Nutrition For The Brain (Evidence-Based)

When treating a condition, it is important to focus on nutrition in addition to the physiological irregularities manifesting in the disease and their symptomatic management. The body is literally a product of nutrition, and the brain is no exception. The most common brain disorders are characterized by neurodegeneration – the breakdown and damage of brain cells. The only way back from that is to slow down degeneration while providing the specific nutrients needed to rebuild the brain. It has been seen that nutrition plays a vital role in the treatment of various neurological and psychiatric diseases, however, most people are unaware of this.

The purpose of this article is to educate the public on the ways that specific nutrients regulate brain function and treat disease and to share lists of several brain foods.

Please keep in mind that you do not always need to supplement nutrients as many of them can be acquired in great quantity from your diet. I have included lists of foods rich in each nutrient mentioned.

Essential Nutrients For The Brain

Fat

Given that approximately 60% of the brain is made from fatty acids, the first nutrient on this list is fat. Therefore, it can be said that fat is responsible for the structure of the brain due to the fact that it is literally the building blocks for brain tissue.

In fact, in the case of hypomyelination, following a high-fat ketogenic diet has been found to be effective (see study). This same diet has also been found to be highly effective in treating epilepsy (see study). Ketogenic supplements such as MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil have been found to improve brain function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (see study).

If you wish to follow the ketogenic diet, it is crucial for you to understand the specifics of the diet and the foods that can be consumed on it and make sure to use it in a healthy way. There is a lot of horrible information on the internet suggesting people do what is known as “dirty keto”. I strongly suggest against this. It is important to follow “healthy keto” which includes a lot of healthy cruciferous vegetables and other healthy foods in addition to high-fat foods.

Foods rich in fat:

  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Whole Milk (Preferably A2 Milk)
  • Cheese
  • Butter & Ghee
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Pork
  • Seafood
  • Dark Chocolate

I talk about how to follow the ketogenic diet in my book “Healing Diabetes Naturally“.

To get on this diet, speak to a holistic doctor about doing it in a healthy manner. I don’t suggest doing it on your own with internet-based guidelines.

Magnesium

This nutrient plays a significant role in nerve conduction and the regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain. It relays the signals between the brain and body as well as protects nerves from the damage of overstimulation. It helps to relax the muscles and keep the central nervous system calm.

Deficiencies in magnesium have been linked to depression in clinical studies (see study). Supplementing with magnesium has been found to be beneficial in fighting depression (see study). In one study, Magnesium supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in spasticity and constipation in children with cerebral palsy (See Study). It also helps with improving sleep quality (see study) and reducing the occurrence of migraines (see study). Magnesium also appears to be highly useful in treating neuromuscular conditions such as fibromyalgia (see study) – this may be due to the role that magnesium plays in neuromuscular function and the fact that it binds to the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), which calms and relaxes the nervous system.

Magnesium-Rich Foods:

  • Avocado
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Salmon, Mackerel, Halibut Fish
  • Bananas

Magnesium requirements are often difficult to meet with diet alone. In this case, supplementation may be useful. Speak to a holistic doctor about the right supplement for you.

Chromium

The brain may be made up of fatty acids, however, it still runs on glucose. Chromium is essential for glucose metabolism. As you may or may not know, Alzheimer’s disease is now being considered (by some doctors) to be Diabetes Type 3 (see study). Chromium supplementation has not only been associated with better insulin sensitivity but it has also improved cognitive-cerebral function in elderly patients (see study). It also appears to be effective in treating atypical depression (see study) as well as dysthymic disorder (see study).

Chromium-Rich Foods:

  • Broccoli
  • String beans
  • Brewers Yeast
  • Liver
  • Turkey Breast
  • Mussel
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Oysters

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is essential for the formation of the myelin sheath – the insulation or protective covering around nerves. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the synthesis of Methionine (an important amino acid for neurological function) from homocysteine (a neurotoxic amino acid). When a patient is deficient in Vitamin B12, there can be an increase in homocysteine – this leads to brain atrophy, cerebrovascular disease, and more.

Poor memory has been linked to a deficiency in Vitamin B12 (see study) – this comes as no surprise considering the amount of evidence suggesting that this nutrient plays a role in preventing atrophy of the brain (a condition associated with Alzheimer’s Disease). Deficiencies in Vitamin B12 are also seen in Multiple Sclerosis (see study).

Vitamin B12-Rich Foods:

  • Liver
  • Clams
  • Sardines
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Milk (Preferably A2)
  • Nori
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Shitake Mushroom (In small quantities)

Vitamin B12 requirements are sometimes difficult for vegans and vegetarians. Supplementation may be needed, however, it is important to make sure to use methylcobalamin and not cyanocobalamin.

Vitamin B1

Also known as Thiamine, Vitamin B1 is a very important nutrient that can significantly improve neuropathy. More so, the fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 known as benfotiamine has demonstrated impressive results when used to treat diabetic neuropathy (see study). While diabetic neuropathy may seem less important in neurological health, keep in mind that neuropathic pain is associated with neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Neuropathic pain is very difficult to control, even with allopathic treatment. In my experience, vitamin B1 has been a crucial part of controlling neuropathy.

When vitamin B1 is depleted from the body, patients can develop life-threatening conditions such as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Psychosis. About 90% of patients with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy go on to develop Korsakoff’s Psychosis. In clinical research, supplementation with vitamin B1 is able to significantly improve these conditions, however, some of the symptoms may persist (see study).

Supplementation with Vitamin B1 in patients with Parkinson’s disease resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms (see study).

Vitamin B1-Rich Foods

  • Salmon
  • Pork
  • Flax Seeds
  • Navy Beans
  • Green Peas
  • Tofu
  • Acorn Squash
  • Asparagus
  • Mussel
  • Beef Liver
  • Tuna
  • Trout

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is considered to be a neurosteroid with receptors all over the brain, meaning it obviously plays a long list of functions in the brain. It has been seen that vitamin D has neuroprotective effects and helps in the clearance of amyloid plaques from the brain. It also helps modulate the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, neurotrophic factors, and specifically, the release of nerve growth factor (NGF). It has been seen that vitamin D plays a role in neuronal development as well as the prevention of autism in early life (see study).

In Multiple Sclerosis, a deficiency in Vitamin D is almost always seen. In fact, some doctors suggest that this deficiency is what puts patients at risk of developing the condition (see study). Supplementation has been associated with a reduction of relapses in patients with MS (see study). However, vitamin D deficiencies are not easy to correct. It requires multiple co-factors (Magnesium, Vitamin K2, etc) as well as proper liver and kidney function. Supplementation with vitamin D has also improved the condition of diabetic neuropathy in Diabetes Type 1 (see case study).

The benefits of vitamin D go beyond neuropathy and multiple sclerosis and goes well into immuno-modulation and fighting inflammation.

Vitamin D-Rich Foods:

  • Sunlight (This nutrient comes predominantly from getting enough sunlight)
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardine
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Tuna
  • Egg Yolks
  • Mushrooms

Vitamin D requirements are hard to meet with diet. Supplementation may be required to meet daily needs. It is important to supplement with proper guidance as Vitamin D has to be taken together with certain co-factors.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These include Alpha-linolenic acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is important to note that based on the fact that the brain is literally made up of cholesterol and fatty acids, dietary inclusion or supplementation of fatty acids is crucial for brain health. In fact, Omega 3s are important in the development of a baby’s brain (see study). They are found to make up a large part of brain cell membranes and it is seen that in older adults when there is an inadequate amount of Omega 3s in circulation, there tends to be a smaller brain size – this is a sign of accelerated brain aging (see study).

In clinical research, Omega 3s have improved depression (see study), ADHD (see study), and bipolar disorder (see study). Omega 3s appear to increase cerebral blood flow and oxygenation (see study) as well as reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline (see study).

Omega 3-Rich Foods:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Herring
  • Oysters
  • Sardine
  • Anchovies
  • Caviar
  • Flax Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Eggs

Vitamin C

Being a potent antioxidant, Vitamin C protects the body (and brain) against the effects of oxidation. It also appears to modulate glutamatergic, dopaminergic, cholinergic, and GABAergic transmission. In fact, the highest concentrations of Vitamin C in the body are found in the brain and endocrine cells. It promotes Schwann Cell myelination by supporting the ability to assemble a basal lamina and create collagen (see study).

Vitamin C supplementation has been associated with the protection of cognitive function (see study). Patients with Alzheimer’s are found to be low on vitamin C – this may be one of the contributing factors to the development of the disease as supplementation with antioxidants appears to reduce the risk of developing it (see study).

In experimental research, Vitamin C improved oligodendrocytes generation and remyelination (see study).

Vitamin C-Rich Foods:

  • Amla (Indian Gooseberry)
  • Kakadu Plums
  • Acerola Cherries
  • Oranges
  • Rose Hips
  • Chili Peppers
  • Guava
  • Sweet Yellow Peppers
  • Black Currents
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Kale
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Lemons
  • Lychees
  • Papaya
  • Strawberries

Vitamin K

In experimental research, Vitamin K enhanced the production of brain sulfatides (see study) – this is one of the raw materials which make up myelin. Vitamin K plays a crucial role in the metabolism of sphingolipids – these play a role in the proliferation, differentiation, and survival of neurons. Emerging evidence is suggesting that there is a direct link between vitamin K and cognitive function (see study). It is a known thing that patients with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have dysregulated levels of calcium within the brain – Vitamin K2 plays a very important role in the metabolism of calcium and making sure that it stays within the bones rather than in circulation or the rest of the body.

Vitamin K1-Rich Foods

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Beet Greens
  • Cabbage
  • Parsley

Vitamin K2-Rich Foods

  • Beef Liver
  • Natto
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Goose Liver Paste
  • Bacon
  • Ground Beef
  • Pork Liver
  • Butter

Vitamin A

When converted to Retinoid acid, Vitamin A plays a role in signaling within the brain. It also modulates neurogenesis, neuronal survival, and synaptic plasticity (see study). In clinical trials, Vitamin A was found to improve fatigue and depression in multiple sclerosis while also reducing disease progression (see study 1 & study 2).

Vitamin A-Rich Foods

  • Liver
  • Eggs
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Mackerel
  • Goat Cheese
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Sweet Potato
  • Winter Squash
  • Kale
  • Collard Greens
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Red Pepper

Vitamin E

This vitamin is a potent antioxidant that protects against the damage of free-radicals. It protects against cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly (see study). In the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Vitamin E has demonstrated the ability to reduce the rate of functional decline (see study). It also appears to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression in women with PMS (see study).

Vitamin E-Rich Foods

  • Wheat Germ Oil
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Abalone
  • Goose Meat
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Mango
  • Butter

Threonine

Threonine increases the amount of glycine that enters the brain which plays a key role in inhibitory synapses from the spinal cord. In clinical research, Threonine was able to suppress the signs of spasticity in patients with familial spastic paraparesis (see study) as well as spinal spasticity (see study) and multiple sclerosis (see study).

Threonine-Rich Foods:

  • Lean Beef & Lamb
  • Organic Soy Beans (Still not highly recommended)
  • Pork
  • Lamb Liver
  • Chicken Breast
  • Cheese
  • Salmon
  • Shellfish
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Watermelon Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Flax Seeds

Omega 6’s

A healthy balance of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain aging. These fatty acids also play an important role in regulating brain function and have proven to be beneficial in conditions such as Developmental Coordination Disorder (see study).

Omega 6-Rich Foods:

  • Walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Eggs
  • Avocado Oil
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

Neurotransmitter Formation Nutrition

Building Blocks:

Choline – is required for the production of Acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that appears to be deficient in Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is found in Eggs, Salmon, Chicken Breast, Pork Beef, Shrimp, Navy Beans, Dairy, Broccoli, Green Peas.

Tryptophan – is required for the production of Serotonin – a neurotransmitter that appears to be deficient in Depression.

It is found in Pumpkin Seeds, Cheese, Lamb, Beef, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, White Beans, Kidney Beans, and Tuna.

Tyrosine & Phenylalanine – required for the production of Dopamine – a neurotransmitter that appears to be deficient in Parkinson’s Disease.

They are found in Beef, Chicken, Fish, Tofu, Milk, Large White Beans, Ricotta Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds, Tuna, and Eggs.

Glutamine – required for the production of GABA – a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in pain sensitivity.

It can be found in Meat, Seafood, Milk, Almonds, Peanuts, Hazelnuts, Eggs, Cabbage, and Kidney Beans.

Co-Factor:

Vitamin B6 – This vitamin plays a significant role as a co-factor in the metabolism of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (see study). Its deficiency is associated with multiple neuropsychiatric conditions such as seizures, migraine, chronic pain, and depression (see study). Vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of homocysteine and helps reduce the risk of cerebrovascular disease (see study), depression, and psychiatric conditions (see study).

Vitamin B6-Rich Foods:

  • Salmon
  • Chicken Breast
  • Dairy
  • Ricotta Cheese
  • Tofu
  • Beef
  • Sweet Potato
  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Pistachios
  • Tuna
  • Chicken Liver
  • Beef

As you can see, nutrition plays a vital role in both the regulation of neurological function as well as the treatment of neurological and psychiatric illnesses. It is important to make sure that you consume a nutrient-rich diet that is filled with nutrient-dense foods such as organ meats (liver, etc), kale, dark chocolate, eggs, salmon, sardine, seaweed, etc. It is becoming increasingly difficult to acquire all your nutrients from regular foods, therefore, you must start including nutrient-dense foods and in some cases, supplement to meet nutritional requirements. Make sure that you use supplements with proper supervision to make sure you are getting the right doses, co-factors, timing, and methods of administration.

To book a consultation with me, click here

(Always use medicinal herbs under the supervision of a doctor)

by Dr. Nishal R.
Copyright © 2020

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