The Brain Agers - Oxidants, Alcohol and Stress

2020-06-25 23:22:32 |

Your brain and nervous system are made out of essential fats, protein and phospholipids. @Shutterstock


Maximizing your mental powers isn't just about what you eat. It's also about what you don't eat (and what you do drink and smoke). Your brain and nervous system are made out of essential fats, protein and phospholipids, all of which can be damaged by oxidants - the body's own nuclear waste - as well as by alcohol and too much stress.


As the brain is more than half fat, there is a real danger of these bad fat intake becoming oxidized, or going rancid. Fried food, smoking and pollution are three main factors introducing oxidants into the body and cause damage to the essential fats attached to phospholipids.

The dry matter of the brain is 60% fat, and the kind of fat you eat alters the kind of fat in your brain. The worst fats you can eat are called 'trans' fats, which are found in deep-fried food and foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils. After you eat them, they can be taken directly into the brain and appear in the same position as DHA in brain cells, where they mess up thinking processes. They also block the conversion of essential fats such as GLA, DHA and prostaglandins. A combined deficiency of omega-3 fats and an excess of trans fat is a bad scenario.

A single puff of a cigarette contains a trillion oxidants, which rapidly travel into your brain. It also carries high levels of the heavy metal cadmium, the gradual accumulation of which depletes zinc. Zinc has crucial roles in brain development and maintenance, which are the prevention of oxidation and the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. Besides, smoking is a known risk factor leading to strokes - the third most common cause of death - where the brain is starved of blood because of the damage to the arteries supplying it.

The oxidants from exhaust fumes, particularly diesel, also have an effect on the body and brain. This explains why the incidence of lung cancer among non-smokers is going up in cities.

There may not be a lot you can do to avoid many pollutants, but you can protect your brain from the inside. Antioxidants can help prevent the damaging of your brain. Vitamin E is an effective fat-based antioxidant to prevent the reaction of damage when oxidants enter the brain. Vitamin E is properly called 'd-alpha-tocopherol' and its relatives gamma-tocopherol and tocotrienols are also important for the brain. These are only found in the better quality supplements that contain vitamin E together with 'mixed tocopherols'. They are also present in vitamin E-rich foods, such as seed, cold-pressed seed oils and fish.

To have maximum protection, it's worth both eating foods high in these antioxidants and supplementing a good all-round antioxidant supplement. These are the foods richest in each antioxidant:

  1. Beta-carotene in carrots, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, squash, and watercress.

  2. Vitamin C in broccoli, peppers, kiwi fruit, berries, tomatoes, and citrus fruit.

  3. Selenium in oysters, Brazil nuts, seeds, molasses, tuna, and mushrooms.

  4. Glutathione in tuna, pulses, nuts, seeds, garlic, and onions.

  5. Anthocyanidins in berries, cherries, red grapes, beetroot, and prunes.

  6. Lipoic acid in red meat, potatoes, carrots, yams, beets, and spinach.

  7. Co-enzyme Q in sardines, mackerel, nuts, seeds, and soya.

Make sure to supplement an antioxidant formula containing all these and eat these antioxidant-rich foods is the best protection against Alzheimer's and memory decline in old age. Supplementing vitamin E has been proven to prevent Alzheimer's and slow down its progression.


Alcohol is the brain' s worst enemy. As soon as you start getting drunk you're damaging your brain. The brain is incapable of detoxifying alcohol, so once the liver's capacity is exceeded, alcohol starts to loosen up and disrupt normal communication signals in the brain, worsening memory. That's one of the reasons we like it - to forget about our worries.

Alcohol worsens your memory by dissolving fatty acids within brain cells and replacing the beneficial brain-building omega-3 DHA with a poor substitute, docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). It also blocks the conversion of fats into DHA and prostaglandins.

These are the main reasons why alcohol consumption is associated with mental impairment. It also knocks out vitamins, so the more you drink the more nutrients you need.

Alcohol can cause the most damage in women who have just become pregnant. The time of greatest risk is 2 days before or after the moment of conception.

The researcher, from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, scanned the brain of 1074 dementia-free people aged 60 to 90, looking for damage or evidence of stroke. They also measured hippocampus size, which is a strong indicator of Alzheimer's. People were categorized according to their alcohol consumption from abstainers to very light ( 1 drink a week), light (up to a drink a day), moderate (1-4 drinks a day), and heavy (4 drinks a day) drinkers. They found that the people with the healthiest brains - meaning the least damage, the least evidence of strokes and the least hippocampal shrinking - were the light or moderate drinkers but only if they carried the ApoE gene mutation, not the very light drinkers or abstainers. This finding has been backed by a number of studies in France that have consistently shown the light to moderate alcohol drinkers as having a lower incidence of both dementia and strokes, while heavy drinkers increase their risk of developing both diseases. The moral of this story is moderation in everything.


Have you ever noticed that you forget things when you're stressed? That's because stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol, and cortisol damages your brain. The danger of stress-triggered raised cortisol levels over long periods of time should not be underestimated. Numerous studies have linked elevated cortisol levels with impaired memory function. It is almost a major contributor to the increased incidence of memory decline in later years and Alzheimer's disease.

One of the more reliable indicators of adrenal exhaustion is a person's level of an adrenal hormone called DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone. DHEA not only helps control stress, but it also maintains proper mineral balance, helps control the production of sex hormones and builds lean body mass while reducing fat tissue. Increased levels of DHEA, nicknamed the anti-ageing hormone, have many benefits associated with youth. Levels start to decline after the age of 20, especially in people who live in a state of prolonged stress. DHEA levels can be measured in blood and saliva, and low levels can be boosted by DHEA supplementation, together with stress management through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

In summary, there are a few simple steps to avoid brain agers:

  • avoid foods containing hydrogenated fats.

  • limit your intake of fried foods and processed foods.

  • eat foods rich in antioxidants - fruits, vegetables, seeds, and fish.

  • supplement an antioxidant formula containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, glutathione, anthocyanidins, lipoic acid and co-enzyme Q.

  • stop smoking.

  • avoid alcohol in pregnancy, and otherwise limit alcohol to the occasional beer or glass of wine.

  • do all you can to reduce your stress level.



Holford P. (2007). Optimum Nutrition for the Mind. Mind.

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