Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Food & The Brain
The food you eat not only gives you energy to go about your day, but it is of crucial importance to cognitive functions and emotional stability. Even just the smell and sight of food can alter the emotional state of the brain.
The body produces hormones in response to eating like insulin and glucagon-like peptides (GLP) that are essential for certain processes in the hypothalamus and hippocampus, the areas of the brain in control of learning and memory.
The impact of food on brain development starts in the womb as malnutrition in mothers during pregnancy can negatively influence brain development in this important stage of life.
Fat & Brain Health
60% of the brain is made up of fat and half of that fat is Omega 3 fatty acids – which are essential to cognitive ability and neuronal differentiation.
That’s why omega-3 fatty acids, are among the most important foods we need to incorporate into our diets to renew our brain membranes and protect it from ‘effects of aging’ (accumulation of oxidative stress).
Micronutrients & Brain Health
Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are essential to brain development. Many mental disorders have been linked to specific vitamin insufficiency like vitamin B6, Folate and Vitamin B12. These vitamins are responsible for the breakdown of homocysteine, a substance that accumulates in the brain of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Vitamin D is one of the main regulators of Calcium homeostasis. If vitamin D levels are low, it leads to reduction of the buffering of accumulated calcium in the brain, which has been linked to depression as well as the buildup of amyloid peptide related to dementia.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals in the brain. If levels are low, it leads to learning and memory deficits and the progression of some neurodegenerative disorders.
Iodine is the main element used for thyroid hormone formation. When the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally people can experience low mood, anxiety, brain fog, low motivation and more. Iodine also plays a big role in brain development in fetal life and deficiency can lead to irreversible intellectual disabilities.
Choline is the main source for the production of acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter. Low concentrations of choline can lead to neuromuscular problems and neural tube irregularities in children and then dementia thereafter.
Another essential mineral that is very beneficial for brain health is Selenium. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps relieve some of the oxidative stress on the brain, which is responsible for the onset and progression of many neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Selenium is also essential to thyroid function and deficiency has been shown to lead to depressed mood, lack of motivation and anxiety.
Amino Acids & Brain Health
The remarkable ability for the brain to sense, interpret and ultimately act upon the environment is done through neurotransmitters at synapses between axons and dendrites. Many of these neurotransmitters like glutamate, GABA, dopamine and catecholamines are influenced by the food you consume and are the target for treating many neuropsychiatric disorders.
The amino acid tryptophan is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. An insufficiency increases pain sensitivity and the development of negative behaviors such as increased aggression and anxiety. Foods rich in tryptophan are beneficial in treating depression and improving mood as well as quality of sleep.
The amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, the precursors to dopamine and norepinephrine, are responsible for enhancing cognitive performances especially during stressful situations, making you more alert, attentive and focused.
Antioxidants & Brain Health
Turmeric, with its main active ingredient curcumin, is also a very powerful antioxidant and a strong anti-inflammatory. It increases brain levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), in which deficiency has been linked to depression and Alzheimer’s disease. It also helps clear the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain, delaying the neurodegenerative process that occurs in dementia.
Flavonoids have neuroprotective properties by saving neurons against the injuries promoted by neurotoxins and inhibiting brain cell death along with suppressing neuro-inflammation and promoting memory, learning and cognitive functions. They can also induce beneficial effects on the cerebrovascular system by promoting new nerve cell growth.
In conclusion, what we eat plays a huge role in the health of our brains and our mental health in general. When it comes to staying mentally sharp and focused with a positive and stable mood, eating plenty of brain foods matters. As a bonus, the gut and the brain are tightly connected through the vagus nerve – when we focus on giving our bodies whole, nutrient-dense foods, we help take care of both.
Want to include more Brain Food into your everyday diet? Check out Brain Superfoods.