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via GH : In this sneak peek at his new book, Food Can Fix It, Dr. Oz delivers proven ways to improve your memory, sharpen your mind and keep your neurons firing for life.

We’ve all had this experience — you can’t remember where you parked, or the last of the four things you needed to pick up at the supermarket … or you blank on the name of your friend’s husband or take an uncomfortable minute to recall what day of the week it is. Plenty of things that should be no-brainers (garlic — that’s the fourth item!) sometimes require real effort.

Don’t panic! To a large degree, this “spacing out” is a natural part of aging, though surveys have shown that the prospect of memory loss scares people more than the threat of cancer, heart attack or accident.

But here’s the thing: Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory-related problems are not necessarily inescapable. You can prevent, slow the progression of and in some cases even reverse some of these issues.

The best way to think about your brain is to visualize a phone network. Your brain’s neurons are like individual callers, sending messages to and receiving them from each other. When information makes it from one neuron to the next, it’s a successful “call,” and that neuron stores that information for future use. This is how memory is built —  messages are filed away for later.

Taking the phone analogy one step further, if the neurons are individual callers, they need a network they can rely on to carry the information. Your brain’s network is made up of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which travel back and forth across your synapses (the name for the spaces between neurons) with the neurons’ messages. If a neurotransmitter doesn’t do its job, or your brain’s network becomes clouded or gunked up in other ways, it will affect your memory and other mental processes.

Here’s what you can do to keep the whole system functioning optimally.

1. Move it.

Exercise has been shown to be the most effective brain defender. According to a review of 16 studies, people who are regularly physically active reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by 45%. That means 150 minutes a week of moderately intense aerobic exercise — where you’re working hard enough for your heart to beat fast, but not so hard that you’re too breathless to talk. This simple prescription helps promote new networks of small blood vessels, which allow more glucose and nutrients to reach more brain regions.

2. Use it or lose it.

Pushing your mind to learn new things helps keep it plastic, meaning that it continues to develop. Take a class in a new language, instrument or craft or a type of dance that involves learning steps; volunteer; or do something else novel to build the connections that fend off neurological deterioration.

3. Feed yourself the right fats.

Because your brain is the fattiest organ, healthy fats are essential to protect against memory-related diseases. Saturated fats are rigid molecules, while omega-3 fats are flexible. When your brain is repairing itself and making neurons, it prefers flexible cells. Fish is a great source of omega-3s: An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review found that adding a serving of fish per week to one’s diet was associated with lower risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (Two to three servings, or 12 ounces, is even better.) Walnuts, cauliflower and chia seeds are other good sources of omega-3s.

3. Favor flavonols.

Flavonols, plant-based antioxidants,  are found in foods such as dark chocolate, tea, red wine and blueberries. They help facilitate brain connections and may protect cells from toxins or the negative effects of inflammation. There’s nothing better than a little special-occasion dark chocolate.

4. Eat plant-based foods.

I can’t say this enough. High consumption of vegetables, especially leafy greens, has been shown to help brain health. Also, researchers have found that people who report eating lots of berries have slower rates of cognitive decline. Add seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower, to your diet too: They contain a compound called lignan. One large study found that a higher lignan intake was associated with less decline in cognitive function, memory and processing. Those with the lowest lignan intake had a three and a half times greater cognitive-function decline and a memory decline that was six times greater.

 

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