By now, you might already have noticed your mood improving. Dementia and depression are closely linked. Some research suggests that having depression earlier in your life is a risk factor for developing dementia later on.
There are ways to improve mental health through diet. Saffron has been shown to improve mood, while fresh tomatoes contain serotonin, which plays a role in modulating the neuro-transmitter Gaba. Dr Donnai also recommends taking an ashwagandha (an evergreen shrub that grows in Asia and Africa) supplement if you feel anxious, or doing breathing exercises. “Ageing isn’t inevitable as you get older,” says Dr Donnai. If you are living a healthy life, there should be little difference in your kidney, liver and immune system function whether you are 20 or 50.
But what does change as we age are our hormones. And our hormones are intertwined with our neural hormones. “The whole endocrine system works on feedback mechanisms with your pituitary gland and hypothalamus. It is almost impossible for one to change without the other changing. They work as a team,” she says.
So supporting good hormone health supports our brain, too. Two thirds of women over the age of 40 that Dr Donnai sees in her clinic have an underactive thyroid. “And the thyroid is hugely important for cognitive flexibility.”
The good news is that hormones are influenced by how we eat. “Again, this is where omega-3 fatty acids come in,” says Dr Donnai. “They are superfoods for your hormonal system.” Iodine is also key. “You can find it in seaweed, nuts and eggs.”
While we still don’t fully understand why women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, a leading theory is to do with oestrogen. When women go through menopause, their bodies stop producing as much of this hormone. Ensuring you have enough vitamin B and D is crucial to boosting oestrogen levels naturally.
As well as hormones, optimising our immune system is also possible via diet. New studies are revealing that the immune system might be a major driver of Alzheimer’s. Any infection or inflammation takes away energy from the brain to restore.
An example is gum disease, known to cause an increase in markers of systemic inflammation, with several studies suggesting this may contribute to the development of dementia.
“Floss your teeth,” says Dr Donnai. “The biggest inflammation people tend to have is in their gums and in their gut. You’ve got a 13 per cent risk of Alzheimer’s if you don’t floss your teeth.”
Meanwhile we can suppress gut inflammation with probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi, and prebiotics such as nuts, beans, pulses, spices and herbs.
Life with your new brain