None of us can escape the clutches of time; no matter how much money we might spend on anti-wrinkle creams, facelifts and hair transplants, our organs will always tell the true story of ageing. How time changes us on the outside is obvious to observe but it is much harder to determine our true metabolic age. We don’t tend to notice a decline in organ function until it is compromised to such an extent that it causes symptoms.
One of the first changes we notice as we grow older is a decreased elasticity in our skin; crow’s feet are hard to overlook, after all! The first sprouting of grey hair can sometimes be detected in our early twenties and we start to lose some lean muscle mass at the age of 40. Soon after, our digestive function slowly declines, our liver becomes less efficient and our bones and joints don’t seem as sprite as they once used to be. The decline of one’s organs is the cruelest fate of all. Our brain is particularly vulnerable to the onslaughts of time and cognitive decline is an unwelcome companion to many older people; it has a debilitating effect on not just the individual but their family and friends. Preventing cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia is absolutely key and could change the way our society views the elderly. It is particularly important because there is no effective medication or treatment to halt or reverse declining mental ability. I am convinced our care homes and hospitals would be different places altogether if we could eliminate the burden of cognitive failure!
Amazingly, supporting brain function into old age is relatively simple and everyone can do it! All you need is a simple cocktail of the right nutrients, at the right dosage, and Alzheimer’s might become a distant memory, one we ideally want to forget. Before talking about nutrition, consider a few other lifestyle factors; being part of a community, having regular contact with family and friends and being proactive in pursuing hobbies and following interests is a very important part of staying sharp into ripe old age. The brain is a muscle after all and needs a regular workout. Isolation and depression are common in older people but hardly talked about; mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health and a busy social life is crucial to a happy ever after. Alcohol and smoking are brain cell killers and, while you should be entitled to the odd glass of red wine, it is the vices you have indulged in during your 30s and 40s that pose the risk!
It is all about keeping a positive outlook, however, and preserving those lifetimes of memories. One of the most important ingredients you’ll need is omega-3 fatty acids; several studies have been published recently that hail the brain regeneration effects of our favourite fishy friends. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that those at risk of Alzheimer’s benefited immensely from an increased intake of omega-3 EPA and DHA, only found in large quantities in fish oil, that feed a particular part of the brain that enables us to switch effectively between tasks. Planning, reasoning and problem solving become a breeze with the help of these slippery saviours. Such abilities are actually a much better predictor of cognitive decline than memory alone, which a lot of research has focused on. Busy brains at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine have taken it a step further and found a connection between omega-3 supplements and the ageing process; healthy adults between 60 and 80 were given 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids for 12 weeks and results showed a remarkable improvement to their cardiovascular health. This is important to help prevent cognitive decline because the brain relies on a decent blood supply – a healthy heart and circulatory system might be the basis for a well-functioning brain.
Besides the all-important addition of fish oils to keep our brains and bodies well-oiled into old age, there is an enemy we have to face; this dark force goes by the name of homocysteine and sneakily sabotages all our hard work. Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is produced in the body during a complex chemical pathway called methylation. Usually, the compound in question is rapidly metabolised but if it is allowed to build up, it can have devastating consequences. Numerous papers have linked high homocysteine levels to migraines, fertility problems, recurring miscarriages and cardiovascular disease. It is actually a more reliable risk factor than cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking put together. High levels are also majorly implicated in brain function and have been strongly linked with the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The clearance of homocysteine in the blood is dependent on a handful of crucial vitamins: B12, B6 and folate. If you have these magic nutrients in abundance, you should be well guarded against all sorts of degenerative diseases. Unfortunately, these vitamins are very easily depleted and one of the most commonly prescribed medications in older age has a lot to answer for. Heart burn and indigestion are unpleasant side effects of ageing and the medicines of choice are proton pump inhibitors, which work by reducing the production of stomach acid but sadly also reduce the absorption of vitamin B12 in the stomach. Deficiencies of this vitamin are shockingly common and just a small dose each day could drastically change quality of life and life expectancy!
Add a generous serving of fish oils, vitamin B12, B6 and folate to your ‘fountain of youth’ cocktail and reap the benefits well into old age!