Can food improve brain function, cognition, memory and emotions?
You bet. And the secret is.. eat healthily. There are nutrients that increase and diminish (alcohol, junk sugars) brain power. There are also drugs that can harm brain and lower IQ - if taken by us or our mothers during our prenatal development (Methamphetamine, Valproate).
Sales of foods believed to improve brain function (salmon, tuna, blueberries, avocados, nuts and seeds) soar when it's school exams' time, mostly because of parents trying to make their children more intelligent (more details in articles published in 2008 and 2005)
Many new brain foods appeared in 2008 and 2009. Nestle USA has just launched a fortified juice drink for children under 5 specifically targeting brain development. Juicy Juice Brain Development is fortified with omega-3 DHA (16mg per serving) that “acts as a building block for brain development during a child's first two years of life.” Adults are offered brain drinks too, like BrainToniq - however, according to one of reviews on Amazon.com, "you drink it, it tastes good, it's crisp and not too sweet, but you don't suddenly get smarter or feel the need to do calculus for giggles." There are many more soft drinks and omega milks on the market marketed as focus, concentration and memory drinks.There are many more soft drinks and omega milks on the market marketed as focus, concentration and memory drinks.
Newly described influences of dietary factors on neuronal function and synaptic plasticity have revealed some of the vital mechanisms that are responsible for the action of diet on brain health and mental function. Nutrients in food can promote mental fitness. Hormones in our gut and proteins that modulate metabolism of food can influence cognitive ability. Food can be linked to depression, alertness, hyperactivity, lethargy. What then should we eat?
Sugar, Caffeine and Flavonoids
Glucose fuels the mitochondrial furnaces responsible for your brain power. Glucose is the only fuel normally used by brain cells. Neurons, brain cells that communicate with each other, can't store glucose, so they depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply of this precious fuel. Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body because they're always in a state of metabolic activity. Even during sleep, neurons are still at w
Image via Wikipediaork repairing and rebuilding their worn out structural components.
Most demanding of a neuron's energy are the bioelectric signals responsible for communication throughout the nervous system. This nerve transmission consumes one-half of all the brain's energy (nearly 10% of the whole body's energy).
Caffeine makes neurons more active. It also stimulates the brain to release another chemical called dopamine that stimulates adjacent neurons to fire.
"High caffeine users", drinking more than tseven cups of instant coffee per day or three cups of brewed, are more likely to hallucinate and hear voices than low caffeine users.
Caffeine and sugar enhance alertness and offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking processes, and mental ability. Complex carbohydrates are like time-release capsules of sugar. Simple carbohydrates are more like an injection of sugar. AN overdose of any carbs could shut our brains down though, making us sleepy.
Dark chocolate also contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus and concentration, up to an ounce per day will provide the benefit without excess calories, fat, or sugar.
Flavonoids are found not only in dark chocolate, but also cocoa, green tea, Ginko biloba tree, citrus fruits, and wine. Ginko biloba extracts have been shown to reduce memory impairment in mice.
Refined "table" sugar creates strong fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, which results in a whole host of health problems, including cardiovascular and cholesterol issues. Stick with a more natural sweetener such as honey, cane sugar, or agave. High fructose corn syrup also may be worse for you than sugar.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The most widely available source of EPA and DHA is cold water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Other sources include Flaxseed oil, Chia, Kiwifruit, Perilla, Lingonberry, Camelina, Purslane, Black Raspberry, Butternuts, Walnuts, (much less in Pecans & Hazelnuts ), Eggs, grass-fed beef, Milk and cheese from grass-fed cows, microalgae and brown algae, Acai palm fruit, also strawberries and broccoli.
Fatty acids comprise membranes in our cells. Important nutritionally-essential n?3 fatty acids?-linolenic acideicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which are polyunsaturated. Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA (a long chain omega-3 essential fatty acid), is the most abundant in the brain. We need to eat DHA foods as human bodies do not produce enough DHA. (ALA),
Preliminary results suggest that the group of children who received omega-3 fatty acids showed some level of improvement in school performance compared to the group of children who received a placebo. DHA – consumed through breastfeeding or fortified infant formulas – is said to support mental, visual and motor skills development.
Fatty acids could also act as mood stabilizer. The prevalence of major depression was fund to increase with decreased consumption of omega-3.
B vitamins: Folic acid, B6, B12 and other supplements
People who take more folic acid have less risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed to determine whether folate is indeed responsible for the risk reduction.
The brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, but inconclusive.
Antioxidant foods and good fats
Eating foods that are antioxidants can help improve focus, problem-solving, and memory
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage. This is why antioxidant food has become popular for their positive effects on brain function.
Antioxidants are found in a variety of food: Alpha lipoic is found in spinach, broccoli and potatoes; Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables; Curcumin is found in the curry spice; Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit and several plants and vegetables. Berries are well known for their antioxidant capacity but it is not clear which of their many components has an effect on cognition. Add Avocados and Whole Grains.
Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain. Eating whole grains and fruits like avocados can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and enhance blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to Olive oil. This miracle elixir has been shown to break up clots in capillaries and generally help with blood flow. Consider replacing your other vegetable oil with a good quality olive oil. Whole grains, like popcorn and whole wheat, also contribute dietary fiber and vitamin E, while avocados have monounsaturated fat that contributes to healthy blood flow. Blueberries are super nutritious, shown to help protect the brain from oxidative stress, significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills, at least in laboratory animals. They may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Gut Health and the brain
What we eat can affect brain function. It has also been shown that gut hormones themselves can directly influence brain function. Several digestive hormones such as leptin (which sends signals to the brain to reduce appetite), ghrelin (which acts as an appetite stimulant) or insulin (which is secreted by the anticipation of meals and during digestion) have been found to enhance memory formation through their action on the hippocampus, crucial for spatial learning and memory formation. Ghrelin, for example, promotes the formation of new synapse during learning. Insulin interact directly with cells in the hippocampus.
Thinking is a biochemical process, reactions includie chemicals called neurotransmitters carrying messages from neuron to neuron.
Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids found in protein foods e.g., meat, fish and cheese. 3-4ounces of protein will help you to feel energized, more alert and more assertive.
Acetylcholine (ACh) is involved with voluntary movement of muscles, behavioural inhibition, drinking and memory. It's reduced in people with Alzeimer's memory loss. It is found in egg yolks, peanuts, wheat germ, liver, meat, fish, milk, cheese and vegetables (especially broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower)
Dopamine generally excites and is involved in movement, attention and learning but is also inhibitory. Schizophrenia is associated with excess dopamine. It is present in all proteins (meat, milk products, fish, beans, nuts, soy products).
Serotonin (or 5-HT is involved in arousal and sleep, mood, appetite and sensitivity. It is also part of the brain's reward system producing feelings of pleasure. Serotonin rich foods are carbohydrate based e.g., pasta, starchy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, breaads.
Children whose mothers took methamphetamine during pregnancy have brain abnormalities that may explain the developmental problems they often experience
Women who need antiseizure medication during pregnancy should avoid valproate, according to a study showing significantly lower cognitive function in 3-year-olds exposed to the drug in utero. Fetal exposure to valproate was associated with significantly lower IQ at age 3 compared with exposure to lamotrigine, phenytoin, and carbamazepine, Kimford Meador, M.D., of Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues reported in the April 16 2009 New England Journal of Medicine
Children exposed in utero to lamotrigine had a mean IQ of 101. The mean IQ was 99 for children exposed to phenytoin, 98 for those exposed to carbamazepine, and 92 for the valproate group.
The mean IQ for children exposed in utero to valproate was significantly lower compared with lamotrigine ( P =0.009), phenytoin ( P =0.04), and carbamazepine ( P =0.04).
The differences could not be explained by variation in baseline characteristics, the authors said.
Only the dose of valproate correlated significantly with IQ ( P =0.005). Children whose mothers received more than the median dose of valproate had a mean IQ of 87 compared with 97 in children whose mothers received lower doses of valproate. IQ did not vary by dose for any of the other antiseizure medications.
Brain Food by Steve Gilman: increasebrainpower.com
Beat Depression with Brain Food while Eating Junk Food. By Karen Vieira.
Secret To Higher IQ Revealed In Brain Images by Technology Review (fatty tissue that insulates neural wires is largely inherited.)
Prenatal meth exposure may harm baby's brain By Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters, April 15, 2009
Fetal Exposure to Valproate Linked to Lower IQ By Charles Bankhead, Staff Writer, MedPage Today,April 15, 2009. Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD; Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
Fish may be brain food for teenage boys by Reuters Health, March 16, 2009 Teenage boys who regularly eat fish may be doing their brains some good, a new study suggests.
Kirkham TC., Int Rev Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;21(2):163-71. PMID: 19367510