The brain is the most important organ in the body. Without it, we can’t eat, breath, keep our heart beating, think, or experience the things in the world that make life worth living.
Despite how important it is, it’s often forgotten when it comes to nutrition.
Until recently, no one even realized what we eat could have any effect on brain function and health. Research in the last decade has completely changed how we think about diet and the brain.
Here are 6 scientifically backed things you need in your diet if you want to promote optimal brain health and prevent cognitive decline with aging.
1) Green Tea
Green tea comes from a type of small tree called Camelia Senensis. When its leaves and leaf buds are steeped in hot water, catechins dissolve from the plant into the water. Catechins are biologically active and are responsible for medicinal effects associated with green tea. There are four main types: EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC.
EGCG is the most abundant and the most well researched. It makes up 60% of total catechins. EGC is the second most abundant and makes up 20%, followed by ECG (14%) and EC (6%).
Studies suggest brain activity increases for up to 2 hours after it is ingested, and rats injected with EGCG have lower anxiety and perform better at learning and memory tasks.
Catechins has three described molecular targets: COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), NADPH oxidase, and 67-kDa laminin receptor. It’s unclear whether the effects on brain activity, anxiety, learning, and memory are linked to these molecules.
COMT is an enzyme that generally prevents excessive elevation of other molecules. Catechins inhibit and facilitate COMT, which means the action of catechins on COMT likely relies on the conditions at the specific time.
NADPH oxidase is an enzyme that produces free radicals. Catechins inhibit NADPH oxidase, which could reduce oxidative stress.
67-kda laminin receptor is highly expressed on cancer cells. Scientists have yet to learn if the association between EGCG and this protein is activating or inhibitory.
2) Gingko Biloba
Gingko biloba is a large tree originally found in China. Its leaves contain phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, flavonoid glycosides, terpene trilactones, biflavones, and alkylphenols. All of these phytochemicals can be found in gingko leaf extracts.
Gingko biloba is the most commonly ingested herb for brain health. It can prevent neurons from dying and being damaged by the protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease (β-amyloid protein); it reduces anxiety, stress, and depression; improves attention; and it improves memory and cognitive performance in older adults with cognitive impairment or decline.
Gingko biloba activates the pregnane X receptor (PXR).
PXR senses the presence of toxic substances and responds by increasing the expression of proteins that can detoxify and clear toxic substances from the body. Supplements with gingko could promote detox.
Turmeric is a flowering plant. Its roots are commonly used as a spice in curry, but the yellow pigment, called curcumin, found throughout the plant has medicinal properties.
Turmeric and curcumin are both packaged as supplements.
Curcumin has many targets. It influences the function AP-1 and inhibits mTOR, DNA polymerase λ, focal adhesion kinase, Src, p300, thioredoxin reductase, lipoxygenase, tubulin, 17beta-HSD3, 5-α reductase, and glycogen synthase kinase-3β.
L-carnosine is a building block of protein naturally produced in the body. It helps maintain the proper function and development of muscle tissue, the heart, the brain, and many other parts of the body.
In the brain, L-carnosine performs several different functions: it protects against free radical damage, helps maintain normal brain function, and plays regulatory roles. Researchers think the role this molecule adopts depends on the area of the brain, the brain cell type, and the biochemical mechanisms controlling it.
While it’s unclear how L-carnosine works in the brain, it is clear that it works. L-carnosine prevents damage that occurs as a result of stroke; it prevents symptom development in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy; and it aids learning and cognition.
5) Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is a mitochondrial compound. Mitochondria are organelles found within all cells of the body. An organelle to a cell is what the heart is to the body. The heart is an organ that helps the whole body function. An organelle helps the cell function.
Mitochondria produce the majority of the energy the cell needs. Lipoic acid is highly involved in the production of this energy.
As a supplement, lipoic acid protects against neurological decline that comes with aging. It is thought to do this mainly by preventing free radical damage, which increases as the body ages.
Citicoline is a nucleotide found naturally in the body. A nucleotide is one of the building blocks of DNA and RNA, but in this case the nucleotide citicoline is acting as an intermediate in the biological pathway that produces phospholipids (the structures that make up the lipid membrane of cells).
Scientists have been testing citicoline as a treatment for several neurological conditions. These include traumatic brain injuries, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain aging. Results have been quite promising.
The molecule is likely working by stabilizing cell membranes of cells in the brain, reducing free radical damage with its antioxidant capabilities, and stimulating the release of beneficial neurotransmitters.
Sources and further reading
Green Tea – Examine
Gingko Biloba – Examine
Turmeric – Examine