By Dr.Manvir Bhatia, Ananya-19th Dec 2023
You are what you eat.’ This is absolutely true if we talk about the brain. Our brain is always ON. This means that it is working 24/7 be it while walking, talking, eating or sleeping. Thus, it should be well fed with good nutrients which come from the food we eat. So, it is very important that we have a premium quality diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, good proteins, fats and antioxidants that can nourish the brain and keep it healthy.
Food choice has a major role to play in putting you at a risk of mental illnesses. The global burden of neurological disorders and mental illness is huge and will definitely increase day by day if not addressed properly. Various nutritional deficiencies can cause the symptoms of dementia and depression. These include cognitive decline, brain fog, mental fatigue, mood swings and irritability. A study by Howard et al., concluded that populations whose dietary patterns that have a very high intake of processed food are more prone to depression, ADHD and cognitive impairment.
Why is food so important for the brain?
The brain being the most complex organ is involved in the most important function of the body. It coordinates with all the other organs of the body and regulates our daily functions. It does this with the help of neurons that form the brain’s network system. The neurons are protected by the microglial cells and the astrocytes supply essential nutrients to them.
A healthy diet is essential for the brain to function well for a long period of time. It helps maintain synaptic plasticity that is a measure of connection between the neurons. The more the connections, the better our brain functions allowing us to learn, think and remember better.
Here are the essential roles of food for the brain:
Production of neurotransmitters:
Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are monoamine neurotransmitters that are involved in the pathophysiology of various neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Production of these neurotransmitters requires adequate amounts of amino acids, folate and vitamins. So, a diet providing an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals is essential.
Source of Omega 3 fatty acids:
Omega3 fatty acids are an integral part of the neuronal membrane and play a major role in various processes of the central nervous system. They influence gene expression, neurogenesis, neuron survival and neurotransmission. They are also good antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. It is important that you have food that suffices your need for essential fatty acids.
Brain derived neurotrophic factor(BDNF) is an important neurochemical that plays an important role in the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses. A study published in World Journal of Biological Psychiatry showed that low serum levels of BDNF was observed in patients suffering from PTSD, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. Thus, it is important to have a protein rich diet to provide the amino acids required for the protection of amino acids.
Our brain and gut are intricately connected. A good gut health promotes our brain health and the gut microbiomes play a very important role in it. The foods rich in these health promoting microorganisms, famously known as probiotics include fermented food products and non-digestible fibres. Alterations in the gut microbiome are linked to a range of immune-related neurological disorders, developmental disorders, emotional dysregulation and neurodegeneration.
Thus, a healthy, balanced diet is very important to maintain a healthy brain. Here are a few food items that you can include in your regular diet to improve your brain health:
- Fishes like hilsa, rohu, mackerels and sardines are very good sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are rich sources of antioxidants and vitamins like K and E.
- Turmeric contains curcumin that can cross the blood brain barrier and is neuroprotective in nature.
- Dark Chocolate: Contains flavonoids, caffeine, and antioxidants. These improve memory and cognitive function.
- Nuts, particularly walnuts are high in DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid.
- Eggs are rich in choline, a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for mood and memory regulation.
- Pumpkin Seeds are a very good source of magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and antioxidants, all of which contribute to brain function.
- Beetroot contains nitrates, which can increase blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function. .
According to Lee et al., people suffering from neurological disorders are at a high risk of nutritional deterioration because of mechanisms like motor disability, nutritional dysphagia, cognitive decline and depression. This interferes with treatment and rehabilitation leading to worsening of the issue and also mortality. In case of dementia, the cognitive abilities of an individual is severely impaired making it very difficult to perform daily activities essential to maintain your health. Therefore, it is very important for medical professionals to keep a track of the nutritional status of patients suffering from neurological disorders as it becomes very difficult if the deficiency progresses to malnutrition.
Thus, we conclude that a good nutritional status is vital for brain health and preventing neurological disorders right from the time one is in the womb. The food an expecting mother eats determines the baby’s brain development. After birth and all through life, cognitive development and brain health is majorly dependent on the kind of food we eat. So, it is important that we are careful and mindful of what we eat. It is best to avoid processed, junk and inflammatory food from your diet to protect your brain from neurological disorders and mental illnesses.
Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2421
Howard, A. L., Robinson, M., Smith, G. J., Ambrosini, G. L., Piek, J. P., & Oddy, W. H. (2011). ADHD is associated with a “Western” dietary pattern in adolescents. Journal of attention disorders, 15(5), 403–411. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054710365990
Lachance, L., & Ramsey, D. (2015). Food, mood, and brain health: implications for the modern clinician. Missouri medicine, 112(2), 111–115.
Lee H. (2022). The Importance of Nutrition in Neurological Disorders and Nutrition Assessment Methods. Brain & NeuroRehabilitation, 15(1), e1. https://doi.org/10.12786/bn.2022.15.e1