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600pix-brooke-larkHow to use food as medicine (2) – ward off Alzheimer’s and lower blood pressure

Can you use certain foods to increase cognitive function? To help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s? And what about bringing down blood pressure – can you modify your diet to achieve this? Angela J. Phillip investigates.

Last week I investigated foods for heart and bone health and this week it will be brain health and how to lower blood pressure, but there is an overlap especially between heart and brain health (as you would expect). This reminds me of two of the principles of food and health that I quoted before from the University of Minnesota (What should I eat for my specific condition?):

  1. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
  2. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.

Brain health

Here are the nice things that are good for your brain:
Fatty fish, olive oil, walnuts, Brussels sprouts & avocados – these contain omega 3 fatty acids which have been associated with lower levels of the protein beta-amyloid. This is the protein that forms clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Fatty fish such as salmon, cod and sardines are excellent sources of omega 3 oils. Avoid fish with high levels of mercury (e.g. tuna). If you don’t like eating fish, the best plant-based sources are from walnuts, Brussels sprouts, avocados and pumpkin seeds.

220pix-scott-webbGreen leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli etc. – these contain vitamin K. One of the main roles of vitamin K is to help regulate the levels of calcium in both bones and brain. A study from the University of North Carolina says that  ‘those with low levels of vitamin K have dysregulated calcium in their brains that causes some of the damage done to the brain in Alzheimer’s.’ (taken from The Relationship between Vitamin K and Alzheimer’s Prevention)

600pix-food-forestBerries – contain large amounts of anti-oxidants. These reduce oxidative stress which is what happens when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Have a look at this extract from How does oxidative stress affect the body (2019): ‘The effects of oxidative stress may contribute to several neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (…) The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress because brain cells require a substantial amount of oxygen. (…) During oxidative stress, excess free radicals can damage structures inside brain cells and even cause cell death, which may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease (…) [and] contribute to the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain [that occur in Alzheimer’s].’

Almost all fruit and vegetables contain anti-oxidants, but berries have a very high content.

Tea and coffee – contain not only anti-oxidants, but caffeine which has been shown to be helpful for improved cognitive function.

220pix-walnutsWalnuts  contain contain ALA (alpha linolenic acid) a particularly effective type of omega 3 fatty acid. A study in UCLA l(2015) inked increased walnut consumption with improved cognitive performance.

Sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocados and spinach – contain Vitamin E. This is another  antioxidant to reduce oxidative stress. It is best eaten as food because a high dose vitamin E supplement can increase the risk of a stroke. (source Harvard Health: Don’t buy into brain health supplements).

Mushrooms – have a unique anti-oxidant that has a protective effect on the brain. A Singapore study reported by the BBC  (March, 2019) suggests that eating mushrooms twice a week can prevent or delay cognitive decline in older people. The same study is widely reported and medically approved.

Soybeans, peanuts, egg yolks – contain choline.  Choline is needed  to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter.

Refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice etc. – Foods like this have a high glycemic index (GI) which raises your blood sugar level fast and have been shown to impair brain function, specifically memory. Whole grains usually have a much lower glycemic index so they are better for you.

Sugary drinks of any kind (including too much fruit juice)
– can increase the risk of dementia. A component of many sugary drinks is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A high fructose intake can lead to ‘a reduction in brain function, memory, learning and the formation of brain neurons’ (from The worst food for your brain).

Artificially produced trans-fats – found in margarine, biscuits, ready-made cakes (check the labels). Naturally occurring trans-fats are all right. It’s the industrially produced hydrogenated trans-fats you need to avoid. Studies have shown that people who eat a large amount of artificial trans-fats have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and a poorer memory (for a balanced view, see Saturated and trans fats and dementia).

Highly processed foods such as chips, crisps, ready-meals – these tend to be high in salt, fat and sugar which are bad for brain health.

Aspartame (consume sparingly) – an artifical sweetener that crosses the blood brain barrier and which some studies (although not others) have associated with depression and irritability. For more details see Section 5 in The worst food for your brain.

Fish high in mercury eg. Tuna and king mackerel – mercury can damage the nervous system.

220pix-Brain foodAlcohol (drink in moderation) – chronic overuse reduces brain volume and disrupts neuro-transmitters leading to eventual dementia.

Books for brain health:
The Mind Diet Plan and Cookbook: Recipes and Lifestyle Guidelines to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia – (2019) by Julie Andrews
Brain food: how to eat smart and sharpen your mind – (2018) by Dr Lisa Mosconi
Power food for the brain – (2014) Neal D. Barnard

220pix-Top 30 SuperfoodsLowering blood pressure

All foods which are good for heart health (see last week’s post – Using food as medicine – Part 1) are good for lowering blood pressure, and in addition:
Berries eg blueberries, strawberries, blackberriescontain antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins (flavonoids). In a large study of 34,000 people, it was found that those with the highest intake of berries had an 8% reduction in the risk of high blood pressure.

Bananascontain potassium which plays a role in managing hypertension.

Dark Chocolate – 70% cocoa or over is what you need but don’t eat too much or the bad effects of the sugar will outweigh the good effects of the cocoa.

Oats – contain a fibre called beta-glucan which is believed to help lower blood pressure.

Garlic – is a natural antibiotic. It increases the body’s production of nitrous oxide which helps the blood vessels to dilate and so reduces hypertension.

Lentils and other pulses – reputed to decrease cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Cinnamon – has been shown to reduce blood pressure at least in the short term.

Saltcan significantly raise blood pressure.
Caffeinecan raise blood pressure after a couple of cups of coffee for up to three hours.
Alcohol in large amountsis bad for blood pressure.

Books for lowering blood pressure:
Reducing high blood pressure for beginners: a cookbook for eating and living well – (2019) by Kim Larson
Blood pressure down: the 10 step plan to lower your blood pressure in 4 weeks without prescription drugs – (2013) by Janet Bond
Top 30 superfoods to naturally lower high blood pressure – (2016) by Kasia Roberts

220pix-strawberries-and-blueberriesPhew! I don’t know what you feel like after reading the information above but after researching and writing it, I am filled with longings for all kinds of foods. Just goes to show how weak-willed I am. Fortunately, the shop over the road is shut, so I’m restricted to what is in the house (and it’s mainly healthy).

Good luck if you try and put any parts of this information into practice. I try to do it with varying degrees of success but I find it helpful to be aware of the foods that help or hinder good health. I think that both my grandmother and my mother had the right idea when they kept telling me to do ‘everything in moderation’. Trouble is, some foods are addictive and hard to eat in moderation. Anyway, here’s to trying.

Next week, the post will be about foods to control  type 2 diabetes and books on that. It’s time, too, to start thinking about carbon footprint. Thanks for reading this and do send me any comments.

Sources of information
Foods linked to better brainpower Harvard Health Publishing
Taking charge – what should I eat for my specific condition?University of Minnesota
7 best sources of plant-based omega 3 fatty acidsHealthline
Don’t buy into brain health supplementsHarvard Health Publishing
How Vitamin K is good for the brain and Alzheimer’s
11 reasons to eat berriesHealthline
How does oxidative stress affect the body? – Apr 02, 2019 Medical News Today
Going nuts for brain health – Brain HQ
Mushrooms may reduce the risk of mild brain decline – Mar 14, 2019 BBC news
What is choline? – Healthline
Worst foods for your brain – Healthline
Mercury guide –
Search for the glycemic index – University of Sydney
Saturated and trans fats and dementia: a systematic review – Science Direct
Habitual intake of flavinoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults – The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 93, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 338–347,

If possible, please buy books from the independent bookstores listed in the next section.

images – &
book covers – from Amazon


Bookshops & Events

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page to see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Please see Facebook page for more details of these and other events.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at the Bookkeeper Bookshop Facebook page to see more.

The Hare & Hawthorn Bookshop 
51 George St, Hastings Old Town
For more information see the Hare & Hawthorn Facebook page.


Hi there – I’m still working at getting healthy with the combination of my intermittent fasting diet combined with exercise. It’s working. I just hope that I can keep it up. When I was revising for my MSc exams long, long ago in Edinburgh, I  ran round the block every hour and it helped me to stay alert. But I didn’t do it for very long. I thought about that while I was running on the spot today. I’m not up to running round the block here yet – it’s hilly in Hastings. But I’m remembering how much the exercise helps the writing and the thinking. I’m hoping that thoughts of productivity and health will keep my lazy self at bay.

Closer and closer to publication blast-off. I’ve finished the proof-reading. Just (just?) got to do the blurbs and finish the cover. Amazon here I come. Dreaming of being a fully-fledged Indie author. I think that we’ll all be going down that route before too long – just like the music industry had to change, the publishing companies will change, too. In fact, they already are doing, but this is a big topic  so I’ll save the discussion for another time.

Thank you to those of you who have signed up for the Newsletter. If you haven’t, I would be so pleased if you did.

Please see: The Newsletter signup form is on the right-hand side as you scroll down.

Comments and suggestions on anything and everything are always welcome.

Thanks so much for reading.


Angela J. Phillip

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Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

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