It should come as no surprise that nutrition has an enormous bearing on the function of our brain. Up until quite recently, experts have perhaps underestimated the importance of proper nutrition for our mental well-being, brain sharpness, and brain function.
Our brain works around the clock; it is even active when we are asleep, and it controls all the functions of our body. If you compare our brain to the processor of a PC, it will make complete sense to conclude that our brain needs an adequate amount of quality fuel to function.
It’s equally plain to deduce poor quality food may have a detrimental effect on our brain function and mental health, much as a car does not run well on bad-quality gasoline—nor does an engine function properly without good-quality oil.
As we may not always get an adequate supply of nutrients from our food sources, many experts are now recommending food supplements in an effort to guarantee optimum brain functioning.
FOOD FOR MENTAL HEALTH, BRAIN DEVELOPMENT IN CHILDREN, AND MEMORY LOSS
In recent years, an increasing number of mental health experts and general practitioners have recognized the importance of good nutrition for mental health, optimum brain development in children, and even in the care of the elderly suffering from memory loss.
Before looking at natural nutritional supplements for improved brain power, let’s look at the nutrients our brain needs, as well as at what role each of these nutrients plays.
WHAT NUTRIENTS DOES YOUR BRAIN NEED?
To ensure our brain is functioning at its best, we require the following:
- Carbohydrates: When you eat carbohydrates, your body turns them into glucose—the main fuel for your brain. If you don’t eat good-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, oats, or brown rice, your body will produce ketones to fuel your brain. An excess of ketones leads to nausea and bad breath, and may even lead to kidney failure.
- Protein: Your brain needs to build neurotransmitters to enable the cells in your brain to communicate well. For this process, your brain needs protein. The protein is broken down into amino acids, which go on to produce important brain chemicals such as phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. These chemicals have an enormous impact on your mood and contribute further to the production of neurotransmitters.
- Fats: Healthy fats found in foods such as oily fish also provide your brain with the fuel to produce neurotransmitters. Particularly, omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids have been shown to significantly sharpen brain function and development.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins and minerals believed to optimize brain function include magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and vitamin D. Magnesium plays a major role in 50 brain-specific processes. B vitamins have long been associated with good mental health. Vitamin E is believed to improve your ability to think clearly, while vitamin D is said to optimize the work of the neurotransmitters in your brain.
10 BRAIN POWER SUPPLEMENTS
While eating a good, wholesome diet will go a long way toward providing your brain with high-quality fuel, there are several supplements which can further optimize the workings of your brain.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper brain function. They are incredibly important for your brain health, and experts consider them essential brain building blocks. Our brain consists of 50% fat, 30% of which are one of the omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA, DHA, and ALA.
The best food sources of omega 3 are flax seeds and flax oil, chia seeds, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, caviar, and oysters, walnuts and walnut oil, soybeans, and spinach.
No less than 30,000 studies on the effects and benefits of omega 3 have been published. This extensive research has pointed to the following benefits:
- Omega 3 May Reduce Anxiety and Depression: Studies have indicated that people who take omega 3 may be less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. After taking omega 3, particularly EPA, some sufferers of depression noticed a decided improvement in their well-being.
- Improved Brain Development During Pregnancy and Early Life: Babies of mothers who took omega 3 during pregnancy showed a considerably higher level of intelligence, improved communication and social skills, and a reduced risk of developmental delays. The risk of developing ADHD, autism, and cerebral palsy are believed to also be considerably lower.
- Improvement of Mood and Mental Disorders: Patients suffering from severe mental disorders often display low omega 3 levels. By increasing the intake of omega 3, sufferers may be less likely to suffer from mood swings and relapses. Some studies have also indicated that omega 3 supplementations may lead to a reduction in violent behavior.
- Omega 3 May Slow Down or Halt Mental Decline: Numerous studies have suggested that omega 3 may slow down the aging process of the brain and sharpen the memory of the elderly. Omega 3 may also be effective in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Magnesium is crucial for our entire body. It plays a part in 300 processes in the body. While magnesium is often recommended for muscle stiffness, it also helps the nerves to adapt and, thus, avoid damage. This nerve adaptability is also termed plasticity, and recent studies have indicated that plasticity is essential for optimum brain function. The areas of our brain associated with learning and memory require plasticity, and supplementation with magnesium has been shown to be beneficial.
A recent study has further indicated that an increased intake of magnesium may sharpen the brain’s cognitive skills and may also slow down the memory decline in elderly people.
Magnesium also optimizes adequate energy production and is crucial in the production of neurotransmitters. Experts also believe magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, improves sleep, helps sharpen our focus, and may play a part in easing symptoms of stress and depression.
The best magnesium food sources are pumpkin seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, brown rice, avocado, and black beans.
Our body produces vitamin D through exposure to sunshine. If you expose 25% of your body to sunlight for 15-30 minutes, your body can produce enough vitamin D, provided there are no underlying health issues. In recent years, vitamin D supplementation has been strongly advocated for, particularly in the fight against osteoporosis.
However, vitamin D deficiency is also associated with cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, autoimmune disease, infectious diseases, and psychiatric illness. Recently, experts have also highlighted the importance of vitamin D for proper brain function. Adequate levels of vitamin D are essential for healthy brain development and function throughout our entire lives.
Vitamin D also contributes to the proper functioning of our neurotransmitters. People lacking in vitamin D may not be able to form and maintain new neurotransmitter connections.
While further research is required, initial studies indicate positive results when vitamin D was administered to Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Vitamin D supplementation has become quite common, in recent years, especially since vitamin D deficiency and associated health issues have been highlighted as a worldwide issue by many experts.
B Vitamins: B6 and Thiamine
Many people take a vitamin B complex as a means of stress relief, and some of the B vitamins do, indeed, play a significant role in the proper function of our brain and in maintaining good mental health. Let’s look at the main B vitamins beneficial for our brain:
- B6: Vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with depression and loss of memory.
- B1-Thiamine: Research has indicated that thiamine can improve our mood, ward off depression, and may enhance our learning abilities. Thiamine is often associated with a better ability to cope with stress and maintain a positive attitude. Studies have also produced positive results when thiamine was administered to dementia sufferers.
Foods rich in thiamine are beans, beef, oats, asparagus, sunflower seeds, oranges, and green peas, while sunflower seeds, potato, fish, banana, turkey, chicken, green leafy vegetables, and sweet potato contain high levels of vitamin B6.
The essential amino acid, tryptophan, is a precursor to serotonin and serotonin is the most renowned mood-enhancing brain chemical. Low serotonin levels are one of the leading causes of depression. When you take tryptophan, you provide the building blocks for increased serotonin levels in your brain.
Experts believe taking tryptophan can be beneficial for those suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and seasonal affective disorder.
Ginkgo Biloba – The Memory Tree
The Ginkgo Biloba tree is native to Asia and can grow to a staggering height of 130 feet. The herbal extract is produced from the dried leaves and is available in capsules or in liquid form. In the last two decades, many herbal practitioners have prescribed Ginkgo for memory loss.
Ginkgo is high in antioxidants and seems to improve the blood flow to the brain and play a role in protecting cells from nerve damage.
Recent studies have suggested that Ginkgo can help people suffering from dementia. Experts believe Gingko improves thinking, memory, and social behavior in some dementia patients. Gingko is also thought to relieve anxiety in some sufferers. Studies have further indicated that glaucoma patients who took ginkgo supplements for a prolonged period had improved vision.
In some countries, Ginkgo is no longer available over the counter, and it is unsuitable for children, pregnant women, people taking blood thinners, epilepsy patients, or those on psychiatric medication. There are also some warnings in relation to taking Gingko in combination with other medications.
Though many people have benefited from taking Ginkgo Biloba supplements, you should only do so under medical supervision.
Turmeric – Mood and Memory Enhancer
The bright yellow Indian spice turmeric contains curcumin, and this active ingredient is also responsible for the benefits of turmeric. When you take curcumin, the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain increase. Both dopamine and serotonin are brain chemicals associated with happiness and mental well-being. Experts further believe that curcumin increases the blood flow to the brain much in the same way as exercise does. Some studies have indicated that curcumin may improve your mood and memory while reducing stress levels.
Unsurprisingly, elderly villagers in India who eat turmeric on a regular basis as part of their everyday diet are much less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease—and those villages have, in fact, the lowest dementia rates in the world.
American Ginseng – Performance Booster
Though Asian Ginseng is probably better known, American ginseng is today the most sought-after ginseng variety. Ginseng has long been thought to improve our physical and mental performance, and ginseng is an ingredient in many over-the-counter, performance-enhancing supplements.
Studies have suggested that American ginseng boosts the immune system and works as an antioxidant. Experts have also advocated American ginseng as a stress-relief and energizing substance, especially when taken after prolonged physiological activity and stress. Other studies have also indicated that American ginseng may improve our memory.
Garlic – Traditional Use, Discovery of New Benefits
According to research conducted at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, garlic may protect our brain against disease and aging. Researchers have pointed to FruArg, a carbohydrate derivative present in garlic and suggested it may prevent or, in some cases, even reverse damage to our brain cells. Researchers also observed how FrugArg promotes the production of antioxidants in the brain.
Traditionally, garlic is believed to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and that, combined with the antioxidant properties, makes garlic an excellent substance for the elderly.
Bacopa – Ayurvedic Herb
The ancient Ayurvedic remedy, bacopa, has been used to improve memory and concentration for the last 3,000 years. By increasing blood flow to the brain, bacopa enhances the delivery of oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to the brain.
Experts consider bacopa an adaptogen, along with several other herbs. Without having a sedative effect, adaptogens can calm a stressed mind. Bacopa balances dopamine, serotonin, and GABA levels, and it reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Many of the above natural substances are available from food sources; however, nowadays, the nutrients in food are often no longer freely available or, perhaps, there in reduced quantities. Pesticides, food processing, and intensive farming reduce the available amount of nutrients in food. Nutritionists have, therefore, propagated the use of supplements to ensure sufficient and adequate absorption.
All the above supplements can undoubtedly help to improve the workings of our brain and contribute to the betterment of our mental health. The role of these nutrients must certainly not be underestimated.