Updated: May 5
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the topic of both mental health and senior’s health to the forefront of global discussion.
Older adults are, of course, more susceptible to the virus – but the unique considerations of aging and health don’t end there.
While depression and anxiety in the younger generations has garnered a great deal of attention in recent months, there are unique mental health concerns in the world of senior’s health which must also be considered.
In today’s article I will examine the connection between age-related mental health conditions (such as Alzheimer’s & dementia) and nutritional status – specifically as it relates to gut health.
An Intro To Cognitive Decline
Some mild changes in cognition are considered a normal part of the aging process. Most age-related declines are subtle and can mostly affect attention control and the speed of thinking.
Populations are aging on a global scale and yet we cannot evidence linking certain dietary patterns to a reduction in risk of these types of concerns.
Dementia on the other hand is not a normal occurrence and declines in cognition are more severe.
It can include rapid forgetting and difficulties in solving problems, while the motor system can also be affected resulting in recurrent tripping, falls and tremors.
So how can diet and lifestyle positively impact the aging process of the brain?
We must look to the gut for anwsers.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Pivotal roles in the anatomy, physiology, and immunity functions of the human body are carried out by the gut microbiota.
The intestinal tract is colonized by a collection of microorganisms called the microbiome. Diet shapes the gut microbiota, by encouraging the multiplication of different microorganisms from consuming a variety of foods.
The potential of the microbiome to influence health has a relevance to older individuals since it undergoes an important transition during aging.
There is an increasing feeling in the scientific community that gut microbiota changes in composition and function can affect health and age-related diseases, immunity and cognition.
This stems from the fact that some microbiome metabolites could affect cognitive functions through the gut-brain axis.
This is precisely why interventions that affect the gut, such as microbiota transplantation, have been considered for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Other potential treatments for gut dysbiosis include prebiotics, medicinal herbs, probiotics, and synbiotics (a mixture of prebiotics and probiotics).
But what does all of this mean to you, and how can you make the most of this information to improve your gut and cognitive health at any age?
Let’s find out.
Applying The Knowledge In 5 Steps
Step 1 – Consider Your Prebiotic Intake - Prebiotics act as food for your gut baceteria, read my article on an Intro To Prebiotics to learn more.
Step 2 – Consider Your Probiotic Intake - These are living microorganisms found in yogurt and other cultured foods that may help restore balance to your microbiome.
Step 3 – Consider Psycobiotics – Sounds funny right ? Well psychobiotics are specific probiotic strains which may offer additional mental health benefits – learn more in my previous article titled Gut Feelings.
Step 4 – Consider Foods Associated With Good Cognitive Function - Please see my article Top of mind to learn more. Don’t forget that well studied dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet include several components that might promote brain health and gut health.
Step 5 – Consider More Physical Activity - Exercise has been shown to support brain health. Aiming to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (brisk walking for example) every week can be beneficial.
A more specific plan of action should be defined through research in the coming years and decades, but I hope for now that today’s article has helped!
This article was written with the collaboration of Kaleigraphy, Andy De Santis. Stay tuned for my next blog article on the science of soy!