This important vitamin is involved in the metabolism of neurons in the brain, the development and survival of the nervous system, and the synthesis of specific lipids that are a part of cell membranes in brain cells. It also has shown to be anti-inflammatory and to protect against free radical damage in the brain (from oxidation).
In our next installment of our Brain Healthy Nutrient series, we are going to talk about antioxidants and how they are beneficial for brain health.
Although the brain weighs roughly 3 pounds (roughly 2% of your body weight), it consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen and 20-25% of the body’s circulating glucose (sugar). The oxygen is required to sustain its high energy needs.
Oxygen is absolutely necessary for the brain to function. Oxygen, however, can give rise to free radicals or reactive oxygen series. The brain is highly diverse organ in how it uses energy which means that it is also highly susceptible to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an accumulation of these free radicals in the body that can cause adverse effects. These free radicals can disturb the cell membranes in the brain (which are made up of types of fatty acids that are particularly susceptible), cause breaks in DNA, and can modify proteins (which disrupts their function). This is not good at all. The brain also makes minimal antioxidants on its own which increases its susceptibility.
This is where antioxidants come in. “Anti” means against and “oxidant” means oxidation. Therefore, antioxidants combat the free radicals that result from the oxidation of a particular molecule (it can be oxygen or other compounds). They are able to become oxidized themselves which essentially neutralizes the harmful free radical.
The body has its own antioxidant defense system which it activates when oxidative stress and damage is present. The molecules involved (mostly enzymes and other antioxidants) work to repair damaged DNA and remove oxidized proteins and lipids (fats). Antioxidants (from the diet or made in the body) help to protect the body in this way.
Here are several elements and vitamins involved in the body’s antioxidant systems:
– Selenium: Se plays a role in the antioxidant systems, thyroid function, and immune function. It is neuroprotective by inhibiting the destruction of neurons and anti-inflammatory.
– Zinc: Zn increases the activation of these enzymes involved in the antioxidant systems and inhibits the enzymes that cause oxidation.
– Vitamin C: Vitamin C can directly neutralize free radicals and repair other antioxidants.
– Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant itself and helps to protect from the oxidation of cell membranes (like discussed above) and also helps inhibit the destruction of neurons.
– Vitamin A: Vitamin A, and specifically carotenoids (that’s what makes carrots orange), also act as direct antioxidants.
Here are some good dietary sources of antioxidants:
– Polyphenols: Found in berries like blueberries, cherries, and strawberries, tea, chocolate, wine, and spinach.
– Selenium: Found in brazil nuts, fish, shellfish, beef, and poultry.
– Zinc: Found in oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, and poultry.
-Vitamin C: Found mostly in fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits (lemon, orange, etc.), cantaloupe, grapefruit, broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
– Vitamin E: Found in almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc.
– Carotenoids (think yellow, orange, and red): pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, tomato, mangoes, bell peppers, etc.
Welcome to the next installment of our series on brain healthy nutrients! This week we are going to talk about folate.
There are various B vitamins, but we are going to focus on folate (or folic acid which is the form found in fortified foods like cereal) which is vitamin B9. It is a water-soluble vitamin which means that it is difficult to develop folate toxicity from overconsumption. What role does folate play in the body? Folate, along with the other B vitamins, help enzyme reactions happen in your body that help to make DNA as well as red blood cells. It is also needed for your cells to divide properly and is essential for optimal brain function.
Folate is particularly known as an important nutrient for pregnant mamas to prevent neural tube defects in their children. While it is important in the growth and development of the brain and nervous system, it is also important later in life. Studies have shown correlation between sufficient folate and cognitive and academic performance in children.
There is also a lot of evidence linking deficient folate status, other B vitamins, and elevated concentrations of a compound called homocysteine (not normally a good sign) with cognitive decline in older adults.
Unfortunately, the folates naturally found in foods are often bound to proteins and because of their form, are not absorbed as well as the form typically found in supplements (folic acid). Consequently, only 44-80% of the folates found naturally in foods are absorbed into the blood (the rest are excreted); however the folic acid found in supplements are absorbed at nearly 100%. Although naturally occurring folates are not absorbed in the body as well as the form in supplements, it is still important to eat foods with folate.
Sources of folate in the diet:
– Beef liver: This is a nutrient powerhouse! 3 oz offers 54% of your daily requirement
– Vegetables: dark leafy greens (spinach), asparagus, Brussel sprouts
– Fruits: avocados and orange juice
– Beans and peas: black-eyed peas, green peas, kidney beans
– Folate supplements
Welcome to our series on brain healthy nutrients! This week we’re talking about omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s are not a particular kind of oil but a type of fatty acid that makes up an oily substance- most often found in fatty fish such as fresh salmon or sardines. It is called omega 3 because of its structure that gives it its beneficial properties. Omega-3’s have been found to have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and have been studied as treatment for various psychiatric disorders.
A particular kind of omega-3 called DHA is particularly beneficial in cognitive function. These fatty acids make up 30% of the membranes in the brain and therefore crucial for membrane integrity. They also help to support the receptors in the brain that enable transmissions to be sent and received in the brain and control the storage and release of certain neurotransmitters- both improving and impacting cognitive function. Other studies link deficient intakes of omega-3’s to impaired utilization of glucose in the brain which impacts learning and memory processing.
Low levels of omega-3’s are linked to various inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, ADHD, anxiety disorders, etc. However, an optimal concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is crucial for the balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory processes in the body. Most Americans are deficient in omega-3’s and eat a diet high in omega-6’s (found mostly in vegetable oils). However, both are necessary for optimal health.
Here are some ways that you can eat more omega-3 fatty acids:
– Eat fatty fish preferably from a fresh, wild caught source: salmon, mackerel, or sardines (even just 1-2 servings a week is beneficial)
– Nuts and seeds: Flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts. Although these foods often have their nutrients tied up by compounds meant to protect them, soaked or “activated” nuts/seeds are often a better choice.
– Seed oils: flaxseed oil.
– Omega-3 supplement: Make sure the source is high quality. Lifestream offers a high quality omega-3 supplement in oil and capsule form.