  3. "Tangles" of phosphorylated tau proteins

Then they added extra-virgin olive oil to the food of half the mice.

As they grew older, the mice who ate olive oil every day outperformed the other mice on cognitive tests. What's more, the mice with olive oil in their diets had healthier nerve cells with better function.

Finally, the researchers were excited to discover these mice had higher autophagy activation in their nerve cells. Lead author Dr. Domenico Praticò explained this resulted in lower levels of both the plaques and the tangles seen in Alzheimer's.

Olive oil, particularly the extra-virgin kind, is a healthy monounsaturated fat.

Many diseases of aging include increased levels of oxidative injury from too many free radicals. Olive oil's proven ability to reduce inflammation and provide protection from oxidative stress means we could see even more health benefits.

In fact, other studies have seen that the antioxidants in olive oil act as protective agents against plaques and tau-protein buildup.

Olive oil is a component of the Mediterranean diet, and it could be the reason this diet has so many benefits. So do what I do and follow the Mediterranean way of eating, with an emphasis on about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil every day. If that sounds like a lot, make sure you're getting at least half a tablespoon each day.

Brain Food No. 2: Dark Chocolate

Longtime readers of my monthly newsletter, Retirement Millionaire, know that the many active chemicals, flavonoids, and antioxidants in cocoa provide lots of health benefits. Specifically, the antioxidants in chocolate help blood vessels expand and regulate the flow of blood, which helps blood pressure.

And now researchers are focusing on how chocolate can help the brain. A 2013 Harvard study, published in the medical journal Neurology, found that seniors who drank two cups of hot cocoa per day for a month performed better on memory and thinking tests than those who didn't drink hot cocoa. The cocoa drinkers also showed improved blood flow to their brains.

The flavonoids in chocolate are believed to be the cause of brain health. In fact, some researchers are now pushing to add chocolate to the diets of elderly Americans who may be at risk of Alzheimer's.

Numerous studies agree – dark chocolate is good for your health. Milk chocolate can be loaded with more sugar and cholesterol. But dark chocolate contains more antioxidants and flavonoids, making it a healthier choice.

I recommend eating a small piece of dark chocolate a few times a week. And if the calories worry you, try doing what I do: I park my car a good walking distance from my destination and eat a dark chocolate Hershey's Kiss as I walk. That way I'm getting all the benefits of chocolate and still burning calories.

Brain Food No. 3: Coffee

Longtime readers know I love coffee...

I've even touted it as the only "supplement" that I take three times a day – with a splash of real half-and-half if I can get it.

And according to a 2018 study out of Toronto, Canada, the more bitter your coffee, the healthier your brain...

The researchers looked at dark and light roast coffees. They also included a dark roast decaffeinated coffee.

It's important to note that prior studies found a correlation (but not cause and effect, like this one) between drinking coffee and lower risks of Alzheimer's disease. So these researchers took coffee extracts and studied how they interacted with different compounds in the brain. That included beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins.

Both the amyloid plaques and the tau tangles appear on medical scans. Researchers took six compounds from the coffees and studied how each one interacted with these proteins.

Several compounds are ones we've already seen (and written about) in different foods. But in this study, one type of compound really stood out for Alzheimer's...

Phenylindanes directly blocked the growth of both the beta-amyloid and tau proteins. This is groundbreaking because up until now, we haven't seen any extracts capable of suppressing the tau proteins.

Phenylindanes aren't the focus of many studies. But they form from the roasting process of coffee beans. The darker the roast, the more phenylindanes in the coffee. In fact, the bitter flavor you get in coffee comes from these compounds.

Even better, these compounds occur in both regular and decaffeinated coffee. So if you need to cut down on caffeine for any reason, you can still get all the brain benefits from these compounds.

So, if you haven't warmed up to the idea of drinking coffee, now's the time to reconsider. As I mentioned, I have about three cups a day. Adding a little milk is fine, but skip the sugar.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 15, 2022