Tag Archive for: brain and nerve health

As modern neuroscience delves deeper into the complexities of the human brain, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, remains a key player in this intricate biochemical orchestra.

GABA has become a popular supplement ingredient because it promotes a calm nervous system and feelings of relaxation. If you’re curious about how it works, you’re in the right place. This article discusses your brain’s physiology, GABA’s role, and how to support healthy GABA levels in your brain.

What Is GABA?

GABA is an amino acid neurotransmitter, meaning it delivers messages from one nerve cell to the next. Specifically, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It blocks messages and controls the speed at which communication takes place throughout the nervous system.

Your brain’s network of GABA-using neurons is the GABAergic system. Much like a brake pedal or a regulator, this system can:

  • Slow down the flow of information
  • Reduce the activity of other neurotransmitters
  • Decrease the stimulation of nerve cells in the brain

Feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear are associated with nerve cell hyperactivity and over-stimulation. That’s why GABA is most-known for promoting relaxation and calm feelings.

GABA’s Health Benefits

Neuroscience can get quite technical. So, let’s zoom out and talk about the overall effect of GABA on your body and mind.

Mental Health

A big part of your mental well-being depends on your ability to process all the sensory information your brain is constantly receiving in an organized way. This is exactly what GABA does in the brain. When your GABA levels are healthy your nervous system can regulate itself, keeping your mind calm and balanced.


GABA also plays a key role in sleep regulation. As bedtime approaches, your GABAergic system ramps up its activity, quieting your nervous system and promoting a sense of calm. This helps you transition from being awake into the first stage of sleep and so on. Hormones, like melatonin, work by targeting GABA receptors to increase the GABAergic system’s activity to calm your mind.


Alcohol is known to enhance GABAergic activity, which is partly responsible for its sedative effects. While a couple drinks may cause feelings of relaxation, chronic alcohol use can disrupt the GABAergic system. Over time heavy alcohol use may reduce the production of GABA in your brain and throughout your body. These effects increase the risk of mental health concerns, sleep issues, and alcohol abuse.

Get Your GABA Supplementation

Some GABA-rich food sources include brown rice, spinach, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Various supplements are available, too. GABA is made in the body naturally, and supplementation is considered safe. It is recommended that anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their primary care physician before taking GABA.

Studies have shown no major adverse effects from taking up to three grams of GABA in one day. The typical dosage in studies of long-term GABA use is around 120 milligrams. However, your specific dosage may vary by age, gender, and the reason you’re taking GABA. Read product labels carefully and follow their instructions—and always check with your doctor if you have any questions about what dosage is right for you.

A Path for Sustained Mental and Emotional Health

GABA is crucial to the intricate world of neurobiology. Its role as a neurotransmitter maintains the delicate balance between excitement and inhibition in your nervous system. As researchers continue to learn more about the human brain, GABA may provide a pathway towards sustained mental and emotional health for countless people.

Everything you remember, from the meaningful to the mundane, shapes how you see the world…and yourself. In many ways, your memories make you who you are.

But let’s set the philosophical aside for a moment and talk practical. Throughout your day, it’s your memory that lets you perform simple tasks like finding your keys or recognizing a coworker. And, of course, memory is also essential to learning.

Although the ability to recall and process memories naturally slows down with age, there are steps you can take to help keep your memory sharp. Let’s take a deep dive into how memory works and what you can do to improve it.

Memory and the Brain–How Does It Work?

Memory is the processing, storage, and recall of information. Your brain is always deciding what information is worth storing—and for how long. For example, you probably can’t remember every item on last month’s grocery list, but as you wrote it, you easily recalled what was missing from your pantry. And yet there are likely events from years ago—decades, even—that you remember with perfect clarity.

This recall is controlled by your long-term and short-term memory. Short-term memories are only stored for a brief period of time—usually a matter of seconds or minutes. While long-term memories are stored more or less permanently.

This leads us to the big, looming question: how are these memories stored?

Different regions of your brain perform separate tasks. Olfaction (your sense of smell), for instance, is handled in your brain’s temporal lobe. But visual processing takes place in the occipital lobe. Your memories often include diverse details like visual, auditory, and other sensory information—not to mention the associated emotions. Because of this, the rich variety of information that makes up a memory is stored throughout your brain.

So how does your brain keep track of all of these pieces? Enter the hippocampus. This brain structure is found deep in the temporal lobe. And it’s responsible to keep a running index of your memories and their elemental parts.

The final piece of the memory puzzle is the one we’re most familiar with: recall. So how exactly do you summon up stored memories? The answer: neural pathways. Your brain is made up of neurons using electrical and chemical signals to transmit information. With each new experience, multiple regions of your brain connect and communicate to create a new and unique neural pathway. When you remember something, your brain is simply recreating this pathway as a memory.

Why Does Memory Deteriorate

As mentioned, memory may naturally decline with age. This doesn’t necessarily mean your ability to form new memories is declining, but rather your brain’s ability to recall existing memories slows down. This is, in part, due to the deterioration of neurons in your brain.

With age, the communication between neurons that’s crucial to memory recall can become less efficient. It is not that your brain can no longer form the necessary neurological pathways, the process just takes a little longer than it used to.

Of course, other outside factors can also impact your ability to recall memories. These include sleep deprivation, stress, head trauma, and other neurological conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Keep Your Memory Healthy

Struggling to recall a memory that feels just out of reach can be frustrating, inconvenient, and, at times, embarrassing. Thankfully, there are ways to help boost your memory and keep your recall sharp as a tack:

  1. Stay physically active: It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to keep your brain active is to keep your body in motion. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, helping to keep your neurons healthy and happy. Studies show that as little as 15 minutes of exercise can lead to observable improvements in cognition and memory. Regular exercise—between 75–150 minutes per week—has been tied to improved memory function in adults.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep: Sleep plays a vital, albeit mysterious, role in memory encoding and processing. Although its exact role in memory function is still being explored, most scientists agree sleep allows your brain to store and process new memories from the day. But it’s not just new memories that sleep can help. Lack of sleep can also impact your ability to recall existing memories. To give your brain the rest it needs, try to get between 7–9 hours of sleep each night.
  3. Eat a well-balanced diet: You’ve probably heard it said, but it’s worth repeating—you are what you eat. Your diet can impact many aspects of your life, including your neurological function. Nutritious, vitamin-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, can give your brain the fuel it needs to keep functioning as it should. And on the flip side, foods such as sugars, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates have been tied to cognitive decline and, in some cases, increased risk of dementia.
  4. Read a book: Your brain (and memory) is like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Creating new neural pathways keeps your neurons in tip-top shape. One great way to exercise your neurons is reading a book. Reading also decreases stress and improves concentration—both of which can have a positive impact on your memory.
  5. Try to stay organized: Clutter, both physical and mental, can negatively impact your ability to remember things. If you keep your working and living spaces tidy, it‘s easier to remember where you set your phone, keys, or wallet. Similarly, a planner can help keep you mentally organized, making it easier to remember appointments, tasks, and other responsibilities.
  6. Get plenty of vitamins B and D: If you’re eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, there’s a good chance you’re already getting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals to help maintain your health. When it comes to your memory, you want to get enough vitamin B and D. These two nutrients have been tied to reduced rates of dementia and may play a vital role in keeping your memory working properly.
  7. Limit your alcohol consumption: Alcohol can affect your health in a number of ways, but one of the more obviously affected areas is your memory. If you drink excessively you run the risk of “blacking out”—or temporarily losing the ability to store new memories. That’s why after a night of heavy drinking some people struggle to remember the evening clearly. Although these effects may not be permanent, drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining completely is one of the best ways to look out for your memory.

Memory Exercises: Tips and Tricks for Improving Your Memory

The tips above are great general lifestyle changes to keep your memory sharp. But how can you strengthen your ability to store and recall information in real-time? If you struggle to memorize details, or simply want to improve your recall, give these strategies a shot:

  1. Use memory associations: The human brain is a wonderful and mysterious organ capable of making connections between just about anything—related or not. And these connections can help you store and recall information. When committing new information to memory, try associating it with something unrelated. A new coworker’s name, for instance, could be connected to the song playing when you met. As your brain goes to remember your coworker’s name, this connection may help speed up the process.
  2. Say the information out loud: Whether you are trying to remember a phone number, studying for a test, or committing directions to memory, saying the information out loud can help it stick.
  3. Chunk the information: Rather than trying to remember a series of individual data points, you might find it easier to recall information organized into groups. Known as chunking, this strategy is often applied to phone numbers: many people memorize these as a set of three and a set of four, not as seven individual numbers. Chunking can be applied in a variety of ways—simply break information into smaller sets to tackle one at a time.
  4. Write it down: Hand-writing information has a similar effect as speaking it out loud. That is, it can make information easier to remember later on. Writing things out on paper can be especially helpful and even a more effective memory tool than taking digital notes on a laptop.

Practice some of these tips and watch your memory sharpen. The next time you’re running late for work and scrambling to get out the door, you can reach for your keys confidently because they’ll be right where you remember leaving them.

puzzle solving

puzzle solving

Aging is inevitable. Worrying about your brain health as the years start adding up doesn’t have to be.

It is true that getting older impacts your brain. Aging has some minor impact on memory as your brain and body change. But you have the power to protect your brain health as the years add up. The solution: developing healthy behaviors now to keep yourself mentally sharp and cementing good brain habits for the future.

Brain Health Behavior 1: Target the Right Food for Brain Health

When people hear “healthy nutrition,” fats are the last macronutrient many might think about. However, the right kind of fats are critical for your brain health! In fact, more than half your brain is made up of fat.

Healthy fats (those coming from plants and certain fish) are vital for the structure and function of your brain and its cells. The best source of these essential fats are omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like nuts, seeds, and fatty, oily fish—like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines.

In addition to the right fats, a brain-healthy diet also includes plenty green leafy vegetables (like spinach), veggies like broccoli, and berries.

A simple trick for supporting brain health is swapping foods like bread or mashed potatoes for healthier alternatives. A side of green vegetables or mashed cauliflower are good options. Also switch out your snacks by reaching for nuts and seeds instead of chips and cookies. Another tip when meal planning is to aim for two or three servings of fish for healthy proteins and the fats you read about above.

Brain Health Behavior 2: Exercise!

Your brain uses up more energy than any other organ in the body. To get that energy in the right place, your heart supplies your brain with nutrients and oxygen through lots of blood.

Protecting your heart and blood vessels is one key way you can make sure your brain has the energy it needs. And exercise is one healthy behavior proven to maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels. When you exercise, your body pumps more blood throughout the body, including to the brain.

When you exercise, vary the type of physical activity and your routine from day to day. A combination of different types of exercises can help keep you interested and mentally stimulated.

For example, you could do aerobic exercises like jump rope, swimming, or walking one day. Then resistance training exercises—like weightlifting—are tackled another day. You can even switch it up within the same routine. Whatever gets your body moving and keeps your mind engaged!

Brain Health Behavior 3: Seek Quality Sleep

One of the best ways to support your brain health as you age is tucking in for six to eight hours of uninterrupted quality sleep every night. This healthy slumber gives your brain enough time to process the experiences of your day and perform natural repair functions.

Think of it like required daily maintenance for a sensitive and powerful machine. If you skip out on maintenance, you risk damaging the machine’s parts. Eventually, that means having a device that doesn’t work as well as it should.

Regularly skimping on quality sleep can have serious consequences later in life. One study found that people who consistently slept six hours or less every night were at a 30% higher chance of developing cognitive issues.

If you find yourself having trouble with sleep, your environment might be the culprit. Put away phones and other screens an hour or two before bed. The light from these devices can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

Other factors in your environment can impact your ability to get some shut eye: the temperature, ambient light, sounds, or pets. You should also avoid using your bed for activities that don’t need to happen in a bed (like working from home), so your brain won’t associate being in bed with performing other tasks.

Your behaviors before bed can also affect your sleep cycle. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the evening and stick as close as possible to the same sleep-wake schedule every day.

Brain Health Behavior 4: Stimulate Your Mind Every Day

Your brain is always growing and adapting to every experience you go through. To keep your brain healthy, you must encourage it to continue learning and growing.

There are many activities that can be counted as brain-health exercises to stimulate your mind and keep your brain healthy and adaptable. For example, try something new! Pick up some knitting needles, a paint brush, a new food recipe, a musical instrument, or a pen and paper. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good at the skill; it only matters that you do it and let yourself enjoy it.

Brain Health Behavior 5: Spend Time in Nature

Urban life is incredibly busy. There’s traffic, other people, loud sounds, and myriad of sources of information for your brain to process nonstop.

While mental stimulation can be great, your brain needs breaks to process and relax. Besides adequate sleep, one of the best ways to give your brain a chance to breathe and optimize your mental performance is to spend time in nature. Whether you take a hike or just take time to smell the flowers around the neighborhood, nature can help maintain brain health.

If all you have is 10 minutes a day to take a walk, find somewhere to immerse yourself in nature. This could be a park or a pathway by your work or home. On days you can’t make it outside, listening to nature sounds can also optimize your mental function and stress responses.

Brain Health Behavior 6: Manage Stress in Healthy Ways

Stress is normal in life. A little bit keeps you alive and protected from potential threats.

However, too much stress can have many negative effects on your health—including your brain health. That’s why you need to find healthy coping techniques to manage stress in your life.

Have multiple coping techniques in your arsenal in case you need them. Since everyone’s situation is different, it’ll take trial and error to find the right techniques that work for you.

Some healthy coping techniques for stress are the same healthy behaviors to support your brain health! For example, activities and skills you participate in to stimulate your mind can be great ways to relieve stress, and spending time in nature can give your mind time to reset and relax away from stressors.

You can also practice mindfulness techniques. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or guided meditations are great options. Whatever techniques you choose, practice the techniques often, so you can stay on top stress management and make sure your coping methods of choice are available when you need them.

Healthy Behavior 7: Maintain Your Relationships

Humans are social creatures by nature. Societies are built on the foundation of communities—groups of people working together to survive and thrive.

With the need for other people so ingrained into human existence, it isn’t a surprise that relationships with others became important for your health. As social beings, human brains are programmed to thrive from activities that stimulate the mind—including being social.

Maintaining strong relationships with your friends, family, coworkers, or others around you supports brain health as you age. Regular social activities are an excellent method to stimulate your mind, and the support from relationships can help you find relief in times of stress.

To help maintain your relationships, set time every day to connect with others. This could be chatting briefly with someone at the grocery store or scheduling a time every day to eat a meal with your friends or family.

Healthy Aging Begins Now

Regardless of your age, healthy aging deserves your attention today. Healthy habits take time to develop and choosing to support your brain health now will prepare you to maintain its normal functioning as you age. You’re never too old—and it’s never too late—to take charge of your health!

The brain is often talked about as the master of the body. It sends messages along the information superhighway of the central nervous system. This turns electric impulses and thoughts into action and behavior. The brain is like the Wizard of Oz: it’s the ring leader behind the curtain, directing the cognitive processes and movements of the body.

However, in recent years, scientists have found that the brain doesn’t act as independently as once believed. Careful studies show there is another major player aside from the brain. And a curious one at that. In fact, this other player isn’t a sole entity at all, but rather trillions of microscopic ones. It’s a system of trillions of bacteria and other bugs, known as your gut microbiome.

Here’s another way to look at it: Say the brain is the CEO of the company known as your body. That would make your microbiome the extensive members of the company’s staff. Having a good, connected working relationship between employees and the CEO creates success. But just like a company run with zero input from its staff, a body run solely by the brain misses out on essential messages and signals that would contribute to an ideal functioning body.

To avoid such tyranny, the body has coevolved alongside intestinal bacteria and other bugs. This makes the relationship between the microbiome and the brain an intertwined one. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership based on regular communication between the brain and microbiome. The two speak through a variety of mechanisms to maintain the health and well-being of your body. This crosstalk between the two affects hunger, digestion, and satiety, as well as your immune and mental health.

In order to appreciate how your microbiome can affect your brain, let’s gain an understanding of the microbiome. Then we’ll look at how it works together with the brain. First, let’s focus on the bacteria and other bugs. To answer: What exactly lives in your gut and why?

The Microbiome: Your Body’s Bacteria And Other Bugs

Your gut is home to trillions of little bugs known collectively as the microbiome. These microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and other bugs) make up the community that resides there.

Microbiota is often used interchangeably with microbiome. You’ll see the term microbiome used more here because it stands for much more than the bugs themselves. “Microbiome” encompasses the entire community of microorganisms along with their functionality and activity in the gut.

Many of the functionalities of your gut microbiome occur there, in your intestines. However, there are interactions between those bugs and other parts of the body that act as communication mechanisms between the microbiome and the brain. Let’s learn more about these interactions that make up the gut-brain axis.

Your Brain On Bugs—Gut-Brain Axis Basics

As mentioned before, your brain and microbiome constantly communicate. This link is often referred to as the gut-brain axis, or GBA. Communication along this line is essential to maintain homeostasis—or balance—in your gut and elsewhere. There are various routes of communication that constitute the GBA. But the most prominent is the vagus nerve. It’s involved in digestion and healthy gut immune response, among other bodily processes and reactions.


The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that starts in the brainstem and runs down to the large intestine. This nerve covers so much ground within the body that it’s no surprise that the vagus nerve is responsible for regulating a number of internal functions. Some of these are digestion, respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, some immune responses, and several internal reflexes (e.g., sneezing and swallowing).

Digestion is the first topic to chew on.

Research has shown that the gut isn’t just the site of digestion and nutrient absorption. The gut is also the mediator between its microbiome and the brain. Basically, the gut witnesses the processing of the food you consume. Then it reports relevant information from that process to the brain via the vagus nerve.

As the site of food digestion, the gut has immediate knowledge of what is being consumed. It gathers information about nutritional and energy content. The vagus nerve makes sure the brain stays up-to-date on this sensory information, like hunger cues and feelings of fullness.

This knowledge is important for the brain, so it can determine:

  1. How to drive related impulses (e.g., telling your brain your gut is full and therefore you should stop eating).
  2. How to shift your mood (e.g., if you’re hungry, your mood can become irritable).
  3. Where it is best to send energy (e.g., when you are cold, energy is sent to warm your most vital organs).

Relaying Immune Reflexes

The vagus nerve also communicates other gut events to the brain. Along with the ingested food comes allergens and other microbes that can activate normal immune responses in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Even though they are typical, healthy responses, these reactions can occasionally and temporarily get in the way of regular gut function.

Your brain needs to know about these minor inconveniences. So, this information is “sensed” by the gut and carried to the brain by the vagus nerve on the information superhighway of the gut-brain axis. The direction of information described above is referred to as an “afferent” pathway. That means messages travel away from the gut to the brain.

Gut-brain axis communication helps provide your brain—and eventually the rest of your body—with information it needs to mount and maintain a proper, healthy response. The communications from the brain to the gut are along what’s called “efferent” pathways (working in the opposite direction from the afferent pathways). They work when the efferent fibers from the brain send signals back down the vagus nerve to help maintain and support a healthy, normal immune response.

You Are What You Eat

It’s important to consider how to keep your gut and brain healthy in order to maintain quality communication between both along the gut-brain axis. The easiest way to do this is through food and nutrition. And you have at least three opportunities each day to influence what goes into your gut.

Your microbiome acts as a mediating factor between lifestyle choices—like diet—and the maintenance of health. What you eat enters your body and may alter the bacteria found in your gut. The effects of this can be positive or negative on processes like digestion. And changes to these processes can either maintain or hinder your health. Let’s take a closer look.

Diets rich in plant-based protein and fiber tend to increase the abundance of bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. These are beneficial bacteria that tend to maintain health in your gut. Conversely, diets rich in animal-based protein and saturated fat could increase the abundance of Bacteroides and Alistipes, which are thought to be associated with cardiovascular and bowel issues.

Additionally, studies show that those who consume more vegetables and less fat tend to have a more diverse microbiome with many different beneficial bacteria represented. And those who consume a high-fat diet tend to lack bacterial diversity in the gut, which isn’t good for your digestive health.

While the community of bacteria within your gut is complex, keeping it healthy can be rather simple. Beneficial bacteria prefer to eat certain types of food that tend to get labeled as “healthy” or “healthier.” The opposite is true for bad bacteria: they prefer to eat the things you should eat in small amounts, like saturated fat. So, when you sit down to eat next, ask who you would rather feed—the good or the bad bacteria?

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Minimize your intake of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados promote the healthier bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Saturated fats tend to increase Bacteroides, the bugs that negatively impact gut health.
  • Increase your intake of fiber-rich vegetables. These foods contain many complex starches and fiber your body can’t break down completely on its own. Instead, your body relies on the gut bacteria to break down some of the fiber. In the process, the bacteria create short-chain fatty acids that support gut health. These fiber-rich foods act like prebiotics, feeding your microbiome.
  • Consider adding probiotic foods to your diet. Probiotics support a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria to your gut. Find a tasty yogurt that you like, and keeping your gut healthy will feel like a sweet treat! If dairy isn’t your thing, you can try fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or sourdough. And probiotic supplements are also a great way to help you find a beneficial balance of gut bacteria.

Minding Your Microbiome

Your microbiome is a complex system that’s ready to help you live your best life. It does so largely through digestive processes, but also by relaying important messages to your brain. Maintaining a happy gut keeps communication along the gut-brain axis flowing. And together, this powerful pair helps support your overall health.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

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Your brain is powerful. You can even use it to think about how the brain itself works. But this power doesn’t make your brain immune to factors that impact the rest of your body. Lifestyle and environment can affect your brain health. Luckily, there are nutrients for brain health shown to support cognitive function.

You’ll read about a handful of the most important nutrients for your brain. And you’ll find brain foods that contain these key nutritional components of maintaining cognitive health.

Healthy Lipids

For a long time, dietary fats (lipids) have been connected to brain health. Originally, lipids’ effect on the cardiovascular system was thought to facilitate that connection. But more recent research shows beneficial dietary fats have more direct actions on the brain.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (like DHA from fish oil) normally make up cell membranes throughout your body. And like other saturated fats, they’re fundamental building blocks for your brain cells. That’s part of the reason fish is often called a brain food.

But fatty, cold-water fish aren’t the only food you should turn to for healthy lipids for supporting brain health. Add these options to your brain health shopping list:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts (almonds to walnuts and everything in between)
  • Seeds
  • Plant-based oils
  • Soybean


The antioxidant effects of flavonoids are well-established in a test-tube setting. But these plant compounds—like cocoa, ginkgo, and grape-seed extracts—have more complex actions in the body that is are continually being researched.

Some flavonoids show promising results in maintaining healthy brain function. Quercetin—a flavonoid that’s a major component of ginkgo biloba extracts—has been shown to maintain memory and learning abilities in some studies. Further research on the subject is needed.

Flavonoids come from a variety of colorful plant foods. That provides ample options for packing your diet with flavonoids. Try these:

  • Berries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Grapes
  • Tea
  • Plums
  • Broccoli


Like their phytonutrient cousins, carotenoids are pigments, providing color to fruits and vegetables. The yellows, reds, and oranges bringing warm color to your diet come from carotenoids.

Some powerful members of this phytonutrient family—lutein and zeaxanthin—are more known for supporting eye health than the brain. But research has shown ties between these carotenoids and maintaining normal, healthy cognitive function.

Other carotenoids are sought out by the brain. They are used as antioxidants to help protect your brain from oxidative stress.

To help in your brain’s quest for more carotenoids, turn to:

  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Red bell peppers
  • Tomatoes (canned and raw)
  • Kale

B Vitamins

Adequate levels of the B vitamin folate are essential for brain function. The proof? Folate deficiency can lead to neurological and cognitive issues.

Clinical trial results have deepened the connection between folate and cognitive function. These studies have shown folate supplementation—by itself or in conjunction with other B vitamins (B6 and B12)—to be effective at maintaining healthy cognitive function during aging.

Finding folate and other B vitamins is fairly easy. Seek out these foods:

  • Legumes
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Enriched grains
  • Beef, seafood, and eggs (for vitamin B12)
  • Bananas, potatoes, and nuts (for vitamin B6)

Vitamin E, or α-tocopherol

Looking up brain foods will often lead you to nuts and fish. Part of that, as you read above, is thanks to healthy fats. But many nuts also pack an important vitamin payload. They are often packed full of vitamin E.

This powerful antioxidant also has studied links to cognitive performance. One example that sticks out is an association between dipping serum levels of vitamin E and poor memory performance in older individuals.

So, remember to add these good sources of vitamin E to your menu:

  • Nuts
  • Plant oils
  • Green vegetables
  • Blackberries
  • Broccoli
  • Sunflower seeds

Calcium and Magnesium

Your brain works so well because of the interconnectedness of your neurons and their ability to communicate. Two minerals—calcium and magnesium—play a big role keeping communications flowing.

You know them better for bone health benefits. But these minerals help your brain, too. Calcium aids proper functioning of nerve cells and helps control the flow of neurotransmitters. Magnesium plays a role in impulse transmission. And it also helps your brain unlock all the benefits of B vitamins by catalyzing their transition to active forms.

Luckily, these mighty minerals are widely available in your diet. Calcium can be found in dairy products, beans, oranges, cabbage and kale. Magnesium is available in nuts, whole grains, milk, meats, and green, leafy vegetables.

Other Nutrients for Brain Health

Here’s a short list of the other nutrients with researched roles in brain health:

  • Alpha lipoic acid has been shown to maintain memory and cognitive function.
  • Caffeine is more than a pick-me-up for your brain. There have been ties between caffeine consumption and the brain’s processing abilities.
  • Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in the front part of your brain. More study is needed to determine mechanisms, but a lack of zinc has connections to numerous neurological issues.
  • Curcumin is a strong antioxidant that seems to protect the brain from lipid peroxidation and nitric-oxide-based radicals.
  • Several gut hormones or peptides—like leptin, ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1) and insulin—have been found to support healthy emotional response and cognitive processes.

Energy Production

The brain runs your body. And it takes a lot of energy to maintain proper operation. Healthy macronutrients are necessary to fuel your brain and provide the energy it needs.

The mechanisms involved in the transfer of energy from foods to neurons are likely to be fundamental to the control of brain function. Processes that are associated with the management of energy in neurons can affect brain plasticity.

Far-Reaching Impacts of Good Brain Nutrition

Lifestyle and diet have long-term effects on your health. That means they are likely underestimated for their importance to public health—especially when it comes to healthy aging.

But those factors are important to your brain.

The gradual and sometimes imperceptible cognitive decline that characterizes normal aging can be influenced by the nutrients you feed your brain through a healthy diet. So, properly fueling your brain to tackle your daily tasks should go hand-in-hand with long-term maintenance efforts. With so many delicious options, the burden of eating brain food shouldn’t be too hard to bear.

Compared to placebo, patients taking Vitamin E had slower functional decline and needed less caregiver assistance.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports on the benefit of high dose Vitamin E in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial involved 613 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Participants were randomized to receive 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin E, 20 milligrams of memantine, a combination of both, or a placebo daily. Average follow-up was 2.3 years.

Patients were analyzed on their capability to perform daily living activities, memory and language, cognitive function, behavioral and psychological issues, and the time needing caregiver assistance. The data was measured and collected at the beginning of the study and every six months during the trial.

Over the years of follow-up, scores declined by 3.15 units less in the Vitamin E group compared with the placebo group. In the memantine group, the scores declined 1.98 units less than the decline in the placebo group. Compared to the placebo group, those taking Vitamin E had an average delay in clinical progression of 19% per year, or approximately 6.2 months over the follow-up period.

Patients receiving the vitamin also needed less caregiver assistance in comparison with the placebo group. There was no significant difference in all-cause mortality or safety issues reported between the placebo and Vitamin E groups.

This study showed that high dose Vitamin E appears to slow functional decline and caregiver burden in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dysken MW, Sano M, Asthana S, et al. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial. JAMA. 2014;311(1):33-44.

Nutrient levels account for a 17% variation in memory and thinking ability, and a 37% variation in brain volume in a group of study individuals.

A study published in Neurology has found that certain nutrients work together synergistically to promote brain health. The study looked at the effects of diet and nutrient intake in seniors on memory, thinking and brain volume.

The researchers recruited 104 individuals (average age 87) and measured blood levels of certain nutrients, as well as memory and thinking in all study participants. They also analyzed MRI scans to determine the brain volume of 42 of the subjects.

Participants in the study were healthy nonsmokers with relatively few chronic diseases and free of memory and thinking problems. Most had generally healthy diets, but there were some with deficiencies of certain nutrients. This created enough variation to determine that nutrient status does play a significant role in memory, thinking, and brain volume. It was determined that nutrient levels accounted for 17% of the variation found in memory and thinking, and for the 37% of the variation in brain volume.

With this data, the researchers came to three conclusions. The first conclusion is that individuals with diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C, D, E, and B were more likely to score better on memory and thinking tests. Those with diets high in trans-fat were more likely to both score poorly on memory and thinking tests, and to have brain shrinkage. Finally, individuals with low omega-3 fatty acid intake and other nutrient intake are more likely to have lower brain volume.

Getting adequate nutrients through a balanced diet and supplements may be an important overall approach to maintaining good brain health and thinking ability as we age.

Bowman GL, Silbert LC, Howieson D, et al. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology. 2012;78(4):241-9.

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in neurodevelopment in children.

Vitamin B12 is essential for human life. It is involved in the synthesis of DNA, red blood cell formation, energy production, and the metabolism of folic acid. Studies have shown vitamin B12 is also involved in the neural development of young children. Researchers predict that vitamin B12 deficiency early in life may negatively impact cognitive performance years later.

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is common around the world. This creates a problem for breastfeeding infants. These infants’ only source of vitamin B12 is their mother, who may already be B12 deficient herself. Studies have shown that only a small, often unpredictable, amount of B12 ends up in breast milk, regardless of a woman’s B12 status. That could worsen this potential health concern.

A study conducted in Nepal, a region known for vitamin B12 deficiency, examined the link between vitamin B12 deficiency and long-term cognitive development and performance. 500 children were initially included in the study.

The mothers’ dietary intake was determined through three, 24-hour dietary recalls over a one year period. In children, 24-hour dietary recall and blood samples were used to determine vitamin B12 status. Researchers measured neurological development through questionnaires and assessments of communication skills, motor skills, problem solving, eye-hand coordination, and puzzle-solving ability.

Follow-up occurred five years later. A total of 321 of the initial 500 children were found and assessed. Results confirmed the researchers’ initial hypothesis that poor vitamin B12 status does have a long-term impact on the neural development and the cognitive performance of children.

This study shows that vitamin B12 plays an important role in neural development. It also confirms and expounds upon previous research. Now showing that poor B12 intake can have impacts years later. Future research could help determine the best treatment option for infants that are low in vitamin B12. Such research could include supplement intervention trials for infants deficient in vitamin B12.

Kvestad I, Hysing M, Shrestha M, et al. Vitamin B-12 status in infancy is positively associated with development and cognitive functioning 5 y later in Nepalese children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(5):1122-1131.