It is inevitable that with each decade of life, we become more and more susceptible to deterioration and an actual shrinkage throughout parts of our brain. As this process unfolds, it brings with it a decrease in brain function often referred to as cognitive decline. Some of the possible symptoms that may rise to the surface include trouble finding words, mild memory loss, difficulty planning and organizing, difficulty staying focused and difficulty solving problems. This degenerative process can be seen and measured as early in people in their mid-twenties. Given this fact, it is important to start taking steps to safeguard your brain from common lifestyle offenders as well as providing nourishing defenders to keep your brain youthful and vibrant.


  • Oxidative Stress—Think about rust, in your body. Oxidation occurs with basic energy production in the cells of your body. Oxidation can also be accelerated through environmental toxins including cigarette smoke, chemicals, and radiation. Increased immune activity can also increase oxidation. Excess oxidation leads to free radicals that can damage your DNA and mitochondria.

  • Chronic Inflammation—The brain is usually protected from inflammation in the blood stream due to the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Chronic inflammation can lead to a breakdown of the BBB allowing various components of the inflammatory process to damage neurons. Chronic inflammation can be caused by many different issues, including excessive free radicals, processed foods, environmental exposures and nutrient deficiencies just to name a few.

  • Processed food—Many grocery aisles and grocery carts are filled with these. These are typically loaded with refined carbohydrates/sugars, an overabundance of omega 6 fats and trans fats which can fuel both oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.

  • Insulin resistance—This lifestyle related problem has not only been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline and memory loss but has also been implicated in accelerating the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.1

  • Obesity—Excess body weight in middle life has been shown to be related with a higher risk of cognitive decline in later life.2

  • Loneliness—Healthy relationships and social connectivity are associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline, whereas, isolation, unhealthy relationships and loneliness are strong risk factors for cognitive decline.3


  • Healthy oils and fats—Omega-3 fatty acids are a major part of the membranes of neurons that make up a large part of your brain. Your body cannot make these omega-3 fatty acids, which means you must get them from the foods you eat. Unfortunately, most Americans are highly deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. There are numerous studies over the last couple of decades that have shown increased cognitive function with omega-3 supplementation.

  • Exercise—Staying physically active not only makes for bigger and stronger muscles, but makes for a bigger and stronger brain. Exercise increases the production of a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which increases neuroplasticity. This in turn improves memory, learning and improved problem solving. 15-30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise has been proven to significantly increase the production of BDNF.

  • Moderate alcohol and caffeinated coffee—Light to moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks/day) has been shown to protect against cognitive decline with aging. Red wine has received the best track record most likely because of it’s high levels of antioxidants. Coffee is also very rich in antioxidants, which may have a synergistic effect from the naturally occurring caffeine. One to three cups of coffee has been shown to not only have protective effects on your brain, but also may help protect against Type II Diabetes and certain cancers.

  • Calorie restriction—This is one of the only factors that has been shown to increase life longevity. There is also a strong relationship between calorie restriction and your body’s production of growth factors that promote brain growth and function.

  • Healthy Hormone Levels—Many hormones act similarly to neurotransmitters in your brain. When they start to decline, brain function may also start to decline. Keep an eye on these hormones to make sure they are supporting healthy brain function: estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, pregnenolone, and thyroid hormones.

  • Mental activity—Just like physical exercise builds muscle, mental exercise builds brain. Some of the best mental exercises include learning new things, such as a new language or a new musical instrument. There are many apps and programs on the internet that will teach you a new language for free!

  • Antioxidants—Everyday living produces oxidants and free radicals that can play havoc on every cell in your body, especially your brain. Getting a regular dose of antioxidants from the foods you eat can help protect your brain. Some great resources of these antioxidants include blueberries, green tea, and dark chocolate

  • Supplements—Ideally you should get the majority of your vitamins and minerals through the foods you eat. Unfortunately, even eating a clean and healthy diet may have you coming up short of the nutrients your brain needs to function at its optimal potential. A few of the vitamins that seem to have the largest impact on brain function are the B vitamins, more specifically B6, B9(folate) and B12. Numerous studies have shown the relationship with cognitive decline and deficiencies in these nutrients. Likewise, supplementation with these nutrients has shown increased cognitive function and decreased brain atrophy.



3. Crooks VC et al. Social network, cognitive function, and dementia incidence among elderly women. Am J Public Health. 2008 Jul;98(7):1221-7.