The human brain is a complex and dynamic organ of the body. It is responsible for managing just about every process: it is responsible not only for cognitive (memory, learning, and problem-solving) and psychological processes, but also for physical processes.
The healthier your brain is, the healthier is its functioning, and the better it can help you achieve better general health and well-being. Brain health can be achieved through proper diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle choices.
Diet directly influences metabolism and adaptability of brain cells
One of the most important aspects of brain health maintenance and development is feeding it with the right vitamins and minerals that it needs to be able to carry out its normal processes. With the right nutrients from the right foods, the brain’s physiological processes are better and more effectively carried out, improving its overall functioning. One of the benefits of eating a healthy food is the positive influence it exerts on the cellular metabolism of the brain cells. Proper metabolism in your brain cells may help in:
- Maintaining more effective brain cell functioning
- Improving signal transmission between neurons
- Improving ‘plasticity’ in brain connections (the capacity of your brain to adapt to input, including stressors)
This can affect your overall mental health and cognitive functioning, thereby delaying the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia (‘senility’).
In the many studies into how diet affects brain functions, it has also been seen to exert an influence in the evolution of the brain and in improving and maintaining its capacity. The manner in which you feed yourself and the choice of food you eat is therefore important long-term.
Important nutritional factors that promote brain health
Certain fatty acids have demonstrated positive effects in terms of maintenance of the health of brain cells, particularly the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), converted in the body from the essential alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, some green leafy vegetables, and seaweeds; and DHA – which has gotten most of the brain boosting credit – is found in fatty fish, pasture-raised beef and poultry, and fortified products such as eggs and milk. DHA is helpful in synaptic function and in the maintenance of cognitive functioning, and has been suggested in research to decrease the risk for the development of conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, among others.
However, the use of omega-3s in your body is reversed when you eat too many foods high in omega-6 fats, found in cheap oils and processed foods, or certain transfats, such as those created in deep-fat frying or containing hydrogenated fats, including many fast and processed foods. Therefore, it is recommended to reduce intake of omega-6s in favor of omega-3s as much as possible, and avoid transfats completely.
Bs for Brain
The human brain has been observed to shrink as a result of aging, which in turn has been linked to lower cognition. It has been suggested that diet and lifestyle can affect the speed and degree of this shrinkage, and certain B-vitamins are believed to be key here.
Adequate levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid in the body appear to protect against ‘homocysteine,’ an amino acid that causes oxidative stress linked to age-related damage in the brain. In studies, improving the body’s levels of folic acid has been linked to 25% lower homocysteine levels, and B12 to an additional 7% – which in turn was associated with less brain shrinkage. Both vitamins have been used successfully to treat mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
B12 is found in animal products and fortified nutritional yeast and non-dairy milks, and folic acid is highest in leafy green vegetables and legumes.
C for Cognition
Antioxidant intake is believed to help minimizing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia liked to ‘oxidative stress’.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, as a potent antioxidant concentrated in the brain. It is found predominately in citrus fruits, strawberries, and certain vegetables, such as sweet red pepper and broccoli. It was observed that the brain responds better to vitamin from foods than from supplements.
Other cognition-friendly antioxidants from plant foods include curcumin from turmeric (the key spice in curry), resveratrol from grapes, isoflavones from soy, catechins from tea, and terpenes from sage.
Yes to Yellows
Studies suggest that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants responsible for the color of yellow fruits and vegetables and egg yolk, may be of benefit in maintaining cognitive health. Unlike their more famous relatives beta-carotene and lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin can actually enter the brain, where they accumulate. A significant link was found between the extent of this accumulation and general cognitive function in older adults.
Staying away from alcohol may also have a positive impact on your brain health and cognitive functioning, since alcohol has been found to exert an oxidative effect, accelerating the manner in which the cells and tissues in your brain degenerates and die, therefore affecting your cognitive health negatively.
Keep It in Mind
Food is a source of both essential fuel and crucial nutrients that both body and brain need to promote and maintain optimal processes and functions. Making the right choices is the smartest thing you can do!
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