Brain health makes its way into the news now and again, especially as it relates to things like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and overall cognitive function. Why is it a big deal? In short, your brain is your most valuable health asset. As we discuss daily in the office, your brain and nervous system work together to control and coordinate every function in your body.
At Keystone Chiropractic, we take brain and nervous system function very seriously. There are a number of things you can do to optimize your brain health, but since March is National Nutrition Month, we’ll focus this post on foods you can add to your grocery list to help your brain and nervous system work the best they can. Are there more than 5 foods that help brain health? You bet. We selected these five as sources that give you the best bang for your buck.
First, we must mention that the best place to start is to eat more unprocessed whole foods. Real foods are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and countless other phytochemicals that nourish your brain cells (and even grow new ones).
When choosing your foods, remember that it’s not only a matter of how many calories they contain and whether or not they might make you “fat”, it’s a matter of choosing those that contain the nutrients to support optimal health, including that of your brain.
The 5 best foods for optimal brain and nervous system health
1. Wild Alaskan Salmon
Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in Wild Alaskan Salmon, are great for cardiovascular health. Omega 3’s are great for your brain, too. As you age, or due to diseases like Alzheimer’s, your brain volume decreases. Recent research published in Neurology suggests that Omega 3’s may slow this process.
The study, which included over 1,000 women, measured the levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. The results showed that those with higher levels of EPA and DHA in their blood had larger total brain volumes according to an MRI scan.
Those with higher Omega 3’s also had a nearly 3 percent larger hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory. Even before symptoms appear, in diseases like Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus has most likely begun to shrink in volume.
Higher levels of EPA and DHA can be achieved through both diet and supplementation. The best sources of these Omega 3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as Wild Alaskan Salmon. Supplements are also an option, and while getting Omega-3’s through diet is preferred, many Americans are deficient, so a high quality supplement may be needed.
Eggs, more specifically the yolks, are a leading source of choline. Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in helping you remember things like where you left the car keys. Eating protein rich foods like eggs for breakfast can improve overall cognitive performance, according to Swiss researchers.
Flavonoids are found in foods like blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, green tea, and in cocoa. Flavonoids take part in multiple cellular processes, depending on the type of flavonoid. They can also be responsible for may aspects of brain function. They do this by influencing how neurons “talk” to each other and by increasing the levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce damage to cells in the brain. There is also some evidence that flavanoids can stave off not only cognitive decline, but also brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
One nutrient that you may not be so familiar with is the spice, curcumin. Even if you have never heard of it, it is likely that you have tasted it. Curcumin is from the root of the tumeric plant; it gives curry its yellow color.
Animal studies have shown that it actually clears away Alzheimer’s-causing proteins in the brain called amyloid plaques.
You can add some curcumin – tumeric – to your own cooking to get a dose of this powerful polyphenol. It seems that some of the most interesting foods and flavors contain some of the most potent brain-boosting molecules.
5. Leafy greens & Cruciferous vegetables
Many people may not be fond of eating your greens, but there’s a reason why you hear over and over that they’re one of the best things to add to your diet. Harvard Medical School researchers found that women who ate the most vegetables – especially leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli) – experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline than women who ate the least vegetables.
This one shouldn’t be a big surprise. Every cell in your body needs what to thrive, and your brain cells are not exception. Approximately three-quarters of your brain is water. A small Ohio University study found that people whose bodies were well hydrated scored significantly better on tests of brain power, compared with those who weren’t drinking enough. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces ever day. For example, if someone weighs 150 lbs, they should get 75 ounces of water.