Smart ways to boost brain health

Saturday August 24 2019


By Beatrice Nakibuuka

Alexa Mbabazi* became an alcohol addict while she was at university. She thought she would never be normal unless she took alcohol and before long, it started affecting her cognitive abilities. She also recalls being unable to hold things without shaking.

“I would forget that I had a lecture to attend. I would sleep and upon waking up, my colleagues would be done with the lecture,” she recalls.
Alcohol has been identified as one of the worst substances that affect the brain, according to Edward Ssempiira, a psychologist at Hope and Beyond Rehabilitation Centre.

Ssempiira says, “The most recent research about alcohol says there is no safe amount of alcohol. This is because chronic alcohol use results in a reduction in brain volume, metabolic changes and disruption of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals the brain uses to communicate to the nerves.”

Most alcoholics have a deficiency in vitamin B1 which causes a brain disorder- where a person gets a double vision, confusion and loss of mental activity and loss of muscle coordination. Alcohol also disrupts sleep patterns which can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.
“Until I was taken to a rehabilitation centre, I had for two years suffered from poor memory, a condition that made me forget to sit for final examinations at university,” Mbabazi says.

But after rehabilitation, she was treated and now she has been able to recover her memory. “I actually went back and completed my degree and now I am a better person with a sharp memory. I do not take alcohol anymore.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have devastating effects on the foetus. Babies born to alcoholic mothers can develop foetal alcohol syndrome. The baby can have poor memory, coordination, low body weight and a hyperactive behaviour.


Sugary drinks
Alex Mokori, a nutritionist with Unicef says the commonest worst food for the brain is a sugary diet. This is because a high intake of sugary drinks does not only increase your risk of type-two-diabetes and heart disease but also has a negative effect on the brain.

“Excess sugar is harmful to the entire body and an elevated glucose level in the bloodstream can be harmful to the brain, resulting in slowed cognitive function, deficits in memory and attention. The excess sugar can cause brain inflammation and impair the memory. This is one of the reasons why some people with diabetes have memory issues.”

Sugary beverages such as soda, energy drinks and fruit juice can be replaced by water, unsweetened tea, vegetable juice and unsweetened dairy products.

Trans fat
While manufacturers use trans fats to extend the shelf life of many products and enhance the flavour of their food, it compromises your brain’s health.
Mokori says that natural trans fats found in animal products like meat and dairy are not a concern but rather the industry produced trans fats, also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils are a problem.

He says, “A higher intake of trans fats found in industry produced products and processed foods like cake, cookies, and muffins can cause plaque to build up in your brain, thereby increasing your risk of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.”

Cutting out saturated fats completely and increasing the unsaturated fats in your diet may be a good strategy.
It is also a good alternative to increase the intake of omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to protect against cognitive decline and prevent inflammation of the brain.
Increase the amount of omega-3 fats in your diet by eating foods such as fish, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.

Transfat can cause poor memory, coordination, low body weight and a hyperactive behaviour.