Friday, March 15, 2013

Food for Thought - Is Brain Food for Real?

We have all heard the expression "brain food" – edibles that are supposed to increase brain power.  Is it just an old wives tale, or is there any scientific or medical evidence to support the existence of food that, when consumed, will improve your cognitive skills?

Boosting brain power – no drugs required 


You'll be happy to know that, if you wish to boost your brain power, you don't need pills, drugs, magic potions, or a hammer (to knock some sense into your head).  The fact is, an increasing number of food studies indicate a direct correlation between certain foods and your ability to think or remember.  And what better time to learn how to improve cognition, boost alertness, and enhance memory than during Brain Awareness Week, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.


Avocado, pomegranates, eggs and nuts


Yes, brain foods are for real


In one extensive recent study from UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, scientists analyzed more than 160 studies about food's effect on the brain. The scientists discovered, among other things, that the Omega-3 fatty acids that you commonly get from eating salmon, walnuts, or kiwi fruit improve learning, enhance memory, and combat mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia.

And that’s just one study.  Many others, revealed below, support the long-held assumption that, when it comes to your mind, you are what you eat.


Brainpower from nuts


Ironically, one food that definitely won’t make you nuts is, you guessed, nuts.  Several types of nuts can enhance your brain, including almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  But walnuts are the way to be nice to your neurons, according to the latest research. Walnuts are a rich source of two brain boosters: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The 2009 study shows that walnuts can increase your mental health by improving learning, increasing comprehension, and enhancing the brain-to-muscle connections that often suffer from aging.


Fruits and vegetables that boost brainpower


It’s likely no surprise to you that some fruits and vegetables are a good, natural source for improving your brain's ability to think.  Certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants  that help you improve cognition and memory.  Many contain B-vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan – all known to support neurotransmitter synthesizing.  They supercharge brain activity on a cellular level and prevent or minimize mental health disorders.

According to the Center for Longevity of the Brain, your best bet to boost your brain with veggies is to zero in on collard greens, broccoli, beets, kale, red bell peppers, soybeans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, and definitely the darker green lettuces. A Harvard study revealed that women who eat a high amount of leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a significantly reduced rate of cognitive decline when compared to women who ate very few of these greens.  Spinach in particular is considered a super-food for the brain since it is jam-packed with magnesium and the carotenoid lutein, which, studies show, protects against cognitive decline. 

Big on fruits?  Good!  Because many of them fall into the brainfood category, such as raisins, oranges, cherries, red grapes, plums, and definitely berries: blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all brain-enhancing foods. 

Berries


Blueberries in particular have long been identified in studies as improving brain health, largely because they have the highest amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants compared to nearly all other fruits and vegetables.
  • A recent study touts a diet high in blueberries and strawberries as an effective way to slow mental decline, including focus and memory. 
  • A 2008 study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry supports this, stating that compounds in blueberries may decrease the progression of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by (a.) minimizing the common oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain that comes with aging and (b.) by improving brain cell intercommunication. 
Consuming these berries protects brains cells from damage and boosts the brain’s ability to adapt to changes.

More evidence mounts that blueberries can not only prevent but can even reverse age-related memory decline.  Researchers at the University of Reading in Pennsylvania found that animals treated with blueberries showed an 83 percent improvement on memory tests within just three weeks, and maintained that improvement throughout the 12-week study.

In another study, elderly rats given blueberry extracts showed improved balance and coordination, as well as general brain function and memory, likely because of the flavonoids in blueberries, which successfully cross the blood-brain barrier, exerting powerful anti-inflammatory action in the brain that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases.

Avocados and beetsAs a result of the growing body of evidence, many experts speculate that the flavonoids in berries may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.  Other fruits that boost brain power include:
  • Avocados, which contain the highest omega-3 content of all fruits and are packed of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow,
  • Beets, known to improve blood flow to the brain because of their naturally-occurring nitrates.
While you’re likely not surprised about fruits and vegetables for brain health, check out these other amazing ways to nutritionally boost brainpower…


Meats and fish can feed the brain


Yes, even some meats can help your cognitive skills.  Amino acids found in protein-rich foods help connect the neurotransmitters in your brain that keep your brain humming, synaptically speaking.  The amino acids enhance the following neurotransmitters:
  • Dopamine (nervous system function)
  • Norepinephrine (alertness and concentration)
  • Serotonin (sleep, mood, memory, and learning enhancer)
  • Acetylcholine (storing memories and memory recall)
  • Tyrosine (energy)
The amino acids that help the brain function can be found in fish, meat, cheese, and yogurt.  Seek out the fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon since they are rich in brain boosting the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, shown in studies to reduce dementia risks and improve both focus and memory.
Fish is also capable of slowing cognitive decline.  One study showed older people who eat fish once a week slowed cognitive decline by nearly 10 percent.

Eggs too: nutritionists often describe the whole egg as a perfect food due to its amino acid profile, especially when sourced from free-range chickens eating a natural diet.

Fish and vegetables


Celebrate Brain Awareness Week with food!


If you are ready to noticeably improve brain function, protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline, and find new levels of focus and clarity, start with what you put on your plate – and start it now, during Brain Awareness Week.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer




1 comment:

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