Nutrition And Brain Health

nutrition and brain health

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Nutrition and brain health are intricately related, as the former plays a vital role in maintaining optimal brain health and function. The brain relies on a constant supply of nutrients to support its complex processes, such as cognition, memory, and overall mental well-being. A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is crucial for nourishing the brain and promoting its long-term health.

Statistics highlight the significance of the link between brain health-related nutrition and mental health. According to a study published in The Lancet 1 Afshin, A., Sur, P. J., Fay, K. A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J. S., Mullany, E. C., Abate, K. H., Abbafati, C., Abebe, Z., Afarideh, M., Aggarwal, A., Agrawal, S., Akinyemiju, T., Alahdab, F., Bacha, U., Bachman, V. F., Badali, H., Badawi, A., & Bensenor, I. M. (2019). Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 393(10184), 1958–1972. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(19)30041-8 , poor diet accounts for nearly one in five deaths globally and is a leading risk factor for chronic diseases and mental health issues, including those affecting the brain.

Research by the American Heart Association 2 Tangney, C. C., Kwasny, M. J., Li, H., Wilson, R. S., Evans, D. A., & Morris, M. C. (2011). Adherence to a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern and cognitive decline in a community population. The American journal of clinical nutrition93(3), 601–607. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.007369  suggests that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats, is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

Read More About Brain Health Here

How Does Nutrition Affect Your Brain?

The different types of nutrition 3 Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience9(7), 568–578. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2421  and the best foods for brain health include:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids :

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are essential for brain health. They are found abundantly in fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines) which comprise one of the foremost foods for mental health.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved cognitive function, reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and better mood regulation. If fish is not a part of your diet, you can consider taking fish oil supplements.

2. Antioxidants :

Antioxidants are compounds that protect brain cells from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals. Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are rich in antioxidants and have been associated with improved brain function and memory.

Unsurprisingly, these are also considered some of the best foods for brain health. Other antioxidant-rich foods include dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and colorful fruits and vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, and tomatoes.

3. B Vitamins :

B vitamins, particularly vitamins B6, B12, and folate, play a crucial role in brain health. They are involved in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are essential for mood regulation and cognitive function.

Foods rich in B vitamins include leafy greens, legumes, eggs, poultry, fish, and fortified cereals. If necessary, supplements can also be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

4. Whole Grains :

Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains provide a steady supply of glucose, the primary energy source for the brain. Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat bread are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which support brain health and help maintain stable blood sugar levels. They provide a sustained release of energy, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day.

5. Healthy Fats :

The brain requires healthy fats for optimal functioning. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts, help support brain health by reducing inflammation and promoting good blood flow. Consuming these fats in moderation can improve cognitive function and protect against age-related decline.

6. Water :

Proper hydration is crucial for brain health. Dehydration can lead to cognitive impairment, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to keep your brain hydrated and functioning optimally.

7. Curcumin :

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to have neuroprotective properties. It helps reduce inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain, potentially lowering the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Adding turmeric to your meals or considering curcumin supplements can be beneficial.

What Are Brain-Killer Foods?

Brain-killer foods refer to dietary choices that can have a negative impact on brain health 4 Wright, R. S., Gerassimakis, C., Bygrave, D., & Waldstein, S. R. (2017). Dietary Factors and Cognitive Function in Poor Urban Settings. Current nutrition reports6(1), 32–40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-017-0186-x . These foods are often high in processed sugars, unhealthy fats (such as trans fats), excessive sodium, and artificial additives.

Regular consumption of these foods has been linked to cognitive decline, impaired memory, increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, and disrupted brain function.

How Does Nutrition Improve Mental Health?

Nutrition and mental health are related, as a well-nourished brain has a profound impact on mental health conditions 5 Ekstrand, B., Scheers, N., Rasmussen, M. K., Young, J. F., Ross, A. B., & Landberg, R. (2021). Brain foods – the role of diet in brain performance and health. Nutrition reviews79(6), 693–708. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuaa091 . The nutrients obtained from a healthy diet directly influence the structure and function of the brain, affecting neurotransmitter production, synaptic connectivity, and overall neural communication.

Adequate intake of essential nutrients 6 Kennedy, D. O. (2015). Review: Power foods for the brain. PubMed Central (PMC). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445595/ , such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants, has been associated with improved mood, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhanced overall mental well-being.

Conversely, a nutrient-poor diet lacking key vitamins and minerals can create an unhealthy brain characterized by impaired brain function, increased vulnerability to mental health disorders, and enhanced cognitive decline.

Comorbidities Associated With A Malnutritioned Brain

Nutrition and brain health, because of which a malnourished brain can have significant implications for genetic, neurological, and mental health 7 Leão, L. L., Engedal, K., Monteiro-Junior, R. S., Tangen, G. G., & Krogseth, M. (2021). Malnutrition Is Associated With Impaired Functional Status in Older People Receiving Home Care Nursing Service. Frontiers in nutrition8, 684438. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.684438 :

1. Genetic Disorders :

Malnutrition during critical periods of brain development can increase the risk of genetic disorders. The brain relies on specific nutrients for proper growth and function. Inadequate nutrition can disrupt gene expression, leading to developmental abnormalities and genetic disorders.

2. Neurological Disorders :

Malnutrition can adversely affect the structure and function of the brain, leading to various neurological disorders. For example, deficiencies in certain nutrients like thiamine 8 Kimberly, D. (2022, 22). Vitamin B1 thiamine deficiency – StatPearls – NCBI bookshelf. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537204/  (vitamin B1) can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes memory loss, confusion, and coordination problems.

Additionally, malnutrition can increase the risk of conditions such as epilepsy, cognitive impairments, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

3. Mental Health Disorders :

There is a strong correlation 9 Rahman, K. M. T., Khalequzzaman, M., Khan, F. A., Rayna, S. E., Samin, S., Hasan, M., & Islam, S. S. (2021). Factors associated with the nutritional status of the older population in a selected area of Dhaka, Bangladesh. BMC geriatrics21(1), 161. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-021-02068-2  between nutrition and mental health disorders.

Poor nutrition can contribute to the development or exacerbation of conditions such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Nutrient deficiencies, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and minerals like zinc and magnesium, can disrupt neurotransmitter synthesis and impair mood regulation.

Read More About Schizophrenia Here

4. Cognitive Impairment :

Inadequate nutrition can negatively impact cognitive function and lead to cognitive impairments. Essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins play crucial roles in maintaining brain health and supporting cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and learning.

Malnutrition, characterized by a lack of foods for mental health, can impair these cognitive functions and hinder overall brain performance.

5. Impaired Brain Development :

Proper nutrition is essential for optimal brain development, especially during fetal development and early childhood. Malnutrition during these critical periods can result in long-term impairments in brain structure and function. It can lead to cognitive delays, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems that can persist into adulthood.

Takeaway

Nutrition and brain health have an undeniable association that dictates our health outcomes and quality of life. Therefore, prioritizing nutritious food not only satisfies our appetite but also promotes positive brain health. It is crucial to approach eating mindfully, considering how our choices impact the proper functioning of our brains.

By incorporating the aforementioned food items into our diet and consuming them at appropriate intervals, we can expect to see positive results over time. Remember to give yourself time and remain committed to a healthy diet to enjoy optimal brain health in the years to come.

At A Glance

  1. Nutrition and brain health are intricately related.
  2. The best foods for brain health include essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.
  3. A lack of nutrition and mental health disorders (like memory disorders and genetic disorders) are associated in the long run.
  4. Brain-killer foods can also impact brain health and fuel mental health issues.
  5. Prioritizing nutritious food and developing an approach toward eating mindfully often guarantee the proper functioning of our brains.

References:

  • 1
    Afshin, A., Sur, P. J., Fay, K. A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J. S., Mullany, E. C., Abate, K. H., Abbafati, C., Abebe, Z., Afarideh, M., Aggarwal, A., Agrawal, S., Akinyemiju, T., Alahdab, F., Bacha, U., Bachman, V. F., Badali, H., Badawi, A., & Bensenor, I. M. (2019). Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 393(10184), 1958–1972. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(19)30041-8
  • 2
    Tangney, C. C., Kwasny, M. J., Li, H., Wilson, R. S., Evans, D. A., & Morris, M. C. (2011). Adherence to a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern and cognitive decline in a community population. The American journal of clinical nutrition93(3), 601–607. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.007369 
  • 3
    Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience9(7), 568–578. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2421 
  • 4
    Wright, R. S., Gerassimakis, C., Bygrave, D., & Waldstein, S. R. (2017). Dietary Factors and Cognitive Function in Poor Urban Settings. Current nutrition reports6(1), 32–40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-017-0186-x 
  • 5
    Ekstrand, B., Scheers, N., Rasmussen, M. K., Young, J. F., Ross, A. B., & Landberg, R. (2021). Brain foods – the role of diet in brain performance and health. Nutrition reviews79(6), 693–708. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuaa091 
  • 6
    Kennedy, D. O. (2015). Review: Power foods for the brain. PubMed Central (PMC). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445595/ 
  • 7
    Leão, L. L., Engedal, K., Monteiro-Junior, R. S., Tangen, G. G., & Krogseth, M. (2021). Malnutrition Is Associated With Impaired Functional Status in Older People Receiving Home Care Nursing Service. Frontiers in nutrition8, 684438. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.684438 
  • 8
    Kimberly, D. (2022, 22). Vitamin B1 thiamine deficiency – StatPearls – NCBI bookshelf. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537204/ 
  • 9
    Rahman, K. M. T., Khalequzzaman, M., Khan, F. A., Rayna, S. E., Samin, S., Hasan, M., & Islam, S. S. (2021). Factors associated with the nutritional status of the older population in a selected area of Dhaka, Bangladesh. BMC geriatrics21(1), 161. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-021-02068-2 
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