Optimising cognitive health with the right nutrition

Sep 6, 2017
Posted by: Monique Parker

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia and according to the Alzheimer’s Society there are more than 520,000 people with this disease in the UK. Since 2011 there has been a 56% rise in the number of people diagnosed with dementia[i].

In their report ‘Dementia prevention, intervention, and care’[ii] (July 2017), The Lancet Commissions state that dementia is the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century. One of their key messages in the report is prevention.

According to The Lancet Commissions, a third of all dementia cases could be prevented if the modifiable risk factors would be totally eradicated: less education in early life, hypertension, obesity, hearing loss, smoking, depression, physical inactivity, social isolation and diabetes. To my surprise nutrition was not mentioned. And this is where Dr Bredesen comes in.

Dr Bredesen, an American expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, has done a lot of research on Alzheimer’s Disease. One of his conclusions is that nutrition and lifestyle have a major impact on the many underlying causes of Alzheimer’s Disease, and could reduce the risk of getting the disease[iii]. However, the risk reduction is less for carriers of specific genes, such as APOE4.


What to eat (and not to eat) to beat cognitive decline?

In short, the best diet, if you would like to support your brain function and reduce the risk of dementia, should contain:

  • Lots of vegetables, preferably organic – at least 5-8 portions a day, including dark green vegetables[iv].
  • Eat a ‘rainbow’, eat as many different colours fruit and vegetables a day so you get a good variety of nutrients.


  • Good quality protein: free range or grass-fed organic meat, small, wild fish, i.e. salmon, or sardines (avoid eating the larger fish as they contain more mercury and other toxins), free range, organic eggs, nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats – coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and oily fish[v] 
  • Low glycaemic foods[vi] as these slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream: Complex carbohydrates: brown rice, gluten-free oats, vegetables, fruit, pulses.
  • Moderate intake of starchy carbohydrates such as carrots and beetroot.
  • 2 portions of low-sugar fruit such as berries or green apple.
  • Foods/drinks that contain as little environmental toxins as possible, i.e. organic, grass-fed meat, filtered water etc.
  • Foods that are high in antioxidants such as the ‘rainbow’ of coloured vegetables and fruits, cocoa, green tea, and dark chocolate.
  • Herbs & spices: turmeric, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme.


One of the many underlying causes of Alzheimer’s Disease is excess inflammation[vii], so foods that are inflammatory should be avoided:

  • Foods containing refined sugar - biscuits, sweets, soft drinks, ready-made sauces, fruit juice and other processed foods.
  • Fast foods.
  • Refined (white) carbohydrates: pasta, rice, breads.
  • Gluten – as they not only can cause ‘Leaky Gut’, they could also cause ‘Leaky Brain’[viii] [ix]. A leaky brain allows damaging substances such as heavy metals, toxins and bacteria to enter the brain and cause damage to the brain tissue.
  • ‘Bad fats’ (sunflower oil, vegetable oils, transfats like margarine).
  • Low fat products: the fat has often been replaced with additional sugars and chemical sweeteners.
  • High intake of dairy products. If you do tolerate dairy, choose organic. If you do have an issue with dairy, try alternatives such as almond, coconut or oat milk.
  • Excess caffeine and alcohol
  • Meat and fish that is burnt or overcooked (i.e. BBQ)[x]

Insulin Resistance is also associated with Alzheimer’s Disease[xi] [xii] so avoiding sugar, refined carbohydrates, and excess caffeine and alcohol is recommended.

There are many supplements to support cognitive health. But as every person is unique, supplements need to be tailored to the individual, based on assessment of diet and lifestyle and personal circumstances.

If you are interested in working on your cognitive health with a nutritional therapist, check out https://www.action-against-alzheimers.co.uk/. I am a licensed AAA practitioner.
The Action Against Alzheimer’s programme is a diet and lifestyle programme to optimise brain health, based on Dr. Bredesen’s approach.




[i] https://www.dementiastatistics.org/statistics/diagnoses-in-the-uk/

[ii] https://www.thelancet.com/commissions/dementia2017

[iii] Bredesen, D.E. (2014). Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Ageing, 6 (9), p707-717.

[iv] https://www.nutritionforyou.co.uk/blogs/the-hidden-power-of-veggies

[v] Fotuhi M. et al (2009). Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009 Mar;5(3):140-52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19262590

[vi] Sears B. & Bell S. (2004). The zone diet: an anti-inflammatory, low glycemic-load diet. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2004
Spring;2(1):24-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18370674.

[vii] Wyss-Coray, T., & Rogers, J. (2012). Inflammation in Alzheimer Disease—A Brief Review of the Basic Science and Clinical Literature. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 2(1), a006346. http://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a006346

[viii] http://www.drperlmutter.com/tag/leaky-brain/

[ix] https://www.fxmedicine.com.au/content/leaky-gut-leaky-brain-role-zonulin

[x] Nicolle, L. & Bailey, C. (2013). The Functional Nutrition Cookbook. London & Philadelphia: Singing Dragon. P209

[xi] Willette, A. A. et al (2015). Association of insulin resistance with cerebral glucose uptake in late middle-aged adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. JAMA Neurology, 72(9), 1013–1020. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.0613

[xii] Bitra, V. R., Rapaka, D., & Akula, A. (2015). Prediabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 77(5), 511–514. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4700701/