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Food for Thought: Nutrients to Improve Cognition

Food for Cognition

We have all had those moments: times when you just can’t seem to focus at work to get that project finished. Or times when you are standing in the grocery store blankly staring at the produce section trying for the life of you to recall what your spouse had asked you to pick up. It would be great if our minds worked sharply at all times, but in the modern world we live it is just not the case. The good news is there are many ways to improve your brain health, prevent cognitive decline, and avoid development of neurodegenerative disorders. Nourishing your brain with the healthy foods and nutrients it needs to function optimally are a great start.

The brain consists of a network of cells called neurons that rely on extensive stimulation and connectivity in order to produce synchronous cognitive functioning. Although we cannot recover neuronal cells that have died, we can form new connections between neurons that improve mental functioning. This is referred to as neural plasticity. Making these new connections is essential to allowing our mentality to adjust to new situations. So how do we naturally improve neuronal connections? Let’s discuss some nutrients that are needed for neural plasticity and what foods we find them in.

  1. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid metabolite found in the brain and cannot be synthesized by the body. This means we need to rely on consumption of this vital fat through our food or supplementation. Studies have correlated DHA to amelioration of cognitive decline in the elderly and improvements in cognition for individuals with traumatic brain injury. What are some good sources of DHA? Fish, kiwi, walnuts, butternuts, chia, and flax seed.

    What is our FAVORITE source of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids? Hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil has 104% more polyunsaturated fatty acids than fish oil.

  2. Flavonoids have shown to improve cognition in the elderly and in adults in combination with exercise. Good sources of flavonoids include citrus fruits, blueberries, red wine, cocoa, green tea and ginkgo tree.

  3. B vitamins have shown positive effects on memory improvement. They are found in high quantities in green leafy vegetables with the exception of B12 only being found in high quantities in animal protein.

  4. Vitamin D has been shown to be important in preserving cognitive function in the elderly. We produce vitamin D from cholesterol in our bodies with the help of natural sunlight. Supplementation is the best way to get adequate amounts if low.

  5. Vitamin E has been shown to reduce cognitive decay and impairment in those with brain injuries. Leafy green vegetables as well as olives, red palms, nuts, and avocados are great sources of this vitamin. 

  6. Choline has a causal relationship with cognition and is found in egg yolks. However, we find in practice that additional sources of choline are extremely helpful with cognitive function, gut health, and liver health as well. Phosphatidylcholine supplementation can provide all these benefits and we additionally offer this therapy intravenously.

  7. Curcumin is associated with amelioration of cognitive decay in patients with Alzheimer’s and is found in tumeric spice. There are many beneficial uses of this herb. We like to incorporate into high concentrations in our diet using a medical food that can be eaten as a protein shake or added to smoothies.

  8. Low selenium has been found to be linked with lower cognitive functioning in humans. Selenium is found in garlic, onions, fish, eggs, brazil nuts.

  9. Low copper is associated with poor cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s and is found in high amount in oysters.

  10. Iron treatment has been shown to normalize cognitive function in women. Grass fed red meat, poultry, lentils, and beans are high in this metal.

So the take home message? Eat lots of leafy greens, eggs, healthy fats, and spice up your life with tumeric. Many of the nutrients discussed above can be taken safely through supplementation. If you have persistent cognitive impairment despite a healthy diet and lifestyle, there could be other causes that are best evaluated by a doctor. If you are interested in more ways to improve your brain health, schedule a free consultation with one of our doctors using the link below to find out how we can help your meet your goals.

Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421