What About ...
Much has been made of the anti-aging, brain-health-boosting properties of a variety of foods and herbs, such as ginkgo biloba, resveratrol, coffee, green tea, even chocolate. Some, such as coffee and chocolate, certainly perk up your brain in the short term. But can they really forestall dementia? Most experts join the National Institute on Aging in saying the jury's still out. "The notion that these substances will prevent cognitive decline is highly speculative at this point," says Gene L. Bowman of Oregon Health & Science University.
He and others also advise against taking these foods and nutrients as supplements. "Food is always a better source of nutrients than a pill," Bowman adds.
So What Exactly Is Inflammation?
To understand why diet is so critical to cognitive health you have to wrap your brain around a concept you have may have heard about but never really understood — inflammation.
"It's a major factors driving nerve cell death in the brain," says Harvard neuroscientist Rudolph E. Tanzi, who first identified genes linked to Alzheimer's.
Most of us think of inflammation as the protective mechanism triggered by the immune system when we get, say, a bad cut or sore throat. But experts now believe that a more insidious, low-level inflammation can occur throughout the body in response to many factors, among them a poor diet or exposure to mold and toxins.
In your the blood vessels this chronic inflammation may result in high blood pressure or stroke. In your joints, it may trigger arthritis. And in your brain? Dementia. Nevertheless, the latest research shows that some dietary changes may offset the damage from oxidative stress and inflammation and increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain well into old age.