Your eating habits affect brain development and cognitive development from the earliest stages of life. Therefore, it is important that you know the right foods for brain health.
Studies have shown that early iron and folic acid supplementation during the early stages of pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus. The first thousand days (from conception to 2 years of age) are the most important as there is rapid growth of brain development. Babies who are exclusively breastfed are found to have higher cognitive development and have higher QI compared to bottle-fed babies.
Malnourished pregnant women are at increased risk of giving birth to premature babies with low birth weight and inadequate brain development. These babies often suffer from behavioral and cognitive deficits, including slower language and fine motor development, lower IQs, and poor school performance.
A baby’s birth weight and brain size depend on the quality of the mother’s nutrition during pregnancy. Early postnatal nutrition also helps supplement the baby with the nutrition needed for brain development during infancy. Like the frontal lobe, which is associated with cognitive development, it occurs at a rapid rate in the first 2 years of life.
Important nutrients that affect brain health are:
1. Iron and folic acid
Folic acid plays an important role in the early development of the brain and spinal cord in the form of the neural tube in the fetus. Oral folic acid supplementation is advised to mothers-to-be in the first weeks of gestation, as the neural tube forms around 4-6 weeks after conception.
Natural sources of folic acid are amaranth leaves, agathi leaves, kale, broccoli, whole grains, all lentils and legumes, spinach, and folic acid-fortified breakfast cereals.
Iron is important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, the myelination of neurons and for the functioning of mitochondria. Iron sources include dark leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. When it comes to heme iron, good sources are egg yolks, poultry, meat, and organ meats. Iron sources should be combined with vitamin C sources such as citrus fruits (lemon, orange, sweet lime).
Also found is a trace mineral that helps boost immunity to improve brain health. The hippocampus is the area of memory formation and long-term storage of these new memories, zinc aids in the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus and thus aids in memory formation. If you are deficient in zinc, this process is impaired and supplementation is required. Zinc also plays an important role in axonal and synaptic transmission and for growth and brain tubulin phosphorylation.
In children, zinc deficiency is linked to poor cognitive abilities, apathy, and mental retardation; in adults Schizophrenia, alcoholism, Wilson’s disease and Pick’s disease, like brain disorders, are related to zinc deficiency.
Zinc sources include whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, eggs, poultry, spices and seasonings, and dairy products.
The amino acid is the building block of proteins, and in turn, proteins make up organs. Proteins play an important role in the functioning of the brain and for the production of neurotransmitters.
Recent studies suggest that diet pattern is related to mood swings, as neurotransmitters depend on protein intake. Dietary sources of protein break down into amino acids that regulate mood and associated disorders with the brain. For example, when chicken is eaten and digested, the body synthesizes the amino acid L-tyrosine which produces the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine levels determine mood and other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, and substance addiction. Protein sources include legumes and legumes, eggs, poultry, meat, dairy products.
4. Omega 3 and omega 6
Omega 3 and omega 6 are neuroprotective in nature. Studies have found that these reduce the risk of cognitive loss during aging.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are important for neuronal development. DHA is found to increase blood flow to the brain during mental task. Recent studies have shown that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults when treated with DHA supplements show improvement in terms of behavior and attention. DHA is also useful in the treatment of autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and aggression.
Sources are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, oysters,
Shrimp and vegetarian sources such as walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and soybeans. Caution should be exercised when consuming fish liver oil as it contains high levels of vitamin A.
However, the vitamin is known to regulate the normal functioning of the human body.
Brain health also depends on the daily availability of the vitamin.
Thiamine deficiency causes Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is fatal if left untreated. Causes of deficiency include chronic alcoholism where absorption is impaired, or poor intake of foods rich in these vitamins, low socioeconomic status leading to food insecurity. One of the main treatments involves supplementation of the respective vitamin when the deficiency is diagnosed.
Major sources of vitamins include a wide variety of vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, eggs, poultry, and fruit.
Apart from maintaining healthy bones, the formation of hemoglobin, copper plays an important role in the functioning and maintenance of a healthy brain. Neurons and ganglia require copper for respiratory enzyme and antioxidant. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin require copper for their formation.
Any malformation in the metabolism of copper oxidation will directly affect the functioning of the brain. Copper hemostasis is very important since copper deficiency (hypocupremia) and toxicity are related to neurogenerative disorders such as Menkes disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases and Wilson’s disease. Dietary sources are organ meats, especially liver, oysters, spirulina, edible mushrooms, nuts and seeds, lobsters, and cocoa.
One of the trace elements that is of significant importance in the functioning of the brain is selenium. Neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and epilepsy are linked to selenium and selenium-dependent enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx), thioredoxin reductase, and a methionine-sulfoxide-reductase. Selenium also exhibits neuroprotective properties that are important in the development and functioning of GABAergic (GABA, γ-aminobutyric acid) cerebral cortex and hippocampus. Dopamine pathways also depend on selenium. Hence, it is positive that the availability of selenium in the body directly affects mood, cognitive functions, motor skills and memory. Food sources include fish, Brazil nuts, poultry, organ meats, and enriched foods.
Iodine is an integral part of thyroid hormones that is responsible for brain growth and development, glial cell differentiation, myelination, neural migration, neurotransmitters, and synaptogenesis. Reduced cognitive development, motor skills, and poor school performance are observed in children with low iodine intake. Functional and structural changes of the hippocampus, impaired neurotransmitters are observed in babies when the mother has iodine deficiency.
Salt iodization has to some extent prevented iodine deficiency in developing countries. However, dietary sources of iodine such as leafy vegetables, fish, dairy products, eggs, and animal proteins are important in maintaining iodine homeostasis throughout life.
Importance of diet in brain health
A balanced diet is required early in life for brain and central nervous system development, however, for normal functioning and to maintain brain health over time, it is important to include a wide variety of foods in the diet. .