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 shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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