Your brain is kind of a big deal! It’s in charge of keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing and allowing you to move, feel and think. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your brain in peak condition. Luckily, nutrition plays a significant and crucial role in brain health and we can maintain a healthy and active mind well into our 80s and 90s by eating properly. Most doctors agree that food is the best source for the vitamins and minerals our body needs. But to be on the safe side, 25% of adults over age 50 take a supplement to improve their brain health.
Let’s take a look at which vitamins and minerals are most important in brain health: ⠀⠀ 1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are great for their antioxidant-like neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain important fats that improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and improve nerve function. About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids, which is used to build brain and nerve cells, and are essential for learning and memory - slowing age-related mental decline and helping ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Food sources include: salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, soybeans, nuts, flaxseed and other seeds.
⠀ 2. B Vitamins
B vitamins, including B6, B12 and Folate help your nerves and brain communicate. B vitamins are involved in helping the formation of brain chemicals such as dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin – all of the feel-good hormones. B vitamins may help slow the progression of mental decline in older adults by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that could be linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Folate and B12 deficiency has been linked to depression. Folic Acid preserves brain health, boost mood, and may help fight heart disease. Additionally, vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause memory loss, nerve damage and low moods, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet or through supplementation.
Food sources include: Leafy green vegetables, beans, orange juice, seeds, nuts, lean meat, eggs, milk ⠀ 3. Magnesium
Magnesium is great for brain health, hormones, and mood. It protects the brain from neurotoxins. Magnesium is essential for learning and long-term memory. Low magnesium levels are linked to many neurological diseases, including migraine, depression, and epilepsy. A deficiency of any of these vitamins can lead to developmental problems in children and psychiatric illnesses in adults.
Food sources include: Nuts, seeds, dark greens, whole grains, fruits, dark chocolate, beans, nuts.
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which contributes to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. The good news is, antioxidants can help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The antioxidant compounds in berries specifically, have many positive effects on the brain, including improving communication between brain cells, reducing inflammation throughout the body, boosting learning and memory, and reducing or delaying age-related neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
Food sources include: strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin is a key factor in preventing mental decline. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off the free radicals and oxidative stress that can damage brain cells. The brain has the highest level of Vitamin C in the body. Having higher levels of vitamin C in the blood was associated with improvements in tasks involving focus, memory, attention, and decision speed. Plus, vitamin C supports brain health as you age and may protect against conditions like major depressive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Food sources include: citrus fruit, bell peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries.
6. Vitamin E is believed to help with brain health by reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Some research has indicated Vitamin E can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease from occurring in the first place by reducing the free radical damage.
Food sources include: nuts, green leafy vegetables, and whole grain flour
Think about it. Your brain is always "on." It takes care of your thoughts, movements, breathing, and heart beating. Luckily, many foods can help keep your brain healthy. Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants that help protect your brain from damage while nuts and eggs, contain nutrients that support memory and brain development. You can help support your brain health and boost your alertness, memory, and mood by including these foods in your diet. Put simply, what you eat, or don’t eat, directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Written by Tiffany Dean, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern