Olwen Anderson
Olwen Anderson

Eating the right food can protect you as you age

ISN'T it helpful that power cords are surrounded by a protective sheath.

The power supply can travel from the powerpoint to each appliance safely and without being misdirected.

Your nervous system operates in a similar fashion.

Electrical nerve impulses are transmitted from your brain to make a muscle move at the other end of your body - like wiggling your fingers, for example.

That nerve impulse needs to be sent and received quickly, with no interference to confuse the message.

The nerve cells that transmit these messages are surrounded by a protective sheath of myelin, like the covering on power cords. If the myelin sheath breaks down and isn't repaired, nerve impulses can be misdirected or miss their target completely.

That could mean your fingers start moving at times when you don't want them to.

One of the important nutrients that maintain the myelin nerve sheath is vitamin B12.

It's abundantly present in foods from animal sources (like eggs, meat, fish and poultry). But a problem develops as you age.

Absorbing B12 becomes more challenging. In order to extract vitamin B12 from what you eat, a stomach enzyme called intrinsic factor is used.

But as the years progress, secretion of digestive enzymes diminishes. People tend to eat less protein as they age.

That's a big problem. Fewer nutrients going in, and less absorbed.

Other factors can interfere with your nutrition too. Dental problems may make chewing more challenging, and if you're living alone, or have a low appetite, it can feel like too much trouble to create real meals.

As with all nutrients, the most effective way to get more vitamins is through food, not through a supplement. Although your health practitioner may sometimes recommend supplements for a specific problem, attention to what you're eating is vital.

Supplements can't compensate completely for a poor diet.

Eating nutrient-dense food supplies vitamins in a form that they can easily be absorbed. Food also supplies co-factors - other vitamins that work together to help absorption.

In food, the richest sources of B12 are found in shellfish and liver, although any animal-sourced food will supply at least some B12. Many of the B group vitamins work together. B12 likes to work with folate and vitamin B6.

A good meal to help boost your body's B12 content, and help maintain your nervous system, would be a shellfish (for B12) and avocado (for B6) salad that includes plenty of green leaves (for folate), perhaps with an orange-juice dressing for extra folate.

Your nerves will be nourished.

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