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You don’t have to be an expert in the intricate workings of the human brain to understand that it’s an incredible organ. It is the control room for our physical sensations and body movement; our motor skills, judgment, and emotion; our language, memory, thoughts, attention, and perception; our ability to plan and carry out tasks, and our ability to live a purposeful life.
- The Brain & Diet
- Nutrients to Support Brain Health
- Chocolate – YES CHOCOLATE!
- Phosphatidylserine (PS)
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B12
- Animal Fats and Organs
Despite its immense importance, most of us don’t look after our brain like we do our other vital organs or muscles. We keep fit for the good of our heart; we eat well for the good of our digestive system, but our brain is all too often overlooked.
The Brain & Diet
Like other muscles and organs, our brains don’t work as well as we age. We become more absent minded and generally don’t feel as sharp as we use to. At the extreme end of the scale are conditions that significantly alter the way we operate on a daily basis. While these things can rear up later in life, they are not entirely attributed to age and can be caused by several outside factors such as poor diet and lifestyle, and heredity factors. It’s quite alarming to know how much brain conditions are increasing in the West.
The message, the experts say, is ‘change your unhealthy lifestyle habits now or face a much greater risk of developing brain problems in the future’.
But here’s the good news…
There are various ways to support your brain health.
Much like having a protein shake after a workout to help your muscles stay in good shape; your brain needs the right nourishment if it’s going to last you the next few decades.
Nutrients to Support Brain Health
Omega-3 – particularly Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
DHA is one of the critical nutrients required by the brain and eyes during the early stages of development. Sufficient levels are needed to properly maintain optimum brain health throughout life. In fact, this Omega-3 is the primary building block of the brain. The brain is 50-60% fat, and DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. It supports cellular communication and the action of neurotransmitters. In short, it helps your brains cells talk to each other better. Sources of Omega-3, DHA, include fish oil, Krill oil, and animal fats.
Chocolate – YES CHOCOLATE!
Well actually, cacao. Cacao is naturally high in Flavanols – which have been shown to support blood flow and therefore more oxygen to key areas of the brain. Blood flow helps to support performance in specific tasks and general alertness.
This herb has been shown to support blood flow to the brain, and therefore oxygen and glucose utilisation in the brain (glucose is the only fuel the brain uses). It also supports the rate at which information is transmitted from cell to cell within the brain. It is commonly used to support mental clarity, focus, and alertness, and overall brain health.
PS is naturally found in our brain, but levels decline as we get older, so it needs to be topped up. Vegetarians and people on low-fat diets are generally lower in PS too. PS supports the communication between cells in your brain viathe number of membrane receptor sites for receiving messages. It also supports the brain’s supply and output of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter crucial to mental clarity. Ideal for people whose brains feel worn out! PS is naturally found in soy lecithin, but the potent stuff comes in supplemental form.
This common vitamin supports brain health and can be found in whole milk, butter, eggs, animal fats, nuts, soaked/fermented wholegrains, wheat germ, and dark leafy greens like spinach.
Everybody should add lutein to their diet. Lutein is an important natural antioxidant that helps maintain healthy eyes and supports brain health as we age. It can be found in egg yolks, dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, collards, and turnip greens), peas, and pumpkin/squash. Lutein is also available in a supplement.
There is a strong correlation between iodine deficiency and lower intelligence and learning disorders. Iodine is naturally found in iodised sea salt, seaweeds, and some seafood, and it’s one of the easier things to add to your diet.
Deficiency is commonly associated with neurological problems. Unfortunately, B12 absorption decreases as we age. A simple blood test will tell you if you are low. Animal foods are the only non-supplemental source of B12.
Folate, or vitamin B9, is needed to manufacture brain neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers), which are responsible for memory, mental clarity, and alertness. B vitamins are water soluble and lost much more easily from vegetables during cooking, so it is better to get it from animal foods (research shows the folate content remains robust during cooking) and fruits (because they can be eaten raw). 50-75g of lightly sauteed chicken livers, 2 soft yolk eggs, plus half an avocado, or 1 orange, will get the average adult over the recommended daily limit (400mcg) for folate. Pregnant women need 600mcg but should get that by following a nutrient-dense diet.
Animal Fats and Organs
Animal meats, fat, and organs, especially from ruminant animals, are rich in all the essential nutrients and bioavailable proteins and fats that our brain requires to develop, function, and repair itself. Essential brain nutrients that are plentiful in red/organ meats that are absent from plant foods: B12, creatine, carnitine, carnosine, taurine, retinoic acid (vitamin A), vitamin D3, vitamin K2, heme iron, DHA, EPA, and arachidonic acid. Other brain essentials like zinc and choline, are difficult to get in any meaningful amounts from plant sources. Research has shown that vegetarians experience significantly increased mental illness and cognitive decline than omnivores.
It’s important to ensure your brain is getting the right nutrients. Other things you can do to actively look after your brain include:
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Getting regular sunlight cues from sunrise to sunset (take a “light break”!)
- Staying physically active
- Avoiding smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Staying mentally active with crosswords, reading, or even learning a new language
- Staying socially engaged through social activities, clubs, etc.
After all, you only get one brain, so take the initiative to look after it.
What is the connection between brain health and diet?
A healthy diet that includes a variety of nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins, can support brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
Can exercise improve brain function?
Yes, exercise can improve brain function by promoting neuroplasticity, increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, and reducing inflammation and stress.