Can nutrition boost brain function?

By Professor David Russell and Charlotte Harbour, registered nutritional therapist (BSc, mBANT, CNHC)

It goes without saying that the ingestion of food delivers energy to our hard-working brains – in fact, did you know that your brain alone consumes around 20% of your overall caloric requirement (on average, 300kcal – 400kcal per day). That’s a lot for an organ that weighs just 3lbs!

What we want to know is whether nutritionally dense ways of eating, or specific foods, can enhance our brain function – a particularly interesting subject at the beginning of a new academic year. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to influence our levels of attention and memory?

Excitingly, the answer to this question is yes – we can boost our brain function through food and specific edible elements. Research indicates that, naturally, we are a long way off ‘prescribing’ nootropic agents (substances that may improve cognitive function), but there is evidence to demonstrate their effectiveness in areas such as the prevention of age-related memory decline and, interestingly, even for attention disorders such as ADHD.

Indeed, observational and interventional studies have demonstrated that the diets which prevent or mitigate age-related cognitive decline contain high quantities of vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. These constituents might help to improve memory function by reducing inflammatory processes and oxidative stress (too many unstable molecules and not enough antioxidants) within the brain.

Furthermore, an interesting study from 2018 in Taiwan took the blood samples from 216 children with ADHD and, when compared to a ‘healthy’ control, found the ADHD children had significantly lower serum levels of b-vitamins and monounsaturated fatty acids but higher levels of saturated fatty acids and omega 6. Children with ADHD had more intake of nutrient-poor foods such as high sugar and high fat foods, and had less intake of vegetables, fruit and protein-rich foods than their counterparts.

What does this tell us? A generalised assumption from this research is that a nutrient-dense diet which is rich in vegetables, quality proteins and fats is beneficial to brain health. Furthermore, ingestion of nootropic agents such as l-theanine, found in green tea, are also beneficial to brain function. We’ll discuss more on this topic over on our LinkedIn page, Russell Partnership Collection. We’d love to carry on the conversation with you there…


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