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Protect your brain

Natural health tips to protect your brain and reduce dementia risk

Maintaining a healthy brain is crucial for overall wellbeing. Here are some simple ways to keep your little grey cells in good working order.

Look after your gut

"A healthy gut is a healthy brain," says Patrick Holford, author of Upgrade Your Brain: Unlock Your Life's Full Potential (published by HarperCollins on 25 April). "The best food for your gut is high in soluble fibres, which are in whole oats and also chia seeds. I add chia to my porridge and eat ‘rough' oat cakes high in fibre. Then, all whole foods from beans and lentils to nuts and vegetables are gut friendly. Also fully fermented unsweetened yogurt."

Try some adaptogens

"Adaptogens, herbs and mushrooms that improve our bodies' ability to cope with stress, are ideally placed to help with brain health and cognitive function," says Schia Mitchell Sinclair, Chief Herbalist at The Herbtender ( "We all know that stress affects the brain, but did you know that chronic stress accelerates the rate of brain ageing? And consistently high levels of stress hormones can affect brain function, even on a short-term basis, by inhibiting ongoing neurogenesis and reducing the brain's ability to function at high levels. Adaptogens such as lion's mane, holy basil, ginseng, rhodiola and ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels and improve your ability to deal with stress, improving the longer-term outlook for the health of your mind. Adaptogens also improve mitochondrial function, crucial for brain health, as the brain needs large amounts of energy to function well. Many adaptogens have antioxidant properties, an interesting feature given that increased levels of oxidation in the brain have been associated with decreases in neurological function."

Follow a whole foods diet

Patrick Holford recommends following a whole foods diet that is rich in anti-ageing antioxidants and polyphenols. He explains: "This means lots of fresh, preferably organic, vegetables, herbs, spices and also whole fruit, especially berries. I aim to eat berries most days, or an organic apple, and have a shot of ginger. I also use cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, chill and oregano every day in one dish or another." Patrick also recommends eating a low Glycaemic Load (GL) diet. This means avoiding sugar and refined (white) carbs.

Get your hearing checked

"Extensive research highlights a compelling link between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia," says Paul Harrison, audiologist and founder of Hearing Aid UK ( "Addressing hearing loss through solutions like hearing aids is a great intervention for reducing cognitive risks. Early detection and professional guidance not only enhance communication but may also act as a protective buffer against cognitive decline. Social isolation due to hearing loss can also intensify cognitive challenges, potentially contributing to the onset of dementia. Regular hearing check-ups, timely interventions with hearing aids, and lifestyle factors such as cognitive exercises and a balanced diet are great strategies to support both auditory and cognitive health. Recognising and prioritising the links between hearing health and cognitive function not only enriches quality of life but is also a crucial step toward reducing the burden of dementia on ageing populations."

Increase your healthy fat intake

Patrick Holford recommends eating foods that contain omega-3, phospholipids and vitamin D, for a healthy brain boost. If you eat seafood, aim to eat oily fish three times a week. Use the acronym SMASH as a guideline, which stands for salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings. Also, Patrick recommends supplementing your diet with omega-3 fish oils to achieve an optimal intake for your brain. Phospholipids are abundant in eggs and seafood, so be sure to include some eggs in your weekly diet.

Consider a supplement

"High levels of homocysteine have been linked with neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia," says Will Jordan, nutrition advisor at Viridian Nutrition ( "This risk is increased with low levels or deficiency of B6, B12, and/or folate. Research published in 2023 by Lu et al., found that adults with elevated homocysteine who supplemented with folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and betaine over a 12-week period experienced significantly reduced levels of homocysteine. Good sources of B vitamins are mostly found in animal products, but some plant-based foods such as beans and lentils contain B6 and folate. Vitamin B12 is not naturally occurring in plant-based foods so if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it will be difficult to get sufficient amounts without supplementation.

Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil can help to support cognitive health by supplying the brain with ketones, a secondary source of energy for the brain. Some cognitive conditions are linked to the inability of the brain to efficiently use glucose as an energy source. Ketones from MCTs can be used for energy in the brain which may help support these conditions as it provides the brain with more fuel to function. MCTs naturally occur in coconuts but can be taken as a supplement. When it's not possible to get enough nutrients from our diets to support homocysteine levels, opting for a supplement designed to support and lower homocysteine in the body can be a good option. Look for a formulation containing folate, vitamins B6 and B12."

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