Neurological Health: Food for Your Brain

If we are what we eat, then our nerves also depend on what they are fed.  Therefore, the composition of each meal we eat could have a direct effect on the production of chemical signals in the brain. One could reason that rather than give a synthetic drug to block or mimic the body’s chemical nerve messengers (neurotransmitters), it is possible nutritionally to encourage the body to make its own natural ones. Compelling research has shown that what you eat may very well determine your neurological health!

Neurological diseases include; Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Pick’s Disease and Prion Diseases.

According to the latest in Neurodegenerative Disease research, the following nutritional approaches appear to help prevent degeneration of the brain.

DHA – This omega-3 fatty acid is important for the maintenance of brain health. Research currently is looking at the ability of DHA to prevent and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. DHA is found in fatty cold-water fish and is manufactured from microalgae for commercial usage. 

Curcumin and Vitamin D3 – This compound, found in turmeric powder, appears to slow the formation and possibly destroy already formed plaque deposits that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin also inhibits many of the inflammatory mediators in the body. Scientists at UCLA and colleagues from UC Riverside and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute found that when vitamin D3 is combined with curcumin, the combination seemed to stimulate the immune system to clear the brain plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D3 is synthesized in the body when exposed to sunlight.

Antioxidants – Both vitamins C and E are associated with a substantially reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin E also is linked to a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Vitamin E was found to prevent cell death in rat neurons subjected to hypoxia. Vitamin A was shown to reduce cognitive decline in those individuals with a higher genetic susceptibility for cognitive decline.

Vitamin E and beta-carotene were found to protect rat neurons against oxidative stress from exposure to ethanol. The rate at which people with Parkinson’s disease required the medication levodopa was slowed by 2.5 years in the population that received large doses of vitamin C and synthetic vitamin E.

Polyphenols (powerful antioxidants) are proving that they do much more than prevent oxidative stress. For instance, the catechins in green tea are found to chelate iron, scavenge radicals, modulate cell survival genes and cell signaling transduction pathways, and regulate mitochondrial function. All of these actions could protect against development of neurodegenerative disease. Drinking tea is linked to a reduced incidence of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Major dietary sources of polyphenols include fruits and plant-derived beverages, such as: Fruit juices, Tea, Coffee, and Red wine.  Vegetables, cereals, chocolate, and dry legumes also contain polyphenols.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – CoQ10 is found throughout our bodies, with the highest concentrations in the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is consumed in the diet. Researchers believe that it may prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Avoiding obesity – Obesity increases the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and neurodegenerative processes in the brainOne likely reason is because body fat promotes inflammation. Type 2 diabetes also is linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity is a critical risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Walnuts – Scientists are not sure whether it is the omega-3 fatty acids, the polyphenols, or another compound in these nuts that causes the parameters of brain aging, as well as motor and cognitive deficits, to actually reverse in rats. It currently is recommended that people eat 1-1.5 ounces of walnuts/day to garner these potential benefits.

Blueberries and Spirulina – Similar to walnuts, blueberries also appear to reduce the rate of aging, and reduce or delay the onset of degenerative disease. Supplementing the diet of old rats with blueberries for only 8 weeks resulted in the maintenance and rejuvenation of brain circuitry in a study done by the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida, College of Medicine. It is hypothesized that a person would need to eat about ½ cup of blueberries/day to accrue a similar benefit.

In another study, spirulina (a blue-green algae) and blueberries were shown to aid in the recovery of dopamine neurons, which decrease during both brain injury and neurodegenerative disease.

Calorie restriction – Rats were fed a low-calorie diet and then injected with toxins that simulate the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. These rats suffered much less brain damage with memory and motor skill deficits, compared to rats fed a normal diet.

For the first time in history, we have more people turning 60 every day, with a record numbers of adults reaching their seventh decade. As a result, neurological diseases associated with aging are becoming major health care concerns. The good news is the nutritional quality of the food you eat throughout your lifetime matters.

It is never too late to incorporate a more colorful and nutritionally dense diet in to your daily living.

by Brooke Douglas RD

Footnote from DrP.  Expert nutrition consultation is a greatly underutilized resource that is often covered by insurance.  Brooke and her group at Nutrition Authoritydo a great job.  Contact Brooke or your favorite registered dietician for help if you need better nutritional management.  

In addition the evidence for supplemental vitamins, especially vitamin E is not supportive of taking this as a supplemental vitamin, rather incorporating foods rich in these vitamins is felt optimal. 

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