Resort Lifestyle Communities logo

The Gut-Brain Connection: How Nutrition Influences Cognitive Function and Mental Well-Being in Aging Adults

While aging comes with its ups and downs, there are ways you can take back control of your health and age more gracefully in a way that better supports your brain function and overall well-being. Nutrition is a big part of this.

What you eat can directly impact the structure and function of your brain, as well as your mood. If you deprive your brain of quality nutrition, it can contribute to brain tissue injury – which can be particularly problematic for aging adults. This is because the brain starts to shrink significantly beyond the age of 60 including loss of brain mass, loss of cortical density, and a slower neurotransmitter system, which means cognitive decline.

In this article, we will dive deeper to better understand the gut-brain connection and its impact on aging adults. We will also offer nutrition tips to help you improve your gut-brain connection for better cognitive function and mental wellness. 

What is the Gut-Brain Connection?

As strange as it may sound, scientists and nutrition experts tell us that we all have a “little brain in our gut.” This little brain is more scientifically known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) or more informally, the second brain. 

The ENS is made up of two layers with over 100 million nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. The main function of this gut-brain is controlling digestion, such as the breakdown of food which helps with nutrient absorption. 
Nutrition plays a critical role for everyone, no matter their age. The four basic nutrients that all humans need include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fiber. However, more specific nutritional needs can change based on age.

For instance, older adults need fewer calories, but their nutrient needs increase, because the body cannot absorb and utilize nutrients as effectively. When the gut isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, it can send signals to our brain through the central nervous system that can impact cognitive function as well as mood changes.

Research has shown that a lot of people who have gut problems also struggle with mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Everything from IBS, constipation, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea can trigger shifts in the brain through communication from the ENS. 

How the Gut-Brain Connection Affects Aging Adults

In addition to brain shrinkage mentioned at the beginning of this article, older adults naturally start to experience more health problems due to the natural aging process. For example, our hair and skin change naturally as we age, including thinning hair and skin, decrease in pigment, and loss of density. The immune system also slows down, making it more difficult to fight off infections.

What all of these declining systems have in common is that in addition to being affected by age, they are also affected by nutrition, especially the brain. There is a significant overlap between healthy eating and disease prevention as well as brain function. As the body ages, it is important to be even more proactive about eating healthy if you want to support things like your cognitive function and mental health. 

Nutrition Tips to Improve Mental Well-Being and Cognitive Function

It is important to focus on better diet and nutrition beyond the age of 60 for your brain and your overall well-being. Below are some tips and insights you can use to start improving your nutritional intake to fight cognitive decline as well as chronic illness, signs of aging in the hair and skin, and mood disorders.

●     Avoid foods with high amounts of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.

●     Focus on these key nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, dietary fiber, and potassium.

●     Omega 2 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties which are essential for brain and heart health.

●     Eat a wide array of colorful fruits and vegetables as they contain polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

●     Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant with cognitive protective effects.

●     Eat more seafood, beans, peas, lentils, and fortified soy alternatives to help maintain muscle mass (including brain mass).

●     Consider adopting a Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to support and optimize brain health.

●     Avoid excessive alcohol consumption as it can weaken heart muscles, increase blood pressure, and impair cognitive function.

In addition to eating healthy, it’s also important to get sufficient sleep and exercise as you age. Sleep and physical activity also have a major impact on the brain, so by combining healthy food with quality sleep and regular exercise, you can better promote optimal brain function and lower your risk of developing chronic conditions and diseases. 

Final Thoughts

Loneliness, memory loss, and depression are all also major issues that people struggle with as they get older. Not only do you need to eat healthy to be physically healthy, but it’s also important for maintaining your mental health. On top of eating good food, you should also stay social, embrace your hobbies, and play games to keep your brain active and reduce your chances of struggling with mood disorders.

Written By

Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman writes about people, aging, wellness, and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

You might also like...

Senior Couple Downsizing In Retirement Packing And Labelling Boxes Ready For Move Into New Home
Downsizing Your Home: Essential Tips for Moving into Retirement
As we journey through life, our needs and priorities often evolve. For many seniors, downsizing from a large family home to a more manageable livin...
Read More →
Group Of Retired Seniors Attending Art Class In Community Centre With Teacher
Enhancing Overall Well-Being Through Creative Outlets
Millions of senior citizens have discovered that taking up a creative outlet vastly improves their quality of life. A creative outlet can be someth...
Read More →
Promoting Products That Align With Aging Needs
With so much attention surrounding social media marketing, it's often challenging to find the best way to reach audiences that are less active on t...
Read More →
Lovely grandchildren telling interesting stories to beloved grandparents
How Grandparents Can Foster Healthy Behaviors in Grandchildren
A visit from the grandparents is often a special event for children. It is a time to receive extra love and attention, make memories and deepen the...
Read More →
binoculars icon
Find Your Community
Hi! Click here if you have any questions.
Community Concierge
Resort Lifestyle Communities