Brain Health

Nutrients For Your Brain: Which Are The Best?

Whenever you’re feeling sick, or something doesn’t feel right in your body, you go to the doctors, right? But have you ever thought about having your brain health examined? 

When thinking about health, we’re almost solely focussed on our bodies – reducing our weight, losing body fat or attempting to prevent disease. However, it’s high time we started placing specific focus on our grey matter because ultimately, the brain is the most accurate gauge of your health as you get older. 

As we start to age, a healthy, fully-functioning brain will have a significant impact on our overall quality of life; therefore, keeping your brain in tip-top shape is vital if you want to live a long, healthy and happy life for your three score years and ten – or longer, hopefully! 

How can you do this? Well, you can start by consuming several nutrients that have been shown to have a positive effect on brain health and cognitive function.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Did you know that around 60% of your grey matter is made up of fat cells? Well, you do now. But where do omega-3 fatty acids fit in?

The external structure of brain cells are made from omega-3 fatty acids, which is the area where nerve signals are passed, meaning that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a fully-functioning central nervous system. 

Research indicates that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help to promote the body’s normal inflammatory response, which will help to protect against cognitive decline associated with ageing. Furthermore, studies also shown that consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, helps to prevent age-related neurodegenerative conditions, such as cognitive decline. Researchers concluded that “Adherence to a Mediterranean diet may contribute to the prevention of a series of brain diseases; this may be of special value given the ageing of Western societies.”1

How much omega-3 should you take?

When choosing an omega-3 supplement, examine the label carefully at focus on the amount of EPA and DHA in the product rather than the total amount of fish oil. Between 200-300mg of each per day is a typical recommended dose. Omega-3 from fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, should be preferred over supplemental omega-3, but if, for whatever reason, you can’t eat fish, supplements will suffice.


Betaine (Trimethylglycine)

Betaine, also referred to as trimethylglycine, promotes DNA methylation by assisting the body in its production of SAMe (S-Adenosyl methionine), which is a common cosubstrate involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and fortifying the brain’s defences (through antioxidant action). Furthermore, though SAMe, betaine boosts the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, which may help to prevent or ease the symptoms of depression and neurodegenerative ailments. 

Studies have shown that betaine plays a major part in the maintenance of normal brain homocysteine levels. Why is this important? Because increased levels of the amino acid homocysteine within the brain has been linked to poor mental health or exacerbation of such conditions. Therefore, it is no surprise that consumption of betaine supplements is positively correlated with a healthy mood2.

Which food sources are rich in betaine?

Shellfish, wheat and spinach. 


Polyphenols

Polyphenols are potent micronutrients that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which are recognised as being brain- and heart-heathy. Due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities, polyphenolic compounds can have a positive effect on brain health. They may even decrease the risk of age-related neurological conditions and diseases.

If we dig a little deeper, we find that polyphenols are split into two primary subgroups: anthocyanin and flavonoids. The former, typically found in purple and blueberries, can decrease levels of oxidative stress, which, in turn, helps to reduce inflammation and, therefore, promotes brain health and cognitive function. The latter are by far and away the most studied subgroup of phytochemicals, which have been shown to not only halt but also reverse age-related cognitive decline through increasing neural connections and enhancing blood flow to and around the brain.

Which food sources contain polyphenols?

Many foods are rich in polyphenols, such as blueberries, acai berries, raspberries, strawberries, soy, peppers, coffee, black and green tea, grapes, wine and cocoa. 


B-Vitamins

Although all vitamins are essential for general health – including brain health – B vitamins play a crucial role where cognitive function and the health of our grey matter is concerned. Ensuring adequate levels of B-vitamins in your blood through both diet and supplementation can help to promote normal levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that when elevated can increase the risk of some chronic diseases and health conditions. 

Research indicates that supplementing with B-vitamins can decrease the speed of processed linked to cognitive decline3. Furthermore, studies have shown that long-term consumption of the b-vitamin folic acid enhanced memory and the processing of information, i.e. functions that are typically by age, in older adults4.

How much should you take?

Typical daily dosage will depend on a variety of factors, included gender, age, and genetic tolerance affect the recommend daily intake of the multitude of B-vitamins. This can make it tricky to know exactly how much you will need, but if you consume healthy amounts of B-vitamin-rich foods, you’ll find it very difficult to overdose on these potent, brain-protecting vitamins. Food sources of B-vitamins include megs, poultry, fish, dairy products and avocados.  


Water

Yes, that’s right, good old H20. What list of brain-boosting foods would be complete without water? – the one thing we cannot live without. The human body is around 60% water (although this may vary between sexes and differ as we age) – but where is this water stored? Let’s take a look:

– Heart and brain: 72%
– Lungs: 82%
– Skin: 65%
– Muscles and kidneys: 78%
– Bones: 30%

As you can see from above the list, the brain is almost three-quarters water, which highlights the importance of consuming sufficient H20 for cognitive and physical performance. Ensuring adequate consumption of water, i.e. being hydrated, will help to increase your productivity, decrease stress levels, regulate appetite and help you to stave off mental fatigue. 

How much water should you drink?

There are a plethora variables that are typically taken into consideration where water consumption recommendations are concerned, factors such as environment, activity level, age, health conditions etc.; however, it is often suggested that consuming half your body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis, e.g. if you weight 150 pounds, you should consume 75 fl.oz of water or other natural, non-calorific beverages. 


The Best Nutrients For Your Brain: A Conclusion

While this list clearly isn’t exhaustive, it does provide a starting point for nutrients and food choices if you’re concerned with the health and performance of your grey matter. While cognitive function and the health of your brain are governed by complex mechanisms and impacted by a vast array of environmental and lifestyle factors, ensuring that you consume foods and nutrients that have been proven to boost your brain health and function in both the short- and long-term, is one way to slow down or even prevent the inevitable age-related decline that will happen as you age. 


Thank you for taking the time to visit our blog; we really do appreciate it a lot! If you’d like to learn more about brain health, cognitive function, nootropics (‘smart drugs’), and everything related to our grey matter, feel free to head over to our homepage and browse our blog posts. Or, alternatively, use the search function if there’s a topic you’re specifically interested in.

If you can’t find information on a specific brain-related topic, get in touch and we’ll try and write a blog post on it!


References:

1. Psaltopoulou T;Sergentanis TN;Panagiotakos DB;Sergentanis IN;Kosti R;Scarmeas N; Mediterranean Diet, Stroke, Cognitive Impairment, and Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Annals of neurology. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23720230

2. J;, S.R.B.A.L., Cerebrospinal Fluid and Plasma Total Homocysteine and Related Metabolites in Children With Cystathionine Beta-Synthase Deficiency: The Effect of Treatment. Pediatric research. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9357926/

3. Douaud G;Refsum H;de Jager CA;Jacoby R;Nichols TE;Smith SM;Smith AD; Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Gray Matter Atrophy by B-vitamin Treatment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23690582/

4. Durga J;van Boxtel MP;Schouten EG;Kok FJ;Jolles J;Katan MB;Verhoef P; Effect of 3-year Folic Acid Supplementation on Cognitive Function in Older Adults in the FACIT Trial: A Randomised, Double Blind, Controlled Trial. Lancet (London, England). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17240287/