Brain Health

New Diet Slows Brain Aging

New Diet Slows Brain Aging about undefined
What you eat can make a big difference in the strength of your memory, the clarity of your thinking and the overall health of your brain. Trouble is, turning away from delicious burgers, hot dogs, and fries to a nutritious wholefood diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is often not a popular choice. Especially here in America. But the latest research shows that if more Americans would choose a healthy diet—specifically a new diet that’s been under investigation-- they’d not only reverse a growing trend of weight gain and chronic disease, they’d improve their memory and brain function. Let’s take a closer look… I’ve no doubt that it’s not a surprise to you to hear that a whopping three quarters of Americans are either overweight or obese. Walk down the street in any city around the nation and you’ll see proof of this. Unfortunately, carrying too much weight on your body—even just a little too much—has devastating consequences for your overall health, including your memory.

Obesity Harms The Body And Shrinks The Brain

Americans are continuing to pack on the pounds with almost 43 percent of adults now categorized as obese. That’s more than triple the levels of sixty years ago. This is expected to grow to about 50 percent by the year 2030.1 Obesity is linked to multiple health problems including heart disease, stroke, Type-2 diabetes, DNA damage, thirteen different types of cancer, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea. The brain doesn’t escape either. Clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders are more likely to occur in those who are obese.2,3 Obesity also goes hand-in-hand with brain cell damage because it promotes inflammatory metabolic processes in the central nervous system. This is thought to occur because excess fatty tissue isn’t burned efficiently for fuel, and because of negative changes to the gut microbiome which is linked to the brain through the gut-brain axis. As a result, midlife obesity is linked to white and gray matter shrinkage, reduced connectivity between brain regions, cognitive decline, and dementia.4 In fact, the science is clear that obesity also hastens brain aging.

Obesity Ages the Brain By Ten Years

You might think that the age of the brain should be the same as the number of candles on our birthday cake, but it can be lower or higher than this. Estimating brain age is a highly complex process derived from multiple factors observed from brain imaging. To determine brain age, scientists collect neuroimaging information from healthy people at a particular age and then apply the model to people of the same age, whose brain age they wish to determine. A brain age higher than chronological age is seen in those with depression, schizophrenia, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. Obesity may also speed up or trigger the onset of brain aging. One study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge included 473 cognitively healthy men and women between the ages of 20 and 87. Of these, 246 were of normal weight, 150 were overweight and 77 were obese. “Results indicated,” the scientists wrote, “that cerebral white-matter volume in overweight and obese individuals was associated with a greater degree of atrophy, with maximal effects in middle-age corresponding to an estimated increase of brain age of ten years. This study suggests that at a population level obesity may increase the risk of neurodegeneration.”5 A ten-year increase in brain age due to obesity! That should be a huge incentive to slim down, if the aging that’s already taken place can be held in check or slowed down. That’s what scientists from Israel, Germany, Italy, and the U.S. wanted to know. They joined forces to investigate whether a dietary strategy to reduce weight would counter the negative effect of obesity on the body and brain, and secondly to see if weight loss could reduce the trajectory of brain aging.

The Diet That Slashed Visceral Fat By 14 Percent

For the first objective, they carried out a study on 294 abdominally obese men and women, ages 31 to 82 years. They wanted to determine what the effects would be (if any) of several dietary strategies. The volunteers were randomly divided into three groups: one received standard nutritional counseling to promote a healthy diet, another was put on a traditional Mediterranean diet, and the third group was asked to eat a green Mediterranean diet (green-MED). Never heard of it? You’re not alone. This was the first study to introduce the concept of a green Mediterranean diet. This diet contains less meat and more plant-based foods. To achieve weight loss, calories were restricted to 1500 to 1800 for men and 1200 to 1400 for women. All groups also joined an aerobic exercise class. After 18 months, not only did the pounds fall away, but blood pressure lowered, and blood sugar control improved. There was also a reduction in visceral fat, sometimes known as adipose fat. And that’s great news because visceral fat surrounds internal organs and is considered far more harmful than the spare tire around the waist. Its reduction is really the true goal of weight loss because it’s visceral fat that secretes hormones and toxins linked to cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, dementia, and premature death. The good news is that all three strategies reduced visceral fat, but there was one clear winner that edged out the other two. The healthy diet reduced it by 4.5 percent, the Mediterranean diet by seven percent, but the green-MED diet led the field, lowering visceral fat by double the amount, an impressive 14 percent. One of the study authors, Dr. Hila Zelicha, explained, saying, "A 14-percent reduction in visceral fat is a dramatic achievement for making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Weight loss is an important goal only if it is accompanied by impressive results in reducing adipose tissue." Professor Iris Shai, who led the research, added: "A healthy lifestyle is a strong basis for any weight loss program. We learned from the results of our experiment that the quality of food is no less important than the number of calories consumed…”6 And that was only the beginning…

Green-MED Reduced Brain Aging and Atrophy

The researchers were also delighted and surprised to find dramatic beneficial changes in whole brain MRI measurements and a significant reduction in brain atrophy over the course of the 18-month study, in those who adhered to either of the Mediterranean diets. However, for those aged 50 or above, the benefit of the green Mediterranean diet was much greater. First author Dr. Alon Kaplan said, "Our findings might suggest a simple, safe, and promising avenue to slow age-related neurodegeneration by adhering to a green Mediterranean diet."7 The second investigation was a sub-study of the first. Here the scientists included 102 participants from the main study to see if successful weight loss had an impact on brain aging.

Resting State Functional MRI

To predict brain age, they used a method called resting state functional MRI (rsfMRI). This maps the brain to evaluate different networks while the brain is at rest, or not engaged in a task. The rsfMRI provides a rich source of brain connectivity data. Alterations in resting state networks have been identified in many diseases. For instance, functional brain age is shown to be clinically relevant in predicting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease as well as the severity of depression. To see if rsfMRI is a valid tool to identify brain aging, they put it through its paces by training and testing it on two groups containing a total of 650 people. After they were satisfied it was a valid model to use, they then applied it to the 102 trial participants. Each received a brain scan at the beginning and the end of the trial. Researchers conducted additional tests and measurements at these times to capture other biological processes impacted by obesity. These included a range of liver, fat, and glucose biomarkers. They also looked to see what dietary factors were linked to brain age.

Weight Loss Slows Brain Aging by Nine Months

The findings revealed a bodyweight reduction of one percent led to the participant’s brain age being almost nine months younger than the expected brain age after 18 months. Another positive finding was that elevated fats in the liver decreased. This is important because these fats are known to detrimentally impact brain health in Alzheimer’s disease. Fat deposits also decreased. This lead the authors of the study, published in the journal eLife in April, to write that the beneficial changes to liver fats and lowering of fat deposits “were significantly and directly associated with brain age attenuation [reduction] i.e., the more the individual succeeded in diet-induced fat deposit loss, the more brain age attenuation has been achieved.”8 Markers of enzymes and a protein in the liver also decreased and these were significantly associated with holding back the trajectory of brain aging as well. In terms of diet, the findings showed that a reduced consumption of processed food, sweets and beverages was associated with slowing down brain age. An editorial in eLife commenting on the study described it as “a landmark work” whose findings are “compelling and convincing.” The takeaway is simple: For those looking to lose weight, any method that achieves this fat reduction will probably lower brain age, but it looks like you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by adopting the green-MED diet.

How to Follow the Green Mediterranean Diet

The traditional Mediterranean diet involves eating high amounts of extra virgin (cold pressed) olive oil, fruits and vegetables, legumes, cereals, and nuts, moderate intakes of fish and meat, dairy products and red wine, and low intakes of eggs and sweets. The green-MED diet is similar but distinct from the traditional version because red meat is put in the low category. What’s more, the green version is much higher in polyphenols – compounds found in plant foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols have been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. These powerful antioxidants also promote heathy digestion and improve brain function. The increase in polyphenols in the green diet comes from daily consumption of an ounce of walnuts, three or four cups of green tea and one cup of Wolffia globosa (Mankai duckweed). Has anyone told you about Mankai yet? If not you’re not alone. Mankai is the newest superfood on the block. It’s a protein-packed aquatic plant sometimes called duckweed or watermeal. In Asian countries it’s commonly consumed as a vegetable. It burst onto the natural health scene here in the West because the latest research shows it’s a nutritional wonder. It’s one of the only plant-based foods that provides a complete protein, iron, and vitamin B12. For example, one serving of Mankai gives you a full five grams of protein, four grams of non-soluble fiber, 15 percent of your daily essential B12, 45 percent of your iron as well as the vitamin choline. And, if that wasn’t enough, you get omega-3 fatty acids, too. That means Mankai is a good substitute for meat. In fact, when you add Mankai powder to a green shake you can partially or wholly replace a meal.9 As for those walnuts, they also have multiple health benefits and contain ellagitannins, powerful compounds reported to reduce waist circumference and harmful blood fats. Meanwhile, green tea or its extracts is linked to improved cardio-metabolic health, weight reduction, and better cognitive function. Our Takeaway I’ve always been a big believer in the anti-aging, brain-saving power of the Mediterranean diet. And frankly, I didn’t believe they could make a good thing even better, but it appears that they did. Based on the science I’ve seen, the Green Mediterranean diet is certainly worth trying. Best Regards, The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team
1 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-predicts-50-of-americans-with-obesity-301206163.html 2 https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html 3 https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/obesity/index.htm 4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5082766/ 5 Ibid. 6 https://in.bgu.ac.il/en/pages/news/greenmed_visceral.aspx 7 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220113111508.htm 8 https://elifesciences.org/articles/83604 9 https://in.bgu.ac.il/en/pages/news/avidan_shai_green_brain.aspx

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