Brain boosting foods: A slew of research in experimental animal models as well as human beings demonstrates that certain dietary components may actually impact brain function and cognitive ability, opening up novel and exciting approaches to manipulate one’s diet to enhance memory and cognitive function (1).
While numerous studies have linked a typical Western diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and refined sugars with compromised cognitive function, Alzheimer’s disease (2), and other neuro-degenerative conditions (3), diets high in omega 3- fatty acids (4), curcumin or turmeric (5), and flavonoids (a class of anti-oxidants) (6), are known to have the opposite effect.
There is also some emerging research that shows Vitamin E, a fat soluble vitamin (7), and exercise (8), may also play a beneficial role in this process.
The superstar, BDNF: In this context, an important molecule called BDNF, or brain derived neurotrophic factor, a neurotrophin (signals neurons or nerve cells to survive, and grow), has been receiving attention as it plays the lead role in neuronal plasticity.
What is neuronal plasticity? (Think increased flexibility or pliability of the nerve cells in the brain). Neuronal plasticity could be defined as the ability of the neurons (nerve cells in the brain) to respond with adaptive changes to internal and external conditions. The process by which our experiences can reorganize neural pathways in our brain is called neuroplasticity. For example, sustained changes occur in the brain when we learn something new, or the brain may reorganize in response to injury, disease or environmental changes.
BDNF is most abundant in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, that is involved with memory and spatial orientation.
Plant oils and nuts contain the potent antioxidant Vitamin E with smaller amounts from leafy greens.Copyright © 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan
Dietary components that raise BDNF are, therefore not surprisingly associated with enhanced cognitive ability and vice versa.
Rejuvenate with Vitamin E: In a 2002 study by Moteni and Barnard, a two month exposure to a high fat diet reduced hippocampal levels of BDNF and impaired spatial learning performance in rats (9), however in other experimental studies in which rats on a high fat diet were supplemented with Vitamin E, this antioxidant significantly reduced free radical damage caused by consumption of the high fat diet and actually reversed the diet impaired cognitive function (7). Plant foods, especially plant oils, wheat germ and nuts are the primary source of vitamin E in the diet, with smaller amounts in leafy vegetables and some fruits. Continue reading