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The healthy brain guide

Expert advice for brain health and reducing your risk of dementia

Currently, nearly one million people in the UK are living with dementia according to findings from Alzheimer’s Research UK. Dementia is caused by physical diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, two thirds of all people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.

“While dementia isn’t an inevitable part of getting older, age is the largest risk factor for disease,” explains Katie Puckering, Head of Information Services, at Alzheimer’s Research UK ( “But research shows there are factors within our control to change. A recent commission into dementia prevention showed that if it were possible to eliminate all 12 potentially modifiable risk factors, the number of people living with dementia could be reduced by up to 40 per cent. While there is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, there are things within our control that can reduce our risk. The best evidence suggests that not smoking, only drinking in moderation, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age.”

Risk factors for cognitive decline

“There are certain factors which may increase your risk of cognitive impairment,” says Lorraine Perretta, BA, DipION, a Nutritional Therapist from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition ( “These include elevated homocysteine: homocysteine is an amino acid the body uses to make proteins. B vitamins including B12 and B6 as well as folic acid help to convert these amino acids into other chemicals your body needs called methyl groups. Elevated homocysteine is considered a risk factor for several conditions including cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.” Lorraine explains that other risk factors include deficiencies in vitamins including antioxidants and omega-3 as well as a diet high in saturated fats and trans fatty acids.

Botanical brain boosters

“Over the past 20 years there has been a huge focus on botanical brain boosters,” explains Lily Canetty-Clarke, a medical herbalist (Insta: @lilycanettyclarke). “Acetylcholine, the brain’s memory and attention signal, which is impaired in dementia and decreases as we all age, has been found to be upregulated by various medicinal plants like rosemary, sage and bacopa. Not only that but these plants are also able to prevent it from being broken down by an enzyme, thereby enhancing its signalling effects even more. One study found that the combination of rage, rosemary and lemon balm improved the ability to recall a list of words by over 50 per cent in under 63-year-olds (Perry et al, 2017). In the lab, studies have also shown that rosemary enhances blood flow to the brain, boosts the memory signal acetylcholine and is anti-amyloid, which is the brain protein plaque in Alzheimer’s (Pengelly et al, 2012).”

Lily continues: “Bacopa has been shown to be neuroprotective, promoting the growth of new nerve cells and increasing blood flow to the brain. It is also full of antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory phytochemicals making it a potent cognitive booster (Kongkeaw et al, 2014) and tool in reducing the risk of dementia.”

Brain training

“Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to ‘use it or lose it’”, explains Terence Watts, a psychotherapist and creator of BrainWorking Recursive Therapy or BWRT ( “The more you work out your brain, the better you will be at processing information and keeping your brain healthy in order to reduce your risk of dementia. Good brain workouts have these three elements: they teach you something new, they’re challenging and they’re rewarding. There is no single ‘magic wand’ technique to brain health. It’s a culmination of constantly trying and learning new things to keep those brain cells fired up.”

Terence recommends introducing new activities into your daily or weekly routine to create new neural pathways which will increase cognitive ability and improve your memory. Here are a few things to try:

Terence adds: “Remember that exercise plays an important role in neuroplasticity – the brain's ability to modify, change, and adapt – by boosting growth factors and stimulating new neuronal connections. It increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss.”

How food affects the brain

“Diet has a direct impact on brain health and the food you eat can significantly affect memory, learning, behaviour and mood,” explains Michelle Sanchez, a Naturopath, Nutritionist and Medical Herbalist from the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM). “Foods that are high in sugar, unhealthy fats and artificial ingredients cause inflammation in the brain which can increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar-laden, highly processed diets have also been linked to disruptions in the blood-brain barrier; this is a protective membrane between the brain and body’s blood supply to prevent harmful substances from entering the brain. The worst foods and drinks for brain health are refined carbohydrates (pasta, bread, pastries), snack foods, artificial sweeteners, sugary drinks, hydrogenated oils (refined vegetable oils, margarine, baked products), ready meals, packaged / processed foods, certain types of fish including tuna and swordfish (as they contain high levels of mercury), alcohol and coffee. Adopting an organic, whole food diet that is rich in nutrients and antioxidants is key for brain health. Brain-boosting foods include blueberries, broccoli, leafy greens (kale, spinach, rocket), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, small oily fish like sardines or mackerel, turmeric, whole grains (oats, quinoa, buckwheat), beans and pulses.”

If you are interested in studying with CNM, the number one training provider for natural therapies, visit or call 01342 777 747.

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