How Much Does Diet Impact Cognitive Health and Behavior?

For quite some time reports have been surfacing linking diet to a variety of physical diseases. It has become commonplace to hear about the rise of digestive problems, food allergies, several types of cancers, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure being a result of specific foods or the lack of specific foods in our diet. Increasingly research is linking several additives in food that we eat to many of the physically devastating and in often fatal diseases. Typically there is very little focus or discussion on how these additives affect the brain and behavior.

Current research points out that non-genetic Alzheimer’s may share the common link of other diseases to certain foods and additives. But this time, it’s not the excessive intake of sodium or sugar that is resulting in problems with our physical health.  One blog article calls into question the preservatives found in processed foods and the damaging impact on our brain and our cognitive health. This causes me to question how the brain and behavior are affected by other harmful additives in food.

Nitrosamines and Nitrate……Oh my!

There is research suggesting that Alzheimer’s could quite possibly be linked to preservatives traditionally found in processed foods. Preservatives are used to extend shelf life, enhance color, and inhibit the growth of bacteria in food. According to Dr. Suzanne Delaminate, a Neuropathologist at Alpert Medical School, chronic consumption of processed foods containing nitrite preservatives may explain the increased cases of Alzheimer’s. (

The Power of Food

Most of us know how powerful food can be. Perhaps we are not accustomed to describing food as powerful, but it is. It provides us with the energy we need to live. What we choose to eat can have a tremendous impact on our current and future health and quality of life.

Food is a huge source of enjoyment with emotional attachments in many cultures including ours. Some people eat to make themselves feel better when they are depressed. Other people eat when they are anxious or bored.

Many of us have experienced the all too common “food coma” or “carb coma.” Whichever term you prefer, this drastic decline of energy has been experienced by the majority of American’s.  The food coma usually tightly grips you right after eating a meal that is high in fats and rich in carbohydrates. The symptoms of a food coma include difficulty concentrating along with feeling tired or extremely sleepy. This is one simple example of the impact that food can have on our brain and behavior and how immediate the impact can be.

Healthier Options

I came across the following quote by Hippocrates: “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I understand and appreciate the advances in medicine and I am very grateful for them. The simplicity of this quote draws my attention because it echoes words that have traveled throughout generations. Many of us have heard from our parents, grandparents or other sources that we should eat a balanced meal three times a day and limit our sodium and sugar intake.

The primary message for maintaining or improving health has been consistent and resembles the recommendations of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends fresh fish, a delicious variety of fresh vegetables, succulent fresh fruits, coffee, chocolate, fresh strawberries…..  Sound familiar?

Recommendations from the American Cancer Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association are basically the same, avoiding foods containing preservative for optimal health.

Preservatives and the type of foods being consumed have traditionally been researched to discover links to diseases of the body, and not the brain. However, the brain receives and uses components from the same foods being consumed. In the not so distant past, the Blood-Brain Barrier was believed to protect the brain from toxic substances.  Many of us unwittingly consume and expose our bodies to a toxic cocktail of harmful substances daily. What impact are these toxic cocktails having on our brain and behavior? Yet a major focus of discussion remains on the impact certain types of foods and additives have on the body.

So what do you think?

If preservatives found in food are being implicated as one of the potential causes of Alzheimer’s, as professionals in the field of Aging, as Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals should we further investigate the possible damaging effects preservatives and other dangerous additives may have on cognitive health and behavior?

Big thanks to Tim Andriano for editing this article.

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