How to Strengthen Against Alzheimer’s and Depression, and Improve Memory – Go Mediterranean

How to Strengthen Against Alzheimer's and Depression, and Improve Memory - Go Mediterranean

The importance of diet to mental health is profound. A healthy diet is one of the best ways to protect your brain from the changes that happen as a normal part of living. 

With our brains tucked away safely and soundly in the walls of our skull, it’s easy to forget that like the rest of our bodies, there are certain things it needs from us to keep giving us the best it has to give. Our brain drives everything we do, so it’s important to understand what we can do to keep it functioning well.

We have a stone-age brainOur world has changed remarkably and our lifestyles have changed along with it, but our brains have hardly changed at all. They continue to thrive on the same things they thrived on thousands of years ago – sleep, unprocessed food, exercise and social connection. 

We know the brain can be affected by all sorts of things that are a normal part of day to day living including stress, toxins, lack of sleep and pollution. Even though we will all experience brain changes over time, there are vast individual differences in the extent of those changes. These individual differences seem to be connected to our overall health.

We can’t change that our brain will be exposed to various sources of stress, but we have enormous potential to strengthen it against those stressors. Stress, exercise and diet have been proven to all have a positive influence on brain health. When it comes to diet, research has found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet can protect against some of the known risk factors for cognitive decline.

The research. Let’s talk.

In an extensive analysis of 18 research articles, it was revealed that a Mediterranean diet can improve memory, attention, and language skills, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to the authors of the study,

‘There is a wealth of literature … indicating that diet can exert profound effects on biological ageing. Diet can also affect other risk factors, such as inflammation and oxidation [which has recently been linked to depression] Diets that are low in energy and that act to reduce oxidative stress may be protective against cognitive decline. Conversely, a diet that is high in energy and acts to increase oxidative stress may be considered a risk factor for impaired cognitive functioning.’

The diet had particularly significant effects on memory. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet on brain health were not confined to older people. Two of the studies that were analysed found that Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on cognitive function in young people.

A Mediterranean Diet? Sooo pizza?

Nope. Not pizza. And not tiramisu either. ‘Mediterranean diet’ consists of a high intake of leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts and legumes. It is also high in fish, low in dairy, red meats and sugars and uses olive oil as its major fat source.

 ‘The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world. So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a Med Diet [Mediterranean diet] were similar in all evaluated papers.’ – Roy Hardman, lead author of the study, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

And just in case you’re not convinced, here’s what previous research has to say …

If turning up the volume on your memory and warding off Alzheimer’s isn’t reason enough to Mediterranean-ise your fridge, research has found that a Mediterranean diet has plenty of other benefits for mental health. 

  1. Prevents the onset of depression

    In a study of 15,093 people, published in the journal BMC Medicine, a Mediterranean diet was associated with preventing the onset of depression. All participants were free of depression at the beginning of the study. After 10 years, 1550 participants reported having a diagnosis of clinical depression or previous antidepressant use. A Mediterranean diet was associated with the greatest reduction in the risk of depression. 

    In another study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, it was found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a 30% less risk of depression than those who followed it least. This result was the same even when other indications of a healthy life were taken into account, such as marital status and seatbelt usage. 

  2. Improved quality of life.

    A study published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed more than 11,000 university students over a period of four years. Those who adhered more to the Mediterranean diet reported a higher quality of life in terms of physical and mental well-being. 

  3. Protects the brain from damage that can cause cognitive problems.

    A study, presented at the American Academy of Neurology, found that people who adhered most to a Mediterranean diet were 36% less likely to have damage to small areas of the brain that leads to thinking problems. The damage the researchers were interested in were small areas of dead tissue known as brain infarcts. Those who followed the diet moderately were 21% less likely to have the damage. According to the study’s author, ‘In this study, not eating a Mediterranean-like diet had about the same effect on the brain as having high blood pressure.’ – Nicolaos Scarmeas, MD, MSc, Columbia University Medical Center in New York and member of American Academy of Neurology. Previous research by the authors has found that a Mediterranean-like diet is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, and may lengthen survival in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Those findings may be explained by fewer brain infarcts.

And finally …

The impact of diet on mental health is profound. Study after study has found that a Mediterranean diet is one way we can push against some of the brain changes that are an unavoidable part of modern life and being human. Brain health is vital to healthy, happy living. We can’t change that the brain will be exposed to certain factors that will compromise brain health, but by following a Mediterranean diet, we can protect and strengthen our brain against those influences.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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