Think Better With Nutrient-Rich Blood4 weeks ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Blood. You know you need it. But have you really thought about why you need it?
Your blood is made up of both liquid and solids. The liquid part is referred to as plasma and is “made of water, salts, and protein. Over half of your blood is plasma. The solid part of your blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets,” (National Institutes of Health (NIH)).
A few of the important functions of your blood include:
- Bringing waste products, such as urea, to the kidneys and liver (which then filter and clean the blood)
- Carrying cells and antibodies that fight infection. This is what the white blood cells do
- Forming blood clots to prevent too much blood loss (for example, when you get a cut or injury)
Most importantly, your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, including your brain cells. And the brain needs plenty of nutrients due to its complexity and high energy consumption.
Reportedly, “the brain is an energy-hungry organ. Despite comprising only 2 percent of the body’s weight, the brain gobbles up more than 20 percent of daily energy intake. Because the brain demands such high amounts of energy, the foods we consume greatly affect brain function, including everything from learning and memory to emotions.”
So when you fuel your body, you have to think about fueling your brain by providing it nutrient-rich blood in order to keep the brain functioning properly and help prevent mood disorders such as depression. And as you age, it may be more challenging for the body, and as a result the brain, to receive the proper fuel.
“Getting enough nutrients through diet is challenging as we age. Our bodies don't absorb nutrients as well as they once did, yet we tend to need fewer calories and eat less. So it's important to make the most out of the foods we do eat. One way is by choosing more nutrient-dense foods [such as fruits and vegetables], which provide more nutrition bang for the calorie buck,” reports Harvard Health.
(Also keep in mind, older people tend to take more prescription medications, like blood thinners, antibiotics and drugs to manage diabetes, which can deplete the body of key nutrients even if they are getting plenty of nutrients through their diet).
Moreover, with normal aging brain function starts to decline at some point. The actual size of the brain shrinks.
“It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“The shrinking of the grey matter is frequently reported to stem from neuronal cell death…”
So if you are lucky enough to grow old, your brain is naturally going to get old and you will be more prone to developing nutritional deficiencies which both put you at risk for cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
(According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5.1 million Americans 65 years or older may currently have Alzheimer’s, which is the most well-known form of cognitive impairment. And this number may rise to 13.2 million by 2050).
A balanced diet or good nutrition is undoubtedly one of the best ways to delay the effects of aging, including cognitive decline. If you already are eating a lot of plant-based foods and healthy fats, like avocado or salmon, and reduce your intake of nutrient-void processed foods, then you are being proactive about good nutrition and taking steps to delay these cognitive issues.
To give you a deeper understanding of how important good and proper nutrition is, a recent study linked nutrients in blood to better brain connectivity and cognition in older adults. The study looked at 32 key nutrients in the Mediterranean diet.
Participants of the study included 116 healthy adults, ages 65-75 years.
“The analysis linked specific patterns of a handful of nutrient biomarkers in the blood to better brain health and cognition,” according to this report discussing the study.
“The nutrient patterns included omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish, walnuts and Brussels sprouts; omega-6 fatty acids, found in flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and pistachios; lycopene, a vivid red pigment in tomatoes, watermelon and a few other fruits and vegetables; alpha- and beta-carotenoids, which give sweet potatoes and carrots their characteristic orange color; and vitamins B and D.”
Along with looking at nutrient biomarkers in the blood, researchers had participants perform cognitive tests and used high-resolution brain imaging to assess brain connectivity.
“The analysis found a robust link between higher levels of several nutrient biomarkers in the blood and enhanced performance on specific cognitive tests. These nutrients, which appeared to work synergistically, included omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, riboflavin [vitamin B2], folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”
There was also evidence that “omega-3s, omega-6s and carotene were linked to better functional brain network efficiency.”
Basically, “Our study suggests that diet and nutrition moderate the association between [brain] network efficiency and cognitive performance,” said one of the lead researchers on the study.
“This means that the strength of the association between functional brain network efficiency and cognitive performance is associated with the level of the nutrients."
So it appears that you may be able to help your brain age better (preventing or delaying cognitive decline and the development of brain diseases, like dementia) by making sure you have these key nutrients from the foods you eat and/or implementing supplementation if necessary. And remember, one reliable way to determine whether you have enough of these nutrients is by taking regular nutrient tests (I suggest at least once or twice a year, maybe even more, depending on your current nutrient status, health status and whether you regularly take medications).
How Else Can You Be Proactive About Keeping Your Brain Healthy & Functioning As You Age?
- When taking antibiotics, proceed with caution. Just like many prescription medications, antibiotics deplete the body of key nutrients. If you have to take antibiotics to fight an infection, talk to your doctor about replacing the lost nutrients either through diet and/or supplementation.
- Drink in moderation, if at all. Alcohol zaps the body of nutrients and promotes inflammation in the body. If you drink, do it in moderation. To find out how much is too much, read here.
- Avoid smoking. You don’t need me to tell you why smoking cigarettes is terrible for your health, but you may not know that smoking cigarettes actually depletes nutrients, like vitamin C, in the body. Smoking also promotes inflammation and damages tissue.
- Get your gut in check. Gut Issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, impact your ability to efficiently absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. So work with your doctor to make sure your gut microbiome is as healthy and diverse as possible.
- Spice up your life. Many people don’t realize that herbs and spices, like basil and oregano, are nutrient-dense and fight inflammation. And an added bonus is that they add great flavor to home-cooked meals.
Read more about critical nutrients that may help delay aging and promote brain health in Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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