7 Foods to Boost Your Brain Health
By Dr. Maria Maricich
A healthy brain is crucial to just about everything you do—from remembering important passwords to using reasoning skills to keeping your emotions in check.
It’s now common knowledge that there are certain foods and supplements that can enhance brain (cognitive) function and memory. And of course, there are some that do the opposite.
As someone with a personal and professional mission to enhance cognitive function and stop Alzheimer’s, I have learned there are many factors that play a role. Reducing toxic load, exercising, getting enough sleep, balancing blood sugar and reducing inflammation are all important. But food can be powerful in and of itself.
Here are 7 of my favorite cognition- and memory-boosting foods.
Choline is necessary for synthesis of neurotransmitters, especially acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is involved in learning and memory. Aricept, an Alzheimer’s drug, works by increasing acetylcholine in the brain.
Choline also is important in methylation, which protects genes and prevents bad ones like the Alzheimer’s gene from activating.
Inadequate choline levels are associated with heart disease, inflammation and memory loss. Most people do not consume enough choline in the diet.
Egg yolks are the most abundant source of choline in the American diet. Organ meats are another excellent source. One egg contains only 125mg and the average person needs over 400mg.(R) Therefore, it may be useful to also supplement with choline containing nutrients like Alpha-GPC and phosphatidylcholine.
- Dark leafy greens and other colorful vegetables
Eating a diet filled with colorful veggies improves the health of the microbiome, all those bacteria that live in your gut. We know that the microbiome has profound effects on the brain and overall health. (R)
Dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach are a top source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that have been the focus of numerous recent studies.
In volunteers, supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin led to faster processing speed. (R) This effect was significant “even when testing young, healthy individuals who tend to be at peak efficiency,” wrote study authors.
A number of studies have observed links between dietary polyphenols and the prevention of age-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative conditions. (R) Berries are rich in polyphenols.
Blueberries are rich in a class of compounds called anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect the brain against aging (equating to up to 2.5 years for the highest level of berry consumption) in human observational studies. (R)
- Dark chocolate
There is now good evidence that cognitive function and blood flow benefit from consuming cocoa. Cacao, the raw form, is even better. This memory boost may be partly explained by cocoa’s ability to increase blood flow to the brain, (R) as well as enhance functioning of the dentate gyrus, a region of the brain’s memory center where neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) is known to occur.
In a study of nearly 1,000 people of all ages, habitual chocolate consumption was significantly associated with stronger cognitive function “irrespective of other dietary habits.” More frequent chocolate consumption was “significantly associated with better performance on [cognitive tests including] visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination”. (R)
I enjoy approximately one 85% chocolate bar every week.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
In a large, randomized control trial, people who added an additional liter of extra-virgin olive oil per week to diets that resembled a healthy “Mediterranean-style” (typically defined as being high in vegetables, fish, and legumes, and low in sugar, refined carbs, and processed oils) showed improved cognitive function over six years compared to placebo. (R)
In a mouse model of accelerating aging and neurodegeneration, extra-virgin olive oil corrected learning deficits (compared to butter) and enhanced memory and reduced oxidative stress in the brain in part by boosting levels of glutathione, the body’s most potent antioxidant. (R)
- Fatty fish
Many studies have shown a link between fish consumption, brain health, and better memory function. Fatty fish (such as wild salmon or sardines) are rich in omega-3 fats, which can assist in optimal brain function. There are two types of omega-3 fats found in the fat of fish: DHA, which is essential for healthy neuronal membranes, and EPA, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
EPA, in particular, is useful for fighting inflammation, which is increasingly implicated as an underlying mechanism of depression. When people were injected with inflammation-promoting chemicals, they experienced a reduction in cognitive function and mood. They also felt the sensation of anhedonia—a reduced ability to experience pleasure. However, in another study, when people were given a supplement containing EPA at the same time as such inflammation-instigating chemicals, these effects were significantly reduced. (R)
Dr. Maria is a Functional Medicine Doctor and a Doctor of Chiropractic. In her 29 years of practice in Ketchum, Dr. Maria’s passion has been to offer the most up-to-date approaches to optimal health and wellbeing. Functional Medicine and Functional Neurology are new emerging fields of medicine. Their objective is to find dysfunction that leads to disease, rather than disease itself. Treating the dysfunction by natural means allows the body to heal itself whether disease is present, or a person just knows they aren’t their best. It is also one of the best anti-aging measures available. She can be reached at 208-726-6010 or visit her website.