- Black tea,
green tea, red wine, cacao and coffee are major sources in the diet.
- It is interesting to note that most of the
above mentioned foods form part of the Mediterranean diet. This may be another
reason why this diet has been found to be so healthy and can help us remain
protection and reduced neuro-inflammation, which may be one of the factors
responsible for damaging the nervous system and brain.
According to Meeusen, “consumption of
polyphenol-rich foods throughout life holds the potential to limit
neurodegeneration and to prevent or reverse age-dependent deteriorations in
cognitive performance.” He does, however, caution that “the therapeutic and
pharmacological potential of these natural compounds still remains to be
translated to humans in clinical conditions.”
In other words, we can recommend
that people should eat plenty of foods that contain polyphenols throughout
their lives, but need to remember that many of the over-the-counter pills that
promise eternal youth and brain power may as yet not be worth buying.
Branched-chain amino acids
Anyone who has ever purchased an amino
acid mixture for muscle building at a pharmacy or gym will have seen that such
products contain “branched-chain amino acids”. Leucine, isoleucine and valine
are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and they play an important role
in brain physiology. BCAAs help the brain to produce protein, 5-HT
(5-hydroxytryptamine or serotonin, is an important “brain messenger” and also
combats depression), dopamine and noradrenaline (other “brain messengers”).
sports purposes, the BCAAs are intended to prevent fatigue, and more recently
they have been suggested as brain power stimulants, but this has as yet not
been proved by means of scientific experiments.
Read: Brain chemistry uncovered
In South Africa most people tend to eat a
lot of protein foods that supply BCAAs. So if these amino acids do prove to be
vital for brain function, it will not be necessary for most South Africans to
use supplements provided that we eat a moderate portion of meat, fish, eggs, or
cheese regularly and use milk daily.
Another amino acid called tyrosine which
is found in most high-protein foods including soy products, chicken, turkey,
fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, milk, cheese, yoghurt and sesame seeds may
help to reduce the negative effects of stress on cognitive function.
people are aware of the fact that stress and/or lack of sleep can make it
really difficult for you to maintain your brain function and think clearly. Meeusen
states that “the majority of evidence suggests that tyrosine is useful as an
acute treatment to prevent stress-related declines in cognitive function”.
Beverages that contain caffeine have been
used as a “pick-me-up” for the body and the mind for a long time. Moderate
intakes of coffee, tea and cacao will provide sufficient caffeine to stimulate
brain activity without causing the negative effects of caffeine overdose such
as insomnia, tremors, nervousness, anxiety, gastric upsets etc.
Read: Caffeine gives erectile boost
caffeine intake in various ways (drinking too much coffee, using caffeine-laced
energy drinks and taking so-called “ergogenic aids” to improve performance in
various fields including brain function), is counterproductive and should be
Caffeine is a diuretic which increases the
loss of fluids by the body which can affect brain function negatively. Too much
caffeine has the potential to dehydrate the body and the brain, leading to poor
performance both physically and mentally.
It is evident that researchers still have
a long way to go to identify exactly which foods and which components in foods
are the most beneficial when it comes to maintaining brain function and
preventing deterioration of our “little grey cells”.
In the interim it is good
to keep in mind (excuse the pun) that these protective foods need to be used in
moderation for a lifetime and be combined with regular exercise (see last
week’s article) to achieve a healthy mental state and prevent Alzheimer’s and
other diseases of cognitive decline.
The balanced diet
Regular exercise adds years to life
Keep your mind sharp
- Meeusen R
(2014). Exercise, nutrition and the brain. Sports Medicine:44, (Suppl 1):
Image: Human brain from Shutterstock