Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates enthusiastically proclaimed, “What is good for the heart is good for the mind.” Now we know he was spot on with these sage words.
Studies over the past decades have consistently revealed that if you take good care of your heart and arteries, you get the added bonus of having a healthier mind. It is not surprising then that heart-healthy Mediterranean diets have been shown to protect against both depression and dementia. A report presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 62nd Annual Meeting found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 36% less likely to have small areas of dead brain tissue, called infarcts, on MRI scans of their brains versus those who ate this pattern the least. The presence of infarcts on an MRI scan portends a greater risk of dementia and stroke.
On the subject of brain health, a second report caught my eye that I want to share with you. Despite very little awareness, even amongst the medical community, high levels of copper and iron in the body after the age of 50 are especially bad for the heart and the brain. Authors of a report in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology provide specific steps older adults can take to safeguard against toxic levels of these metals accumulating in their bodies. They include: avoiding supplements that contain copper or iron, restricting the intake of red meat, avoiding water from copper pipes, giving blood regularly to reduce iron levels, and taking zinc supplements to lower copper levels.
Our brains may not like lots of iron or copper, but they seem to thrive with an abundance of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions in the body including the formation of new connections or synapses in the brain. Synapses are the lynch pins of learning – the more you have in your brain and the higher the quality of their construction, the better your cognitive function and learning capacity. Reporting in the journal Neuro (June 2010) scientists found that boosting levels of magnesium in the brains of both young and old rats enhanced learning and memory through a host of different mechanisms. Magnesium deficiencies are not uncommon in America which does not bode well for our collective intellect. Be sure to regularly include magnesium rich foods in your diet each day. Your best choices are: seafood, nuts, beans, dark leafy greens, whole grains, and tomato paste.