By: Joelle Klein
Today nearly 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that number will more than triple. While studies show that taking up certain hobbies such as bridge, learning a foreign language, or doing crossword puzzles may help decrease your risk for dementia or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, many of us may not have the time to take a Spanish class or schedule a regular bridge game. But you can stave off memory loss and decrease your risk for develop Alzheimer’s without taking a class — all you have to do is add a few things to your grocery list.
And, really, who doesn’t want to boost their brainpower?
Here are five foods that have been proven to help improve memory, maintain brain function and/or prevent dementia, and they all also offer a bonus health benefit or two.
A handful of walnuts a day may keep memory loss at bay. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety, and motor development in mice fed a walnut-enriched diet. Furthermore, the researchers stated that a diet rich in walnuts may help reduce the risk or delay the onset of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Another recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging found that eating as few as a handful of walnuts a day may help boost memory, concentration, and cognitive function.
Bonus Benefit: Not only are walnuts crammed with heart-healthy antioxidants, but they are packed with more antioxidants and a higher quality of antioxidants than all other healthful nuts such almonds, pecans, and pistachios, according to a 2011 study published in Food and Function. Additionally, they contain about four grams of protein per ounce and are associated with a significantly lower risk of weight gain and obesity, if eaten with portion control in mind.
Whether you pop them in your mouth right out of the container, add them to a fruit salad, or blend them up with some milk and ice for a smoothie, you are doing your brain (and your taste buds) a lot of good. Researchers have found that foods rich in phytochemicals, like blueberries, are effective at reversing age-related deficits in memory, according to a study published in the science journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine.
Another study out of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks shows that blueberries contain compounds that can reduce inflammation in the central nervous system. Inflammation in the central nervous system is known to be a key issue in neurodegeneration, and consumption of blueberries has been shown to alleviate cognitive decline associated with disease and aging.
Bonus Benefit: Blueberries, too, are full of antioxidants, but their benefits go well beyond heart health. They’ve also been shown to help reduce belly fat and risk for type 2 diabetes—and studies have showed that eating blueberries can alleviate and protect against intestinal inflammations, such as ulcerative colitis.
I’m surprised Starbucks doesn’t tout this benefit — I guess with a store on almost every block in America, they don’t have to — but sipping a cup of java every morning is not only a nice daily ritual, it’s also great for your memory.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory, and previous studies showed a benefit to short-term memory. A 2009 University of South Florida Health study showed that drinking about five cups of coffee a day actually reversed memory impairment in mice that were bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Even decaffeinated varieties may help improve memory functions, according to a 2012 Mount Sinai Medical Center study.
Bonus Benefit: How’s this? Reduce your risk for death! A 2015 American Heart Association study found that drinking coffee daily was associated with a lower risk of deaths from type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, certain neurological diseases and suicide. Benefits were found for both caffeine and non-caffeinated drinkers, so it’s most likely the naturally occurring chemical compounds in the coffee beans conveying the benefits.
If you sprinkle a little cinnamon in your coffee every morning you may be creating a brain-boosting cocktail that will help reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s — and taste pretty good. Various studies have shown that cinnamon can improve memory function and reduce the aggregation of tau proteins, which are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, just smelling cinnamon can help improve your memory, according to researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Bonus Benefit: Where to begin? Research led by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists found that antioxidant-rich cinnamon extract helped reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease. By the way, thirty percent of people with Alzheimer’s also have heart disease, and twenty nine percent also have diabetes. Then there’s the study out of Rush University Medical Center that showed that cinnamon may help halt the progression of Parkinson’s disease, and the one from The University of Arizona that found that the reddish brown spice may reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
Need to remember to pick up milk on the way home and then your dry cleaning? Take a whiff of rosemary and there’s a great chance that you’ll remember to do both, and other future chores or activities. The ability to remember future events or complete activities at a specific time is known as “prospective memory.” Researchers at Northumbria University in the UK infused the aroma of rosemary essential oil into a testing room before a randomly selected group of adults were placed in either the scented room or a non-scented room. Participants in the rosemary-scented room performed better on the prospective memory tasks than the participants in the room with no scent.