Boost your brain health with these three nutrients
Our brain is the control center of our body, it keeps our heart beating, lungs breathing and allows us to move, feel, and think. It is also an energy-intensive organ—although it only represents 2% of the weight of an adult, it uses 20% of the energy produced by the body.
The foods we eat have a big and lasting impact on the structure and health of our brains. Interested in boosting your brain function? If so, prioritizing a brain-boosting diet as part of your lifestyle is key.
Let’s explore some of the best nutrients we can consume for better brain health and the scientific evidence behind them.
About 60% of our brain is made of fat, and half of that fat comprises omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential for learning and memory, and our brain uses these omega-3 fatty acids to build brain and nerve cells.
Across many research, omega-3 has shown an effect of slowing age-related cognitive decline and rapid deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease. On the contrary, not getting sufficient omega-3s in one’s diet has been linked to learning impairments, as well as depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in salmon, trout, albacore tuna, and sardines. These fish are often termed “fatty fish” because they are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Give your brain an extra boost by consuming two servings of fatty fish a week and getting a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids in your system.
As our brain ages, it becomes more difficult for important nerve cells to protect themselves against highly reactive, rogue compounds called free radicals.
Every cell in our body manufactures thousands of these unstable oxygen molecules every day, and we are also exposed to them in the world around you through tobacco smoke, pollution, and ultraviolet radiation. Left unchecked, free radicals damage cells (a process called oxidative stress), which contributes to neurodegeneration.
Fortunately, our body has a natural defence system to protect itself against oxidative stress: antioxidants. These substances, which shield the body from the destruction of free radicals, include well-known nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium.
Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants. A good rule of thumb is that the brighter the colour, the higher the level of disease-fighting antioxidants in the food.
Some of the best antioxidant foods include berries, dark chocolate, pecans, spinach and sweet potatoes. Incorporating these foods in your diet on a regular basis can do wonders for your brain health.
Ginsenosides, found in Panax Ginseng, are considered the main active compounds that have been shown to affect cognitive health. These compounds have been reported to have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-neoplastic, and immunomodulatory effects.
While the evidence remains largely inconclusive due to the lack of large, long-term controlled trials, numerous studies have reported cognitive benefit with ginseng in healthy people as well as in dementia patients.
A 2010 Cochrane meta-analysis of 9 double-blind randomized controlled trials in healthy subjects and in those with cognitive impairment reported that ginseng treatment (Panax genus extract) for 8-12 weeks improved some aspects of cognitive function, behavior, and quality of life.
In another 2020 double-blind randomized controlled trial of 52 healthy individuals, Panax ginseng treatment (1,000 mg/day) for 8 weeks significantly increased the gray matter volume of the left parahippocampal gyrus compared to the placebo group.
The composite score of cognitive function also significantly increased in the ginseng group compared to the placebo group. In terms of specific cognitive domains, the ginseng group showed significant increases in executive function, attention, and memory. In contrast, the placebo group showed no improvement in executive function, attention or memory.
Panax Ginseng is often taken in doses of 200-400 mg/day via supplements. It can also be consumed as soup (e.g., Samgye-tang, which is ginseng chicken soup), tea (Insam-cha, or ginseng tea), liquor (Insam-ju, or ginseng liquor), or in energy drinks.
Since Panax Ginseng is generally safe when taken on its own and numerous studies have reported cognitive benefits, there is no harm in taking it on a regular basis.
The nutrients listed above could help improve brain function. It could also complement a well-balanced diet in reducing the risk of stroke and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
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