People who eat more than two portions of nuts a week in their forties, are 21% less likely to have impaired memory after the age of sixty. That’s according to a study published in Age and Ageing.
Eating nuts just once a week in middle age also makes you 19% less likely to have impaired cognitive function. Rich in a variety of nutrients, it’s thought they help reduce inflammation and boost blood flow.
Researchers at the National University of Singapore carried out a long-term study into diet and dementia. From 1993 to 2016, they tracked 17,000 people aged 40 and upwards. The researchers analysed how often each participant ate nuts and carried out repeat cognitive testing over the the years. Reduced cognitive function is an early warning sign of dementia.
The Singapore study supports other evidence that eating nuts can help protect against dementia. Researchers at the University of South Australia also found that they can help improve brain function in old age. Their study tracked 4,822 Chinese adults over the age of 55. They found that consuming two teaspoons ( around 10 grams) a day improved thinking, reasoning and memory.
Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and fibre. they are among the best sources of plant-based protein. They all have their individual nutritional benefits but for optimum health, moderation and variety is recommended. Some of the healthiest varieties are detailed here.
A word of caution:
Moderation is key as nuts are calorie dense. Have them as part of a balanced diet.
Be sure to always chew them well.
Some people find that nuts upset their digestive health. Eating too many can cause you to feel gassy, cramped, or bloated. They are also a common dietary allergy.
Are you glass half full or half empty? It might sound like a slightly odd question but it’s one that I ask my nutrition clients in their initial 90-minute nutrition consultation. Do you generally have a positive or negative outlook on life? The answer provides just one of a series of ‘compass readings’ which help guide me down the various vitamin, mineral and disease pathways on every client’s individual health road map. Depending on the answer, I might ask other questions, such as ‘do you hoard or throw away?’, and ‘do you find yourself thinking about the past, or more about the present or the future?
These questions are helpful for the purpose of differential diagnosis: are you just feeling a bit down at the moment or are you suffering from depression? And, if it is depression, how severe is it, and might it be symptomatic also of another health condition? Is it a symptom of mental health, or is it more of an emotional symptom, or is it a combination of both?
Various emotional, physiological, mental, nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the rich fabric of your health, and YOU as an individual. That’s why it’s so important to consider symptoms within the context of the whole person, not in isolation. Nowadays, I see more and more people prescribed antidepressants for symptoms not even related to depression. And yet, antidepressants can disrupt gut health and studies show that the ‘Gut/Brain Axis’ is integral to preventing anxiety and depression. So the vicious circle starts, but this is where nutritional interventions can help.
A recent study found that persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that people who exhibited higher repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period. They also experienced declines in memory (an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease), and they were more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brain.
About the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Study
For the Alzheimer’s Society-supported study, the research team from UCL, INSERM and McGill University studied 292 people over the age of 55 who were part of the PREVENT-AD cohort study, and a further 68 people from the IMAP+ cohort. Over the course of two years, the study participants responded to questions about how they typically think about negative experiences, focusing on repetitive negative thinking patterns like rumination about the past and worry about the future. The participants also completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms. They assessed cognitive function, measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition, and language. Some (113) of the participants also underwent PET brain scans, measuring deposits of tau and amyloid; these two proteins cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain.
The study found depression and anxiety were associated with subsequent cognitive decline but not with amyloid or tau deposition. Thus suggesting that chronic negative thinking could be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk.
The researchers say RNT should now be further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia. And that psychological tools, such as mindfulness or meditation, should be studied to see if these could reduce dementia risk.
“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.” Said Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry).
“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.”
The researchers suggest that RNT may contribute to Alzheimer’s risk via its impact on indicators of stress such as high blood pressure. Other studies have found that physiological stress can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition.
“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.” Says Dr Marchant.
“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative. Mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive while down-regulating negative-associated mental schemes.” Said co-author Dr Gael Chételat (INSERM and Université de Caen-Normandie)
“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia.”
The researchers hope to find out if reducing RNT, possibly through mindfulness training or targeted talk therapy, could in turn reduce the risk of dementia.
I wish the researchers every success in the next phase of their study. I’m so delighted that more research is going into adopting a more multi-therapeutic, holistic approach to treating and preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Of course, we live in particularly testing timings with Covid, but the advice to stay positive is a good prescription for us all.
After six months of homeschool and two days back at school, my 9 year old put in an impressive 90 minutes of homework last night… developing a cough.
“I have a cough Mummy. EHH… KKHHH.. KKUHGH… I will need to quarantine for two weeks at home,” he announced. This was all accompanied by a lot of grunting, like he was trying to swallow a rubber.
I resorted to the first line in my ‘Differential Diagnosis’ manual and recommended he take a spoonful of honey and go to bed early. This provoked an immediate recovery much to everyone’s relief. Of course, the symptoms just happened to coincide with the launch of a new season on his Xbox. Enough said!
The whole ‘back to school’ is extra challenging for teachers and parents this year. September is the start of cold and flu season and now we have Covid-19 to contend with. With everyone on high alert for Covid-19 symptoms, how do you differentiate between these and an ordinary cough and cold? The answer is you can’t easily, especially with diarrhoea and vomiting now also reported as a Covid symptom in children. These symptoms are all part and parcel of school life at this time of year.
While we sadly can’t magic Covid-19 away, we can build our natural defences to benefit our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Prevention is Better than Cure
We all need to do as much as we can to build our immune defences to protect our community and bubbles. There is only so much that the Government, the NHS and our schools can do. Ultimately, everyone has to take more responsibility for their own health and I wish this message of self-care was integrated more into Government strategy. There needs to be a more preventative national health policy, one that extends beyond hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. There are some early steps to address the UK’s high obesity levels evidenced in higher Covid complications and death rates. Again, however, making more gastric band surgery available on the NHS isn’t the solution, let’s do more to prevent obesity.
Back to School Basics: Ways to Strengthen your Immune System
As well as protecting yourself from viruses on the outside, you can build up your body’s defences from the inside by strengthening your immune system. What you eat is pivotal to this as 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Here are some tips:
Make sure your diet is as varied as possible. Variety and balance are integral to optimal health and building up your immune system. So don’t go crazy for one fruit or vegetable that is particularly high in a certain nutrient. Aim to have 5-7 different plants a day at a ratio of 1 fruit for every 4 vegetables ideally. Ensure you have more vegetables than fruits, go for a rainbow of colours on the plate. The more varied your diet, the more you feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome – your natural defence system. You are also more likely to get the full spectrum of nutrients and micronutrients that you need.
Eat foods which contain microbiome-enriching good bacteria such as kefir, natural bio yoghurt, certain cheeses and fermented foods. For a more in-depth analysis as to the important role of probiotics in strengthening our immune system click here. There is also a list of good bacteria-friendly foods.
Keep an eye on your Zinc levels. This mineral helps develop white blood cells, the immune cells that fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Zinc also helps protect the mucous membranes that coat the nose, throat, lungs and digestive tract – the entry points for Covid-19. I especially look out for zinc deficiency around puberty as Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism that influence growth and maturation. Puberty pulls on your Zinc reserves more. Look out for possible signs of deficiency: white spots on the nails, spotty skin, acne, constipation, IBS, obsessive or stuck behaviour, and a more ‘glass half empty’ outlook.
As well as being important for respiratory and gut health, Zinc is also an important mineral for your brain; Zinc deficiency is often implicated in my cognitive health and depression cases. If you supplement with Zinc it is best to choose a supplement such as Cytoplan’s Zinc & Copper; Zinc and Copper compete for the same absorption sites and too much of one can deplete the other. Similarly, ensure you get sufficient iron from natural food sources such as lean meat, spinach, lentils, apricots and eggs. Natural food sources high in zinc are oysters and shellfish, lean meat, pumpkin and other seeds.
Watch your Vitamin D levels as this vitamin plays an important role in immune function. It is a common deficiency in the UK. Scientists are considering vitamin D supplementation as a preventive or therapeutic agent for severe COVID-19. They are researching Vitamin D deficiency as a possible risk factor. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. I recommend supplementation if you have dark skin which absorbs sunlight less easily or if you don’t get enough sunlight from October to March. Good natural food sources otherwise include: oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna and anchovies) and egg yolks.
Oily fish is important for brain and heart health. It is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Vitamin C is water-soluble: you don’t store it in your body and so you need to factor this into your daily diet. It is a common supplement but I encourage clients to get their Vitamin C in natural food sources. Bioflavonoids naturally accompany vitamin C in fruit and vegetables. Vitamin C contributes to normal immune system function, and, as an antioxidant, the protection of cells from oxidative stress. It’s also important for bone and tooth formation, collagen production, Iodine conservation, wound healing , red blood cell formation, and infection resistance. Natural food sources include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, Honeydew melon, potatoes, green peppers, broccoli, papayas, strawberries, rosehips, blackcurrants and tomatoes.
Do I Need to Supplement?
Nutrient shortfalls are caused by a number of different factors. Most people aren’t getting the essential nutrients they need for health and protection on a daily basis.
The following contribute to the nutritional ‘bank balance’ of our bodies and need to be factored into the equation:
Individual food choices
Food growing, processing and preparation methods
The actual nutrient content of the food you eat
The ability of you body to assimilate these nutrients
Lifestyle factors, such as stress and medications etc.
Activity levels and energy-expenditure
Certain life-stages, e,g. puberty where there is increased hormonal activity and growth
It isn’t always easy to determine what your child is eating in school dinners. And, a lot of school pack lunches lack the important variety factor so essential for good health. That’s when supplementation may be helpful.
Nutri-Bears is a good all-round wholefood supplement for primary school children who are fussy-eaters. For teenagers and young adults, Little People is a good option if you are looking for an additional layer of baseline support during the colder months.
All products referenced are available at www.cytoplan.co.uk. They supply science-based Food State and Wholefood nutritional supplements.
Please note that supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy, varied diet. Keep introducing new plants and wholefoods to the mix and have fun experimenting with different textures and flavours. This really is the best recipe for optimum health.
If you have an underlying health condition or are on medication, I will be happy to provide more tailored advice for you. You should also consult your GP.
I often allude to the microbiome, the colony of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses in our gut, as our internal rainforest. This analogy resonates more as we recognise the importance of ensuring plant diversity in the natural world to safeguard the future wellbeing of our planet.
Scientific studies show that we can boost our good gut bacteria by eating as diverse a diet as possible, and in consuming as many different plants especially. The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the gut microbiome. Conversely, a loss in species diversity is a common finding in several disease states.
Though invisible to the naked eye, our good bacteria play an important role in maintaining our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. The gut and the brain are in constant communication and dynamic exchange determines metabolism, immune system function and appetite.
Our thirst for nature and the great outdoors became especially pronounced during lockdown. It isn’t just humans however who crave a change of scene and fresh air… our gut bacteria also relish diversity and new company!
The journal Science of The Total Environment recently published a new theory called “the Lovebug Effect.” This theory suggests that our gut microbiome may actually be driving our increased desire for nature holidays and woodland walks.
The Lovebug Effect
The Lovebug Effect theorises that gut-brain communication drives our nature-seeking behaviour. When our gut microbes are starved of contact with their country cousins (environmental microbiota), they hijack the neural pathways between the brain and gut to make us venture outdoors to find them. Microbes intercept the gut-brain ‘switchboard’ by activating the vagus nerve and sympathetic neurons through the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
Certainly, being in nature can have a very tangible feel-good, stress-relieving effect. There have been numerous scientific studies also linking gut microbiome imbalances to increased depression and anxiety. However, what else might be fuelling our need for nature?
Why does our gut microbiome love the great outdoors?
When we immerse in nature, we surround ourselves with environmental microbiota. Nature is teeming with trillions of microbes: this provides our gut microbiome with endless choice when it comes to selecting which microbes to propagate.
Fresh air offers a microbial diversity that avoids the build-up of harmful microbes. Exposure to soil microbes may boost the immune system. Just a single teaspoon of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria.
The role of the environment in the make-up of the gut microbiota has yet to be fully understood. Studies have shown children (ages 1 to 5) from rural communities have a more diverse gut microbiota compared to children from Western populations. Early-life exposure to microbe-rich environments may be beneficial for human health by increasing the gut bacterial species pool. Studies have also shown that individuals who grow up in city environments have a less diverse gut microbiome. And that City-dwellers are more prone to inflammatory disorders and allergies. Urbanisation can lead to increased sanitation and antibiotic use, separation from the outdoors, and land management practices that reduce soil microbial biodiversity.
‘Baths in the Forest’ for full nature-immersion
Preidlhof in South Tyrol, has made Forest Bathing a central component of their Integrated Health and Transformational Wellness programmes. They also offer microbiome testing to assess the state of your gut bacteria, and champion mindful and sensorial eating.
The ancient Shinrin-Yoku (literally “Bath in the Forest”) came to the fore in the 1980s. Japan made Forest Bathing part of a national health programme to tackle stress-related disorders. Studies showed that conscious contact with the forest brought benefits to body and mind. It bolstered the immune system, reducing stress and blood pressure levels.
Preidlhof’s Forest Bathing takes place on Monte Tramontana, a dense area, rich in biodiversity, with woods, streams and small lakes. Leading the sessions is Irmgard Mossmair, a 73-year-old official mountain guide. She found her source of healing in the wisdom of plants, trees and in the regenerating power of forests. Irmgard has studied aromatherapy and natural remedies through herbs and Chinese medicine.
Forest Bathing facilitates complete immersion in the woods, lights, scents, aromas, textures and pulsations of the earth. Sensory interaction with the forest helps to increase our frequency, and promote mental calm and awareness.
“Slowly, they open up to their surroundings and find themselves immersed in another world, in contact with nature and its secrets. The scents of the trees, the earth, the flight of birds and insects, the sound of the wind, the sunlight on the trees, the different shades of green… All these elements can facilitate a profound transformation.”
Patrizia Bortolin Spa Director and Transformational Health Coach – Preidlhof
We can so easily take our access to nature for granted. What’s more, we increasingly inhabit a virtual and digital universe which provides a further disruptor. However, what Covid 19 has reminded us is that we are still all very much part of the natural world. And our microbiome will act as a constant biological prompt to reconnect with us our ancient roots.
For further recommendations on how to boost your gut bacteria through natural food sources, click here.
Aside from feeling better, there is evidence of significant improvement in brain and cognitive health when you change your diet, improve sleep, and increase your fitness. Reducing symptoms associated with stress, anxiety or depression can also make a huge difference!
An engaging and scientifically-validated cognitive assessment
Working with Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS), I provide clients with a science and evidence-based means of quantitatively measuring how changes to your diet, sleep, and fitness routine can positively impact brain and cognitive health.
As well as understanding how your brain is functioning, you will be able to track how the changes you are making are impacting your brain. Importantly, you will be able to visualise improvements with objective and quantifiable information, presented in an easy to understand format. Brain health integrates very much with gut health and provides a great indicator of your overall health and wellbeing.
You can take the CBS brain and cognitive assessment as a one-off to get a snapshot of your cognitive health in any point in time. However, you will get far deeper insight if you take the assessments over a series of weeks or months; this enables us to determine meaningful change.
Who benefits from doing this cognitive test?
Everyone can benefit. It is especially helpful to those who want to track whether making the smallest changes to their diet, their sleep routine, or increasing their fitness levels, makes a difference to their brain health and overall wellness.
The CBS Health test facilitates a highly personalized approach to healthcare. It provides useful biomarkers to enable you to take a proactive and preventative approach to optimizing your health and wellbeing. I further support you with a nutritional and wellbeing programme tailored to your individual needs. We adapt this as required, during the course of the Cognitive Health programme and based on your test findings.
The CBS Health Test is not a diagnostic tool. However, it may be useful to clients with ADHD, Autism, Depression, Dyslexia, and Cognitive Impairment who wish to monitor progress from nutritional and other lifestyle changes.
What does the Cambridge Brain Sciences assessment entail?
You can relax because this isn’t an IQ test. We aren’t measuring IQ!
The tasks assess aspects of cognition including reasoning, memory, attention and verbal ability.
You are anonymously assessed against a sample of healthy control subjects. We factor in your age and gender.
CBS maintains a global normative database of more than 75,000 participants (built off of a larger database of 7 million+ completed tasks). This allows for detailed comparisons of individuals to specific populations.
On completion of the assessment, I share your individual CBS Health report and we discuss nutritional and lifestyle strategies for improvement. We schedule further tests at agreed intervals to monitor progress and assess meaningful change.
About Cambridge Brain Sciences
The Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) tasks were developed in the laboratory of Professor Adrian Owen OBE, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging (owenlab.org). Over 300 scientific studies have been run to date using the CBS tasks, yielding numerous publications in leading academic journals.
The tasks were validated in studies of patients, brain imaging studies of healthy volunteers and in several large-scale public studies involving tens of thousands of volunteers. They have proven to be efficient and sensitive measures of baseline cognitive capacity. For example, in one study, the results of the 30-minute Cambridge Brain Sciences battery were comparable to those of a standard 2-3 hour (paper and pencil) neuropsychological battery (WAIS-R) (Levine et al., 2013). In another recent study of mental capacity in the elderly, the CBS battery outperformed a standard task of cognitive abilities (the MoCA) (Brenkel et al., 2017). Finally, performance on the CBS battery is highly predictive of reasoning and problem solving abilities, as indexed by “classic” tasks such as Raven’s Matrices and the Cattell Culture Fair task (Hampshire et al., 2012).
How do we measure Meaningful Change?
The Meaningful Change Indicator compares the difference in an individual’s performance on any given task between two time points to the variability in repeated measurements that would occur in the absence of meaningful change. The latter is estimated from a sample of healthy control subjects. The reliable change index uses the test-retest reliability and the standard deviation of scores (measured in a control sample) of a task to describe the range of possible differences that occur in repeat task completions. If an individual’s change in performance from one time point to another is much larger than what is expected due to chance, then one can conclude that there was meaningful change.
Assessing meaningful change requires data to be obtained in a control sample. Cambridge Brain Sciences has a database of over 8 million test scores, and their normative database consists of more than 75,000 individuals. The interval between self-administered repeated assessments ranges from less than a day, to more than a month. This massive database allows Cambridge Brain Sciences to characterize in the general population how performance on every task fluctuates naturally across a range of intervals. Cambridge Brain Sciences are therefore able to quantify the bounds of what constitutes a meaningful change for every task.
New Year Resolutions – along with the countless ‘New Year New You’ diets peddled by the media in January – are often built on a false premise. They are a social construct and a lot of people just feel compelled to make a New Year Resolution because they think they ‘should’ or ‘ought to’. After all, isn’t everyone else doing it?
Now, in my experience, anything you feel you ought to do, or should do, is really a red rag to the bull and doomed to fail. Whatever your mind might try and persuade itself, the rebel heart soon kicks in. Worse still, you are more likely to go to the other extreme – either immediately before or after the New Year Resolution – as a compensatory ‘reward’ for the ‘sacrifice’ made.
The trouble with so many New Year Resolutions is that they tend to have a self-denial aspect to them and, to me, there’s something inauthentic in that. Instead of thinking in terms of what ‘to give up’, I prefer to reframe this and ask, what is it that you would really LOVE to achieve? What do you honestly desire ? What do you want to do MORE of in life? For the simple fact is, that if we enjoy or are passionate about something, we are far more motivated and likely to succeed in our endeavours.
Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and if you really want to make a positive change, there is absolutely no point always doing the same thing, or going about it in the same way.
However, who says we have to start a resolution at New Year? There’s really no better time to start than today.
One of my personal definitions of good health is really about living or being in the here and now. You can’t change the past and I always think there is little point worrying about the future; after all the future is determined by what you do now. Today. This minute.
I know someone who used to smoke 30-40 cigarettes a day. After years of trying to give up, endless nagging from loved ones, and countless broken resolutions, one day he just stopped. He now hasn’t smoked for over 20 years. I asked him recently how he managed to finally stop. He replied “OH NO! Don’t ever say I have stopped! I just say to myself that I don’t want to smoke a cigarette today“. For him, the idea of ‘completely giving up’ in the forever after sense, had always made it too challenging and depressing to stop. The difference is that he takes every day as it comes but now makes the personal choice not to smoke.
So if you really want to make a positive change, it doesn’t have to be a massive step. That can be really intimidating and often impractical in the context of everyday life. The best thing is to keep it simple. Just take small steps and build up from there. Take each day as it comes. Before you know it, the weeks turn into weeks, months, then years, and you can get a great sense of achievement along the way.
I often allude to the ‘butterfly effect’ with my clients: the almost imperceptible and smallest flutter of a butterfly’s delicate wings exert tremendous force and energy. This can also be likened to the ripple effect of a small pebble thrown into a large lake.
So perhaps today, you might just want to try doing something new, even for the first time. Just one small thing, and see how you feel, where your journey takes you. There is no pressure but it could be the start of an exciting adventure. The important thing is to try new things and to be open to new experiences as this mindset can really benefit the whole body – your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. With the right nutritional support you can also build your focus, energy and resilience, to support you on your way.
Here are just some suggestions as to small steps that you can yield surprisingly big results.
Small things that can make a big difference to health:
Swap your daily can of Diet Coke for water. Put the money saved at the end of the month towards a new outfit or an evening out.
Ditch the bathroom scales and visualise yourself in your favourite outfit in eight weeks time. Keep on visualising. ‘Weigh’ yourself more by how you clothes fit and feel.
Get outside and into nature more.
Aim for 12,000 steps a day – get moving more! If you walk just 5,000 steps a day, don’t worry, just start off by adding another 2,000 steps a day. Then see how you feel!
Switch off Facebook and Instagram and call or meet up with a close friend instead.
Variety really is key when it comes to promoting good health. Why not try out some vegetables, pulses and spices this week that you may not have tried before? Why stick to the same old repertoire?! Incorporate more variety and colour into what you eat every day. Then invite your friends round to share and enjoy the experience!
Slow down. Really chew and savour your food. Your digestion will really thank you for this. Chewing properly yields surprising results and it doesn’t cost a thing.