Eat to overcome inflammation
High levels of inflammation may heighten your risk for dementia, so choose whole, unprocessed, high-fiber foods to decrease those levels, advises Elisa Lottor, ND, PhD, author of Female and Forgetful (Warner, 2002). "Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange; instead of white bread, choose whole grain," she says. A dearth of omega-3 fatty acids can also lead to chronic inflammation. Boost omega-3s by eating fish—especially salmon, sardines, and mackerel—at least twice a week, suggests Alan C. Logan, ND, author of The Brain Diet (Cumberland House, 2007).
Drink green tea
In a recent study, researchers examined green tea's effect on 1,003 adults and found that consuming one cup a day lowered risk for dementia by 38 percent (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006, vol. 83, no. 2). "Even more intriguing is that they found drinking two cups or more a day lowered the risk by 54 percent," says Logan.
Add more antioxidants to your diet
A recent study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, corroborates the long-standing belief that foods rich in antioxidants—such as blueberries, cranberries, and cherries—boost brain function. Researchers discovered that elderly beagles fed a diet rich in antioxidants were better able to learn unfamiliar tasks (Neurobiology of Aging, 2005, vol. 26, no. 1).
Antioxidant-rich turmeric (Curcuma domestica), the yellow component in curry, may protect against dementia. But if curry isn't your favorite dish, take heart: You don't have to consume much to reap the benefits. According to a 2006 study, elderly participants without Alzheimer's who only occasionally ate curry—just once or more every six months—improved their cognitive function (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2006, vol. 164, no. 9). Try supplementing with 850 mg of turmeric daily, says Lottor.
Go for ginkgo
Although ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is often recommended for people already diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the most well-known form of dementia, it is now considered key to prevention (Fortschritte der Medizin Originalien, 2003, vol. 121, no. 1). "Ginkgo can help with aspects of mental performance in otherwise healthy adults," says Logan, who credits the supplement's ability to improve blood flow to the brain. He suggests a dose of 80 mg, three times daily.
Engage the brain
Some people may benefit from software marketed for brain enhancement, although Logan doesn't put too much stock in the programs. You'll do better, he says, by increasing social interaction to stimulate the brain. "Learn something new," adds Lottor, who recommends organizations like Elderhostel, which hosts participants on learning adventures around the world. Of course, it doesn't hurt to do a daily crossword or sudoku puzzle, as well.
To really nourish your mind, take a walk. In a 2004 study, subjects who walked up to six hours per week, or more than two miles a day, improved their cognitive abilities (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004, vol. 292, no. 12). "Take the opportunity to walk whenever you can," says Logan, who says exercise benefits the brain because it increases blood flow throughout the body and lowers stress levels.
Kelli Rosen is a freelance writer in Monkton, Maryland.