by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.
“The heart is the chief feature of a functioning mind.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
The heart and the head are not always on the same page. But one thing is certain, when it comes to nourishing these two essential parts of you, what’s good for one is also good for the other.
You probably already know that you can support the health of your heart with lifestyle changes. Even if you are genetically susceptible, the lifestyle choices you make can turn on or off those genes, raising or lowering your inherent risk for heart disease. In short, even family history can be rewritten depending on how you choose to eat, move and live. (64-66)
What’s the Connection?
Everything known to be unhealthy for blood vessels and the heart is also linked to poor brain health. The culprits that raise heart disease risk, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, stiff arteries, inflammation and obesity, may also impact brain function. (61,62)
In contrast, every habit you adopt to lower the risk of heart disease helps to support positive brain health. For example, a study from the University of Miami compared cardiovascular health with cognitive function in more than 1,000 people. Results showed that those who had the highest scores on measures of heart health did the best on mental tests. They scored highest on processing information, memory and the ability to organize, manage time and control impulses, a set of skills known as “executive function.” (1)
A Hearty Diet for the Mind
To protect your brain, adopt a heart-healthy diet, preferably one that resembles the Mediterranean diet rich in fatty fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and nuts. This diet supports healthy arteries that supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to both the brain and heart, and helps clear fatty deposits from arteries to help keep blood pressure in check. (58-60,63)
- Think Fish
One of the mainstays of this diet is the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA found in fatty fish, such as salmon and herring. The health benefits of consuming at least two servings a week of fatty fish has been known for decades. (17-21,38) The body cannot make these fats at optimal levels, so it holds true that as intake decreases, levels in the brain of these omega-3s also decrease. (2-15,56,57) The benefits of DHA and EPA to mood, cognition and learning are noted around the world in both men and women and throughout life, from infancy through the senior years. (22-37)
- Eat the Rainbow
The heart pumps one-fifth of its blood to the brain, where billions of brain cells use 20 percent of the blood’s oxygen and fuel. Along with that oxygen comes oxygen fragments, called oxidants or free radicals. Left unchecked, the oxidative damage caused by this onslaught damages cells. The antioxidants in foods, such as vitamins C and E, protect both the arteries and the brain from damage. (39,40-42) For example, preliminary evidence suggests that vitamin E helps lower the risk for both heart disease and dementia. (43-47,56,57) Load at least half of every plate with a variety of antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables, and include vitamin E-rich nuts in the weekly diet.
- Supplement Responsibly
On the days when you don’t eat perfectly, supplement. Make sure your multi-vitamin contains antioxidants, such as vitamin E. Supplement your multi-vitamin with DHA and EPA omega-3s. Rest assured that supplemental sources of these fats are just as effective at protecting your heart and brain as are the same fats found in fatty fish. (48-52)
- Stay Lean
Humans are not meant to be overweight. Excess body fat is associated with most aspects of aging and health conditions. For example, being overweight in the middle years significantly increases the risk for dementia down the road. The good news – the very diet that protects your brain and heart also helps to slim your waistline! (53-55)
Live It Up!
One cannot live by diet alone. To protect your heart and head, include exercise in the daily routine. Move at a level that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat, and you’ll stimulate growth of the hippocampus, the memory and learning center in your brain. You’ll also reduce many of the risk factors for heart disease. Then, sleep well, lower stress, and of course, don’t smoke! Adopt those habits and your brain and heart will repay you a thousand-fold!
- Gardener H, Wright C, Dong C, et al: Ideal cardiovascular health and cognitive aging in the Northern Manhattan Study. Journal of the American Heart Association 2016; March 16th.
- Parker G, Gibson N, Brotchie H, et al: Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 2006;163:969-978.
- Chiu C, Huang S, Shen W, et al: Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in pregnancy. American Journal of Psychiatry 2003;160:385.
- Mamalakis G, Tornaritis M, Kafatos A: Depression and adipose essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 2002;67:311-318.
- Timonen M, Horrobin D, Jokelainen J, et al: Fish consumption and depression. Journal of Affective Disorders 2004;82:447-452.
- Sontrop J, Campbell M: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and depression. Preventive Medicine 2006;42:4-13.
- Mamalakis G, Kalagerpoulos N, Andrikopoulos N, et al: Depression and long chain n-3 fatty acids in adipose tissue in adults from Crete. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;60:882-888.
- Makrides M, Crowther C, Gibson R, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid and post-partum depression. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003;12(suppl):S37.
- Hibbeln J: Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet 1998;351:1213.
- Tanskanen A, Hibbeln J, Tuomilehto J, et al: Fish consumption and depressive symptoms in the general population of Finland. Psychiatric Services 2001;52:529-531.
- Schaefer E, Bongard V, Beiser A, et al: Plasma phosphatidylcholine docosahexaenoic acid content and risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. The Framingham Heart Study. Archives of Neurology 2006;63:1545-1550.
- Pjamondon H, Roberge M: Dietary PUFA supplements reduce memory deficits but not CA1 ischemic injury in rats. Physiology & Behavior 2008; July 22nd.
- Lim G, Calon F, Morihara T, et al: A diet enriched with the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid reduces amyloid burden in an aged Alzheimer mouse model. Journal of Neuroscience 2005;25:3042-3040.
- Morris M, Evans D, Bienias J, et al: Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology 2003;60:940-946.
- Stark K, Holub B: Differential eicosapentaenoic acid elevations and altered cardiovascular disease risk factor responses after supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid in postmenopausal women receiving and no receiving hormone replacement therapy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004;79:765-773.
- Conquer J, Holub B: Supplementation with an algae source of docosahexaenoic acid increases (n-3) fatty acid status and alters selected risk factors for heart disease in vegetarian subjects. The Journal of Nutrition 1996;126:3032-3039.
- Schwellenbach L, Olson K, McConnell K, et al: The triglyceride-lowering effects of a modest dose of docosahexaenoic acid alone versus in combination with low dose eicosapentaenoic acid in patients with coronary artery disease and elevated triglycerides. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2006;25:480-485.
- Pounis G, Panagiotakos D, Chrysohoou C, et al: Long-term fish consumption is associated with lower risk of 30-day cardiovascular disease events in survivors from an acute coronary syndrome. International Journal of Cardiology 2008; 136:344-346.
- Marklund M, Leander K, Vikstrom M, et al: Polyunsaturated fat intake estimated by circulating biomarkers and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in a population-based cohort of 60-year-old men and women. Circulation 2016;132:586-594.
- Minihane A, Armah C, Miles E, et al: Consumption of FISH oil providing amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid that can be obtained from diet reduces blood pressure in adults with systolic hypertension. The Journal of Nutrition 2016; 146:516-523.
- Tukiainen T, Tynkkynen T, Makinen V, et al: A multi-metabolite analysis of serum by (1)H NMR spectroscopy: Early systemic signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications 2008;August 9th.
- Tanaka K, Kon N, Ohkawa N, et al: Does breastfeeding in the neonatal period influence the cognitive function of very-low-birth-weight infants at 5 years of age? Brain & Development 2008; July 18th.
- Henriksen C, Haughholt K, Lindgren M, et al: Improved cognitive development among preterm infants attributable to early supplementation of human milk with docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. Pediatrics 2008;121:1137-1145.
- Virtanen J, Siscovick D, Longstreth W, et al: Fish consumption and risk of subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults. Neurology 2008;71:439-446.
- Leaf D: Omega 3 fatty acids and coronary artery disease: More than a fish tale. Postgraduate Medicine 1989;85:237-244.
- Kaur P, Heggland I, Aschner M, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid may act as a neuroprotector for methylmercury-induced neurotoxicity in primary neural cell cultures. Neurotoxicology 2008; June 20th.
- Haapala E, Eloranta A, Venalainen T, et al: Diet quality and academic achievement. European Journal of Nutrition 2016; September 9th.
- Wu D, Feng L, Gao Q, et al: Association between fish intake and depressive symptoms among community-living older Chinese adults in Singapore. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 2016;20:404-407.
- Sarris J, Murphy J, Mischoulon D, et al: Adjunctive nutraceuticals for depression. American Journal of Psychiatry 2016;173:575-587.
- Khajehnasiri F, Akhondzadeh S, Mortazavi S, et al: Are supplementation of omega-3 and ascorbic acid effective in reducing oxidative stress and depression among depressed shift workers? International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2016;May 10th.
- Song C, Shieh C, Wu Y, et al: The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in the treatment of major depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Progress in Lipid Research 2016; January 4th.
- Chhetry B, Hezghia M, Miller J, et al: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation and white matter changes in major depression. Journal of Psychiatric Research 2016; 75:65-74.
- Heras-Sandoval D, Pedrraza-Chaverri J, Perez-Rojas J: Role of docosahexaenoic acid in the modulation of glial cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation 2016; March 10th.
- Nishihira J, Tokashiki T, Higashiuesato Y, et al: Associations between serum omega-3 fatty acid levels and cognitive functions among community-dwelling octogenarians in Okinawa, Japan. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2016; February 16th.
- Oulhaj A, Herneren F, Refsum H, et al: Omega-3 fatty acid status enhances the prevention of cognitive decline by B vitamins in mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016; January 6th.
- Li F, Liu X, Zhang D: Fish consumption and risk of depression. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2015;September 10th.
- AHA recommendations to eat 2 servings weekly of fish: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WJEd2WczXcc
- Panth N, Paudel K, Parajuli K: Reactive oxygen species: A key hallmark of cardiovascular disease. Advances in Medicine 2016;9152732.
- Lakshmi S, Padmaja G, Kuppusamy P, et al: Oxidative stress in cardiovascular disease. Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics 2009;46:421-440.
- Garcia-Blanco A, Baquero M, Vento M, et al: Potential oxidative stress biomarkers of mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer disease. Journal of Neurological Sciences 2017;373:295-302.
- Di Domenico F, Pupo G, Giraldo E, et al: Oxidative signature of cerebrospinal fluid from mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease patients. Free Radical Biology & Medicine 2016;91:1-9.
- Li G, Li Y, Chen X, et al: Circulating tocopherols and risk of coronary artery disease. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 2016;23:748-757.
- Loffredo L, Perri L, Di Castelnuovo A, et al: Supplementation with vitamin E alone is associated with reduced myocardial infarction. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease 2015;25:354-363.
- Xu W, Tan L, Wang H, et al: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 2015;86:1299-1306.
- Grimm M, Mett J, Hartmann T: The impact of vitamin E and other fat-soluble vitamins on Alzheimers’s disease. International Journal of Molecular Science 2016;17 (11):E1785.
- Shinohara M, Yamada M: Vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease. Brain and Nerve 2015;67:1509-1513.
- Kris-Etherton P, Hill A: n-3 fatty acids: Foods or supplements? Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008;108:1125-1130.
- Bourre J: Dietary omega-3 fatty acids for women. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 2007;61:105-112.
- Arterburn L, Oken H, Hoffman J, et al: Bioequivalence of docosahexaenoic acid from different algal oils in capsules and in a DHA-fortified food. Lipids 2007;42:1011-1024.
- Arterburn L, Oken H, Hoffman J, et al: Algal-oil capsules and cooked salmon: nutritionally equivalent sources of docosahexaenoic acid. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008;108:1204-1209.
- Hibbeln J, Nieminen L, Blasbalg T, et al: Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;83(suppl 6):1483S-1493S.
- Lafortune L, Martin S, Kelly S, et al: Behavioural risk factors I mid-life associated with successful ageing, disability, dementia and frailty in later life. PLoS One 2016;February 4th.
- Pedditizi E, Peters R, Beckett N: The risk of overweight/obesity in mid-life and late life for the development of dementia. Age and Ageing 2016;45:14-21.
- Beydoun M, Meydoun H, Wang Y: Obesity and central obesity and risk factors for incident dementia and its subtypes. Obesity Reviews 2008;9:204-218.
- Morris M: The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease. European Journal of Neurology 2009;16: 1-7.
- Morris M: Nutrition and risk of dementia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2016;1367:31-37.
- Whayne T: Ischemic heart disease and the Mediterranean diet. Current Cardiology Reports 2014;16:491.
- Ravera A, Carubelli V, Sciatto E, et al: Nutrition ad cardiovascular disease. Nutrients 2016; June 14th.
- Martinez-Gonzalez M, Salas-Salvado J, Estruch R, et al: Benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Progress in Cardiovascular Disease 2015;58:50-60.
- Singhrao S, Harding A, Chukkapalli S, et al: Apolipoprotein E related co-morbidities and Alzheimers’s disease. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2016;51:935-948.
- Barberger-Gateau P, Samieri C, Feart C, et al: Dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and Alzheimer’s disease; Interaction with apolipoprotein E genotype. Current Alzheimer’s Research 2011;8:479-491.
- Corella D, Ordovas J: Aging and cardiovascular diseases; The Role of gene-diet interactions. Ageing Research Reviews 2014;18:53-73.