Brain Health

The conductor, instructor and general of the body. Brain function goverens all other aspects of human function. From the heart b... The conductor, instructor and general of the body. Brain function goverens all other aspects of human function. From the heart beating to the lungs breathing. Read more below to see the complex made simple.

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What is Cognitive function?

Cognitive function refers to a variety of different brain functions including reasoning, learning, memory, recall, problem-solving, multitasking and language.

(Source: MantleMarketing)

As shown in the image above there are many different aspects of brain function. Nutrition and brain health is a complex topic, however, avoiding deficiency states and focusing on certain nutrients may prove beneficial for brain health. But first, let's explore, how this could work in the brain, what brings about these effects?

How can nutrition and supplements help brain function?

Physical structure: may improve communication/signalling from neurons (nerve cells), increased capillary network supplying the brain

Energy production: may increase the capacity or efficiency of energy production, increase time to fatigue

Brain cell protection: disorders that could affect brain function, for example reducing the risk or managing anxiety, depression. Vitamin D is the best example.

How do I maintain good brain health?

For most aspects of our health, diet, exercise and lifestyle are the major contributors. To start, we will focus on exercise and lifestyle.

Exercise

There is a very simple explanation for improved/maintained brain function with regular exercise. First, when we exercise our heart rate increases, which will increase oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. Second, exercise has a systemic effect (all systems in the body), which results in a favourable hormonal environment for growth and repair of the brain cells. 

Finally, most people will have heard of "runners high", put simply this means the feel-good effect after and sometimes during exercise. This may contribute to mood regulation and keeping brain disorders such as anxiety, depression and dysfunctional sleep in check. (Sources: NCBI & NCBI)

Practical application:

There is little published research on definitive guidelines for frequency, intensity, type and individual-specific guidelines for exercise to maintain brain health. However, it is more important to do something than identifying "optimal" as that might be another lifetime. Do what you enjoy and can consistently perform. 

Other Lifestyle Factors (The dose makes the poison)

Smoking: associated with cognitive decline and impaired function in middle-aged adults. (Source: NCBI)

Alcohol: associated with cognitive impairment. (Source: NCBI)

Poor sleep: may accelerate age-related cognitive decline. (Source: NCBI)

Any diet which restricts or completely excludes food groups will increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies and therefore potentially impaired brain function. 

Important nutrients


Omega-3

Main function

Regulates the inflammatory process, and omega-3 fats are crucial components of most cells in the body, including astrocytes (brain cells). 

Concern

Vegetarians/vegans need to supplement with an algae oil. Plant-based sources will not provide enough omega-3 fats in most cases. Omnivores who do not consume oily fish 2-3 times a week should also consider a supplement. 



Iron

Main function

Needed for proper oxygen transport and energy production. Brain cells are in need of oxygen and nutrients to maintain their structure and function. Needed for the synthesis of some neurotransmitters and myelin (provides protection for nerve cells).

Concern -

Vegans/vegetarians are higher risks than omnivores, as the absorption from plant-based foods is minimal. Further, females are at the highest risk due to iron losses through menstruation.  


Vitamin D

Main function -

Vitamin D receptors are found in many parts of the brain. The biologically active form of the nutrient has major roles in neurodevelopment. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with system-wide impairment, including the brain. 

Concern -

Everyone, irrespective of diet, should ensure adequate sun exposure and/or supplement during the winter months. Especially, in countries most north. Deficiencies are associated with depression, dementia and other brain disorders. (Source: NCBI)


Creatine

Main function -

A non-essential amino acid that can improve energy metabolism in brain cells. There is a significant creatine pool found in the brain which contributes to cognitive function. 

Concern -

Creatine has shown protective benefits for the brain, especially for impact sports and brain-related diseases. One of the many benefits.

Source: (Jeukendrup & Gleeson) & (NCBI) & (NCBI)


Additional Considerations

A deficiency in one or any of the essential micronutrients will impair brain function. For example, most of the B vitamins are involved in energy production, a deficiency here will impede normal energy production. Therefore, thinking and learning and every other aspect of the day-to-day cognition. Cobalamin or Vitamin B12 has been shown to improve cognitive function in the elderly. Nearly all nutrients have been investigated for there role in cerebral function. Eat the rainbow and avoid deficiency in all essential nutrients. Vegans and vegetarians have additional considerations due to restricting and excluding food groups. However, it extends beyond just vegans/vegetarians, anyone with poor diet diversity or avoiding certain food groups are at greater risk of nutrient deficiencies and therefore impaired brain function. (Source: NCBI)

While consumption of these nutrients through natural or fortified foods is preferred, these nutrients may occasionally need supplementation (Source: NCBI). Vitamin D supplementation, in particular, may be required when sunlight exposure is limited. Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels is likely beneficial for immune function and resistance to infections. Supplementing with ~ 1000-2000 IU/day vitamin D3 is the recommendation for those who have zero sun exposure. (Source: NCBI, MDPI)

General supplementation should be considered for restrictive or low energy-density diets.

Want to learn more?

Here at Plent, we are different than most other supplement retailers out there. We are committed to consumer education and empowerment, brand transparency and quality assurance of all our own supplements. For this reason, we want all our customers to have a full and rounded understanding of the world of supplementation. If you would like to read more about brain health from the experts, check out the links below:

  1. Video
    1. Brain Health and Nutrition
    2. How the food you eat affects your brain - Mia Nacamulli
  2. Written
    1. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food
    2. How Nutrition Impacts the Brain and Mental Health
  3. Audio
    1. SNR #276: Nick Gant, PhD – Neurometabolism: Brain Function, Fatigue & Nutrition Interventions