Your brain, weighing about 3 pounds, is the most complex biological structure known. As with any of your internal organs, your brain has certain nutritional requirements for optimal health.To keep your brain functioning well, choose a balanced, varied diet that contains generous amounts of brain-healthy foods.
Your brain is made up of two-thirds fats and requires a steady supply of high-quality fatty acids to keep cell membranes intact and insulate nerves. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flax and walnut oils, are the best fats for brain health. Diets high in these fats may help prevent degenerative brain conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and decrease your risk for depression, according to The Franklin Institute for Science. Phosphatidyl serine, a lipid molecule your body makes by combining fatty acids with phosphate, is an important component of cell membranes and is found in particularly high concentrations in the brain. Phosphatidyl serine keeps cell membranes flexible and helps speed the transmission of nerve impulses.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, protect delicate brain structures from free-radical damage, particularly to the fats that insulate nerve cells and comprise a large portion of the brain, according to Dr. Shari Lieberman, co-author of the book “User’s Guide to Brain-Boosting Supplements: Learn about the Vitamins and Other Nutrients That Can Boost Your Memory and End Mental Fuzziness.” A laboratory animal study published in the September 2012 issue of the journal “Endocrine” found that vitamin E supplementation in combination with drug therapy for low thyroid function helped reduce damage to the brain caused by increased oxidation associated with condition. Vitamin E supplementation resulted in significantly elevated levels of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase.
B-complex vitamins keep your brain healthy by reducing levels of homocysteine, a byproduct of protein metabolism that promotes inflammation in the brain and body. Excess homocysteine can cause inflammation within blood vessel walls, decreasing blood supply to the brain, and can also directly damage brain cells that control coordination and reaction speed, notes Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “The Better Brain Book: The Best Tools for Improving Memory and Sharpness and Preventing Aging of the Brain.”
High-protein foods help to balance blood sugar and ensure a steady supply of glucose to the brain. Tyrosine, an amino acid in protein foods, such as meat, fish and tofu, is a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that affect your moods and energy levels. L-tryptophan, in poultry, milk and eggs is a precursor of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter that boosts mood and improves the quality of your sleep. Glutamine, found in many protein-rich foods, contributes to the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, an important neurotransmitter for reducing anxiety.