To operate optimally, the brain needs a consistent supply of nutrients to maintain its health and functionality. But certain nutrients support the brain’s structure more than others. These nutrients are powerful supporting elements for the brain: omega-3 fats, B-Complex vitamins, magnesium, vitamin E, and potassium. There are certainly others, and the “Mediterranean diet” low in processed food, low in sugar and red meats, and high in the elements noted above have proven to support brain and mental health. Let’s learn more.
Omega-3 fats, DHA in particular, are essential structural components for your brain. Your brain is composed of billions of cells, and over half of their composition is fats—25 percent of which is DHA. So providing your brain with a sufficient level and quality of DHA gives it the building blocks it needs to maintain its structure.
Regarding brain health and cognitive function, DHA is a critical structural ingredient in breast milk. Many researchers believe the DHA is a significant reason babies who have been breastfed than formula-fed babies score higher on IQ tests.
DHA is also found in high levels in neurons. Neurons comprise the cells of your central nervous system and provide structural support for the brain. If you have inadequate omega-3 intake, your nerve cells become more prone to inflammation because your body substitutes less effective cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become inflamed, optimum neurotransmission from cell to cell and within the cells of your brain become compromised.
Consuming omega-3 fats are essential to your diet because your body does not produce them naturally. Instead, your brain must get them from your daily diet. So which foods provide quality omega-3s? Fish, liver, and even brain. While the brain may not be appetizing to many in the West, fish is abundant and an outstanding food source for DHA.
Effects of Omegas and DHA on Mental Health
The influence of nutrients, including omega-3 fats, on mental health has received more and more research since the 1980s. The study is now compelling – omega-3 fats support the reduction of symptoms for various psychiatric and degenerative brain disorders. For example, research shows low DHA levels are linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
More promising research shows that degenerative conditions can not only be prevented but also potentially reversed. In one study, 485 elderly volunteers suffering from memory deficits saw significant improvement after taking 900 mg of DHA per day for 24 weeks, compared with controls.
Another study found significant improvement in verbal fluency scores after taking 800 mg of DHA per day for four months compared with placebo. Furthermore, memory and learning rate was significantly improved when DHA was combined with 12 mg of lutein per day.
Interestingly, research suggests that the unsaturated fatty acid composition of normal brain tissue is age-specific, which could imply that the older you get, the greater your need for animal-based omega-3 fat to prevent mental decline and brain degeneration.
To supplement our western culture’s low omega-3 diet, a high-quality omega-3 supplement can be an excellent source of omegas. There are many quality producers of omega supplements. One, which we trust at The Center, is Renew Life’s Super Critical Omega, providing over 1,000 mg of omega-3s per capsule and 1,000 IUs of vitamin D.
Proteins and Cognitive Function
Getting enough proteins in your diet helps maintain cognitive function. Proteins provide you with essential amino acids, including tyrosine and tryptophan. Your body uses both to produce neurotransmitters — brain-signaling chemicals required for cognition.
Vitamins That Support Cognitive Function
A balanced, vitamin-rich diet helps keep your brain functioning properly to support cognition. Several B-vitamins, including vitamins B-3, B-6, and B-12, help your body convert tryptophan into neurotransmitters. Vitamin B-12 also keeps your brain cells coated with myelin, a fatty substance that helps your nerves communicate effectively. The Franklin Institute reports that vitamins C and E show indications of helping preserve cognitive function as you age and help fight dementia, a condition characterized by decreased cognition and personality changes.
What can you eat to provide B vitamins? Plant-based sources include dried beans and other legumes and orange juice. Fortified bread, rice, and cereals can also be good sources. However, vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) is only found naturally in animal-based foods – fish, red meat, poultry, milk, milk products, cheese, and eggs. Therefore, we recommend eating more fish and non-dairy products to obtain vitamin B12. Salmon is an excellent source, containing many nutrients required for cognition like protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, vitamin E, and potassium.
Minerals That Support Cognitive Function
Your cognitive functioning also relies on minerals from your diet. Appropriate amounts of sodium, potassium, and calcium all help your brain cells produce electrochemical signals that transmit information between nerve cells. Magnesium is also a fundamental layer in contributing to cognition. Like vitamin B-12, magnesium helps maintain your myelin sheath and activates enzymes that your brain cells need to produce usable energy. This provides the power “current” they need to function.
Your Brain, Cognitive Function, and Your Diet
Some foods are particularly dense with cognition-friendly nutrients. For example, mentioned above, salmon is an excellent source of multiple essential cognitive supporting elements for the brain. Kale is another excellent food source to support cognition, providing protein, B-vitamins, and calcium.
If you believe you are experiencing a decrease in cognitive function, check your diet and nutrient intake. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor about your symptoms. Cognitive decline can develop from a variety of causes. While a supportive diet is always a good plan, a trained medical professional should determine the root cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan, if warranted.
 Alzheimer’s and Dementia 2010 Nov;6(6):456-64
 Nutritional Neuroscience 2008 Apr;11(2):75-83