We know that deficiencies in B2 or B12 can cause mental confusion, neuropathy and dementia. Lesser known is that nerve impulses and other critical functions in the brain can be impacted by deficiencies in magnesium, zinc or fatty acids. Deficiencies in certain minerals or vitamins and/or toxicity (as seen in mercury, lead and cadmium poisoning) can cause decreased mental functioning. To have optimal mental health in terms of cognitive abilities, protection from oxidative damage and counteracting the effects of aging we need a balanced diet. The some of the best foods to eat daily are those with omega-3 fatty acids and those rich in tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine, antioxidants and folate.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to increase memory and protect against disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and dementia. Deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in cold water fish, walnuts, flax and other foods. If you are going to take a supplement, ensure that the manufacturing date is less than 6 months old and they are stored in a dark bottle at refrigerated temperatures.
Foods high in the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine and methionine
Tryptophan is metabolized into serotonin, the feel good chemical. High levels of brain serotonin are associated with increased feelings of peace and well-being, better sleep and increased cognitive abilities. Foods rich in tryptophan include whole grains, turkey meat, milk, nuts, eggs, and fish. Tyrosine is an amino acid that promotes memory, drive, ambition and mental alertness. Tyrosine has also shown beneficial effects in the treatment of depression. Tyrosine converts to dopamine which converts into adrenalin and norepinephrine. With adequate amounts of adrenalin you feel a sense of purpose, pleasure and gratification. Foods rich in tyrosine are spirulina, spinach, turkey, and cottage cheese. Methionine is an essential amino acid required for growth in infants and proper nitrogen balance in adults; it functions to increase immunity, enhance mood, and improve outlook. If methionine levels are low in the diet you may experience seizures, spasticity, Parkinson’s, depression and some forms of osteoporosis. Methionine as a dietary supplement, has been effective in the treatment of bipolar depressive disorder. Foods rich in methionine are fish, eggs, cottage cheese, peanuts and sesame seeds.
Environmental toxins can damage cell membranes and make the body more susceptible to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, cataracts, mood disorders and allergies. The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage and cell damage increases with age (it’s compounding daily). Antioxidants protect the body against cell membrane damage and slow aging. Antioxidants include vitamins C, E, and A, minerals zinc and selenium and other nutrients such as CoQ10 and alpha-lipoic acid. Vitamin C plays a role in fighting stress and is found in nearly all fruit and vegetables. It’s also one of the antioxidants that fights the free radicals shown to cause cancer. Raw nuts or nut butters are a good source of vitamin E as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B2. Vitamin E fights the free radicals associated with stress, and in particular, those that cause heart disease. Other antioxidants such as glutathione, CoQ10 and phosphatidyl serine are also helpful as supplements.
Folate is found in various foods, including spinach, orange juice and yeast. Adequate levels of folate are essential for brain function, and folate deficiency can lead to neurological disorders such as depression and cognitive impairment. Folate has been shown to be effective in preventing cognitive decline and dementia during aging and enhancing the effects of antidepressants. The results of a recent randomized clinical trial indicate that a three-year folate supplementation can help reduce the age-related decline in cognitive function. Ensure you are taking folate and not folic acid for the highest bioavailability and benefits.
In addition to a healthy diet, you also need to exercise, not only your body, but your brain itself. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the theory that mentally demanding activities can help reduce your risk factors for dementia. Mental stimulation can be from playing games such as scrabble, backgammon, or chess, playing a musical instrument or doing crossword puzzles. Find an enjoyable hobby that is mentally stimulating. Herbs known to increase mental stamina are turmeric, ginko biloba, milk thistle, hawthorne, and ginsing.