Food for the Brain

You know the saying, ‘You are what you eat’? Truth be told, what you feed your body has an effect on how your brain functions and brain health is linked to the overall health of your body. It’s no surprise that the same foods and eating habits that are good for your body also are good for your brain.

The evidence is becoming stronger in favor of following a diet that benefits cardiovascular health, which in turn helps to maintain brain health. A healthy heart and circulatory system deliver more blood and oxygen to the brain when it needs it. Also, a heart-friendly diet, like the Mediterranean diet (a diet that features whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil and little or no red meat) is rich in antioxidants and will prevent excess inflammation. In addition to following a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet, it’s also important to eliminate consumption of refined sugar and flour products and add in more fiber in the form of beans, peas and lentils. This benefits every cell in the body, including the cells of the nervous system.

Some amino acids are now being more clearly associated with cognitive function. Food products rich in serine, for example, have been shown to protect the nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids are very important to brain health, too, since they can reduce symptoms of depression.

Your brain needs to be well hydrated. Without enough water in your system, you will experience headaches, and you may find it difficult to concentrate. Serious dehydration can affect short- and long-term memory loss.

Our new and growing understanding of the role of stomach microbiome may eventually provide additional insights into how the condition of our own personal collection of microbes influences both brain and nervous system health. We already know that the microbes in our stomach constantly interact with our bodies, and with other microbes, and release a wide mix of chemicals into our systems. Some research confirms that several microbiome mechanisms can influence the functioning of the central nervous system, thus providing affirmation of findings that food intake (and, consequently, the health of the microbiome) has the capability of altering mood, pain sensitivity, and levels of stress and anxiety. It can also affect the path of normal brain development.

There are indications that differences in microbiome content may contain clues to the origins of neurological disease, but that research is still in the early stages. Taken together, these early findings suggest that a diverse and healthy microbiome containing a majority of bacteria that we know to be generally beneficial may also affect brain and nervous system health.