Ms. A, a 43-year-old woman was facing a lot of health complications for the past few years. Her husband recently noticed that she had gained weight, and her memory and attention span was getting worse, giving rise to a lot of mental stress. When taken for a health checkup, the doctor said that her condition was due to her unhealthy lifestyle. She was advised to have a balanced diet with proper amounts of proteins, vitamins, and carbohydrates. During her follow-up visits, there was an improvement in her weight, mood, and cognitive functions.
From the above case, it is clear that the food we consume influences our body, both physically and mentally.
From the previous blogs, we know how important our brain is, and thus, it is essential to keep it in the best working condition. Understanding nutrients’ effects on our body will help us understand the role of a balanced diet in improving our brain health and promoting mental fitness. The nutritious food we eat plays a role in keeping our brain healthy and can improve execution functions like memory, attention, and many other crucial functions necessary for our daily lives.
Nutrition in food can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic connections, fluid membrane exchange, or signal transmission. Several gut hormones, namely, lepton, insulin, ghrelin, can enter the brain and influence cognitive ability, cognitive processes, and influence emotions.
Give a thought about this: the human brain is always “on.” It looks after our thoughts, movements, breathing, heartbeat, senses, even while we are asleep. This means our brain requires a supply of “fuel” round the clock. So, how do we get that fuel? We get from the foods we consume and what is in that food makes a lot of difference. Simply stated, what we eat directly affects our brain’s function and, ultimately, our life.
Just like how we use premium fuel for our expensive car to function at its best, our brain also needs fuel. Eating foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain. But, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. If unwanted substances from processed and refined foods get to the brain, its health deteriorates. Consuming foods that have highly refined sugars are harmful to the brain. It can worsen our body’s regulation of insulin and promote inflammation and stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impairments in brain functions — and even a worsening of psychological symptoms like mood disorders and depression.
As there is no magic pill to overcome cognitive decline, no single good food can ensure a sharp brain as we age. A balanced diet and conscious eating are the keys. Certain foods, particularly those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and antioxidants, support brain health, leading to better functionality. Including these foods in our daily diet can improve your brain’s health, translating into better mental function.
Even though food is a means to provide energy and build material to the body, its ability to prevent and protect against diseases and improve brain function is also recognized. Research says that there is a direct influence of nutrition in food on maintaining good mental function. Research also indicates that the effects of diet on the brain are integrated with the actions of other lifestyle modalities, such as exercise and sleep.
Over the years, it’s been proved that a healthy balanced diet with other aspects of daily living, such as exercise, has had a crucial role in shaping cognitive capacity and brain reserve. It also has the potential to alter our cognitive health. For example, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and collards are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin k, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these foods may help slow cognitive decline and help in memory improvement.
With all this, now we know the importance of food, how foods alter cognitive abilities and how patterns of consumption affect the brain, and many more.
Now, let us now understand how nutrition and the brain are interconnected through the following points:
Overheating certain foods with high sugar content at a young age can sensitize the brain’s neuroinflammatory response. This may cause cognitive dysfunctions and decline. Thus, it is essential to follow a balanced diet.
Researchers continue to prove that you are what you eat. A recent study established that there is a strong connection between our gut and brain. The vagus nerve physically links our intestine and brain to communicate with one another.
Gut bacteria produce many neurochemicals. Importantly, serotonin is a mood stabilizer. Failing to keep the bacteria in our guts in condition with a healthy diet may lead to depression.
Long-term consumption of saturated fatty foods causes a glucocorticoid rise in the hippocampus, leading to learning and memory vulnerabilities.
The imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 contributes to neurodevelopmental disorders by altering microglial activation, resulting in abnormal neuronal networks and activity formation. Researchers have also shown that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can increase the risk of several mental disorders, including attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, dementia, depression, and bipolar schizophrenia.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables high in polyphenols can prevent and reverse age-related cognitive deficits by lowering stress and anxiety issues.
Collectively, now we know how important it is to know about the food we eat and consume it consciously. It is very much needed for lasting impact and improving our cognition throughout life. Further, with simple dietary changes, we can maintain our brain health and its functions.
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Author: Sandhya Basu