The requirements of healthy aging: how nutrition affects brain function
To ensure our bodies are operating at their best, it's essential that we focus on nutrition and a balanced diet throughout our lives. This is a challenge many people face as it can require quite a bit of dedication, and it's an aspect of our health that should be maintained as we age. Regardless of how difficult a nutritional may be to maintain, a poor diet can develop a long list of health complications that can be pretty detrimental. In this article, you'll learn how nutrition plays a vital role in healthy aging and our overall brain function.
Why is Nutrition So Important?
An essential component of our body’s well-being, nutrition is something that should be maintained throughout each stage of your life. Some aspects of nutrition may be more important when you’re young and still developing, but it’s still a prominent aspect of living a long and healthy life. Many aspects of our health take many different lifestyle choices into account, as nutrition, when paired with an active lifestyle, can offer even more benefits for our body and mind.
The diet we carry can have an effect on the inside and outside of our bodies. Many people don't even consider refining their diet unless they see a physical change in their outward appearance, when in reality, this generally occurs when something is changing on the inside. If you tend to maintain a poor diet for any extended period of time, your organs are bound to suffer.
Each human body is different and may react in a variety of ways to certain diet conditions, but there are many dos and don'ts when it comes to taking care of your body. More often than not, people don't really consider the damage that can be done from keeping a poor diet, one of which is its substantial effects on the brain.
How Does Your Diet Affect the Brain?
There’s no question that the brain is essential for your quality of life and many aspects of your mental and physical health. You’d be surprised how diet choices can affect aspects such as perception, memory, learning, and language capabilities. Overall, there are three macronutrients that are essential for brain function.
- Protein: This nutrient is a major factor in your brain's tissue structure, in addition to your metabolic, hormone, and transport systems and the production of neurotransmitters. Protein-rich foods include nuts, soy products, animal meat, a variety of vegetables, and more.
- Carbohydrates: These are essential for the energy within the body and the production of glucose which is the go-to energy source for the brain. It's also important for critical thought processes. Carbs can be found in food such as vegetables, grains, dairy, and even fruits.
- Fat: Meant for energy reserves, hormones, cell membranes, and the transport of fat-soluble vitamins, fat activates BDNF and IGF1 for various aspects of growth and development. Healthy fats can be found in meat, seeds, nuts, oils, dairy, and fish.
With each passing day, your body feels like it's on auto-pilot, and in many ways, it can be. However, for it to be able to function on auto-pilot without any health concerns, this requires some effort on your part pertaining to your diet. Not only can it substantially affect the health of your internal organs, but it can also lead to issues with cognition earlier in life.
The Relationship Between Cognitions and Aging
Humans are capable of a wide range of complex cognitive functions, but these can be compromised if we don't stay true to a healthy diet. Aside from that, aging can also significantly impact our cognition, but there's plenty we can do to ward off this particular health concern. Many of our cognitive functions come from the brain's prefrontal cortex and hippocampus areas.
These sections focus on complex thinking, decision-making, information analysis, learning, memory, and more. As we get older, our brain morphology, function, and plasticity tend to change, and this can eventually lead to cognitive issues such as neurodivergence. It’s also known that these issues play a significant part in the development of diseases such as dementia which can be quite debilitating in a short amount of time.
One way you can work towards maintaining a healthy brain is with the help of a balanced diet. Providing your body with the nutritional value it needs to thrive is step one to living a long, healthy life. Focusing on macro and micronutrients, there's a reason that certain nutrients are referred to as building blocks for the body.
Avoiding an excessive intake of fat, sugars, processed foods, and salt is an excellent starting point for a healthy diet, but this is where consistency is key. Clearly, this is a challenge for many people, but a lot of diet choices come down to cravings. If you consistently remove certain foods from your diet long enough, your brain will stop triggering those reminders, and you'll start learning to prefer a cleaner diet. The brain regulates hunger in an intricate way, and it's important to understand how that works so you can learn how to reshape your diet choices.
How Does the Brain Regulate Hunger?
When it comes to feeling hungry, this can be a tricky environment for the brain to navigate, as it can be influenced in a number of ways. Food intake is regulated by homeostatic, sensory, and hedonic neural circuits. These are what balance the intake and expenditure of energy in our bodies. Without a balanced diet, many people are prone to maladaptive eating behaviors, which can have adverse effects on the health and function of the brain.
In essence, your nutritional choices can directly affect your decision-making, future diet choices, cravings, and even aspects like anxiety levels and sleep patterns. Part of what makes a healthy diet so difficult to navigate is that a lot of what is promoted to us on a daily basis is the complete opposite of what our body needs.
To change your diet for the better, you can make it easy by going back to nutritional basics. Micronutrients that include vitamins and minerals may be needed in only small quantities, but that doesn't make the need for them any less critical. They play an important role in the body's biochemical, metabolic, and regulatory processes, including the brain.
If you focus on a consistent change in your diet toward more healthy foods, eventually, that’s what your brain will ask for when you get hungry. You can literally train your body to prefer healthier foods, but it can take a substantial amount of effort to make that change if you currently maintain an unhealthy diet.
How Nutrition Affects the Brain and Aging Process
These topics are becoming increasingly important as the world’s elderly population is rapidly increasing. By 2050, it’s expected that there will be over 1.5 billion people over the age of 60, which means we can expect an influx of cognitive diseases, especially if nutrition isn’t kept in check. Research suggests that with the help of specific macro and micronutrients being implemented into a consistent diet, people can have a better chance of avoiding some of the most common age-related diseases.
It may not be stopped entirely, but the degenerative process of the brain that occurs as we age could be mitigated with the help of a balanced and optimized diet. More specifically, this note pertains to B vitamins, fatty acids, and flavonoids. You can also consider nutritional supplementation as a helpful tool, but it won’t ever act as a full replacement for a consistently healthy diet.
Another factor that makes this endeavor challenging for the general population is that each person’s body has a variety of similar and entirely different nutritional needs. When you consider medical history, the current state of their health, and any other specific medical needs, this can make crafting a balanced quite difficult.
Nevertheless, without the help of a balanced diet, most people are in for a rude awakening as they age. When we're young and healthy, our body and mind can take a substantial beating for long periods of time, but this isn't the case as we reach our later years. Our body and mind become much more sensitive to lifestyle choices, and one of your biggest advantages is crafting a reliable diet plan. Thankfully, you can make a healthy lifestyle change to your diet at any point in your life, but if you want to give your brain the best cognitive functionality possible, it's better to start earlier than later.
Refining the Nutritional Value of Your Diet
It'll definitely come with a few hurdles, as making a change to your usual diet is never easy. Yet, at the same time, we live in an era where it isn't too difficult to find helpful information on healthy diet choices. Research has provided that a Mediterranean diet can offer many benefits for the body as a whole, in addition to the brain's cognitive function.
This particular diet weighs heavily on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fiber, olive oil, and legumes. It also includes low consumption of sugars, red meats, saturated fats, and industrialized, processed foods. All aspects of this diet would do anyone well in the long term.
Additionally, it has shown that it can make improvements to your gut microbiota, adequate production of vital hormones, reduce bodily inflammation, and even help with the production of neurotransmitters. You can take many different routes to improve your diet's nutritional value, but if you never make that change, your brain and the rest of your body will eventually suffer for it.
The brain is undoubtedly one of the most sensitive organs in the human body, and it requires consistent care to perform at its best throughout every stage of your life. It becomes even more susceptible to various diseases as we age, which is why a consistently healthy diet is so important.
Regardless of the current status of your health, it’s never too late to make a change and positively impact your brain and body for the rest of your life.
- Fabien Pifferi, FP l May 10th, 2021 l In Pursuit of Healthy Aging: Effects of Nutrition on Brain Function l National Library of Medicine l https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8126018/
- Multiple contributors l June 5th, 2020 l Nutrition and the aging brain: Moving towards clinical applications l ScienceDirect l https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163720302142
- Fernando Gómez-Pinilla l FGP l January 12th, 2010 l Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function l National Library of Medicine l https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
- Multiple contributors l August 3rd, 2021 l Healthy Meal, Happy Brain: How Diet Affects Brain Functioning l Frontiers l https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2021.578214#:~:text=Amazingly%2C%20the%20food%20you%20eat,to%20brain%20disorders%20like%20depression.
- Nilay Yapici l NY l How the Brain Controls Food Intake l https://research.cornell.edu/research/how-brain-controls-food-intake