Fernando is my new best friend--health expert--and go-to guy. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a food-exercise-sleep-brain geek and a true-believer in the Holy Grail of Diet-Exercise-Sleep. Vitamins--unless they're in "real food" aren't going to save you. For brain health you're going to have to eat your vitamins & anti-oxidants in the form of food!
Dr. G-P analyzed over 160 studies about how food affects the brain and he published this incredible review of the literature this past July 2008 in the well-respected journal, Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. To see the full article click here and scroll down to Latest Publication.
Here's What Dr. Gomez-Pinilla Has to Say
- Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain.
- Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function.
- Diet changes can enhance cognitive abilities, protect the brain from damage and counteract the effects of aging.
- The past 5 years has seen a tremendous increase in research that supports the importance of a diet rich in omega-3s, flavonoids, B-vitamins, anti-oxidants and more for mental & emotional fitness.
- The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage--as in RUST!
- Because the brain consumes so much energy, all that thinking & processing generates an awful lot of oxidizing (rusting) chemicals.
- Brain tissue contains a great deal of oxidizable material to start with, especially in the fatty membranes surrounding nerve cells.
- To counteract the damage that our brains take from everyday usage & to promote the repair of this inevitable brain damage, there's no way around it---You have to eat a steady diet of anti-oxidants, like berries, greens, beans and citrus. Or check out Dr. Joel Fuhrman's list here.
The Omega 3's-Fatty Fish-Flax-Walnuts-Kiwi
- DHA, abundant in salmon, reduces oxidative stress, enhances synaptic plasticity & fluidity (promotes quick thinking), & improves learning and memory. It's the most abundant omega-3 in the brain's cell membranes.
- Diets deficient in omega 3's are associated with depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, dementia and dyslexia. Yikes.
- In Japan & Okinawa where the diets are high in fish, the rate of mental disorders is very low.
- Children whose mothers took omega-3 supplements while pregnant & breast-feeding show better cognitive performance than those whose mothers didn't supplement.
- Children with increased amounts of omega-3 did better in school, in reading, in spelling, and had fewer behavioral problems.
- Essential for brain function. Deficiency can lead to depression & cognitive impairment.
- Adequate amounts can prevent dementia, cognitive decline, and enhance antidepressants.
- Recent 3-year clinical trials reduced age-related decline in cognitive function.
- This powerful anti-oxidant is the yellow color found in mustard and in curry spices.
- It reduced memory deficits in animals with brain damage and Alzheimer's.
- Alzheimer's disease is rare in India, which is one of the largest consumers of turmeric. Coincidence?
- Powerful anti-oxidants, shown to reduce oxidative brain damage and boost both learning ability and memory retention in rodent models.
- It's a polyphenol and it appears to beneficially affect the hippocampus--the part of the brain that retains memories & is most damaged by Alzheimer's.
- Excess calories reduce the flexibility of brain synapses & increase the brain's vulnerability to cellular damage by free radicals. If that's not a good reason to watch calories, I don't know what is!
- Junk food & fast food negatively affect the brain's synapses as well as the specific brain molecules related to learning & memory.
- Small portions are beneficial to brain molecules like BDNF, (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which has a role in helping to keep existing neurons alive, and growing new ones. A real good thing that I'd like to encourage.
- Dr. G-P suggests that possibly controlled moderate intermittent caloric restriction or meal skipping might have brain benefits. Not sure about this one.
- Since doing this research, Dr. Gomez-Pinillo has mostly quit eating fast food.
- Saturated fats promoted cognitive decline & aggravated cognitive impairment after trauma in animal studies. And the sat fats exacerbated cognitive decline in aging humans.
- Exercise enhances learning & memory, counteracts cognitive decline in aging, enhances mental capacity in young adults, & facilitates recovery after brain injury or disease.
- Exercise promoted the growth of new brain cells in animal models
- Exercise increases the blood levels of a molecule called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). It usually can't cross the infamous "blood-brain barrier", but magically, it does with exercise.
- The IGF-1 increases the blood flow in the brain, which actually makes the brain produce more neurons and other functional brain cells.
- The part of the brain crucial to forming new memories, the hippocampus (first to shrink with age & stress) is benefited the most by IGF-1. Which means: Exercise is the antidote we need to protect our aging brains!
- And then there's sleep. What we all need to repair our brains, and give all that healthy food and exercise a chance to perform its magic.
And last of all, I've included a wonderful resource from Dr. G-P's article--a table that will tell you what to eat & why for the Care & Feeding of Your Brain. I plan to tape the list to my refrigerator!
Select nutrients that affect cognitive function
From the following article:
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 568-578 (July 2008)
NUTRIENT EFFECTS ON COGNITION & EMOTION FOOD SOURCES
|Omega-3 fatty acids (for example, docosahexaenoic acid||Amelioration of cognitive decline in the elderly148; basis for treatment in patients with mood disorders80; improvement of cognition in traumatic brain injury in rodents81; amelioration of cognitive decay in mouse model of Alzheimer's disease149, 150||Fish (salmon), flax seeds, krill, chia, kiwi fruit, butternuts, walnuts|
|Curcumin||Amelioration of cognitive decay in mouse model of Alzheimer's disease123; amelioration of cognitive decay in traumatic brain injury in rodents89||Turmeric (curry spice)|
|Flavonoids||Cognitive enhancement in combination with exercise in rodents92; improvement of cognitive function in the elderly151||Cocoa, green tea, Ginkgo tree, citrus fruits, wine (higher in red wine), dark chocolate|
|Saturated fat||Promotion of cognitive decline in adult rodents4; aggravation of cognitive impairment after brain trauma in rodents88; exacerbation of cognitive decline in aging humans3||Butter, ghee, suet, lard, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, dairy products (cream, cheese), meat|
|B vitamins||Supplementation with vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or folate has positive effects on memory performance in women of various ages152; vitamin B12 improves cognitive impairment in rats fed a choline-deficient diet153||Various natural sources. Vitamin B12 is not available from plant products|
|Vitamin D||Important for preserving cognition in the elderly154||Fish liver, fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains|
|Vitamin E||Amelioration of cognitive impairment after brain trauma in rodents102; reduces cognitive decay in the elderly119||Asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, red palm oil, seeds, spinach, vegetable oils, wheatgerm|
|Choline||Reduction of seizure-induced memory impairment in rodents155; a review of the literature reveals evidence for a causal relationship between dietary choline and cognition in humans and rats156||Egg yolks, soy beef, chicken, veal, turkey liver, lettuce|
|Combination of vitamins (C, E, carotene)||Antioxidant vitamin intake delays cognitive decline in the elderly157||Vitamin C: citrus fruits, several plants and vegetables, calf and beef liver. Vitamin E: see above|
|Calcium, zinc, selenium||High serum calcium is associated with faster cognitive decline in the elderly158; reduction of zinc in diet helps to reduce cognitive decay in the elderly159; lifelong low selenium level associated with lower cognitive function in humans160||Calcium: milk, coral. Zinc: oysters, a small amount in beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, sunflower seeds. Selenium: nuts, cereals, meat, fish, eggs|
|Copper||Cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease correlates with low plasma concentrations of copper161||Oysters, beef/lamb liver, Brazil nuts, blackstrap molasses, cocoa, black pepper|
|Iron||Iron treatment normalizes cognitive function in young women162||Red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans|