Nutrients And Their Life Changing Effects On Brain Health.
In the recent years advancement in molecular and cellular technology has clarified the critical impact of nutrition on biochemical and gene activity of the brain cells as well as other cells. Nutrition and genes interact in multiple levels (mechanisms) leading to changes in biological structures. Also studies have shown different individuals with different genetic variability may respond differently to the nutrients. All of which is helping to find better nutrition for optimum health and wellbeing. In this article we explore the studies on the nutrition and its important role in different areas of the brain health.
Science uses term epigenetic to explain the ways that change the gene expression without affecting the DNA sequence or structure. For example methylation reduces the gene activity while Acetylation increases gene activity. Studies suggest epigenetic mechanisms are reversible and plastic. Methylation process is studied in relation with cognition, depression, eating disorders, autism and schizophrenia.
Having a good mental health does not simply mean the absence of the mental disease. Instead it is defined as the ability of interaction with others, coping with problems and learning. Mentally healthy individuals are defined as to able to find their potentials, cope with normal stressors of the life, work with productivity and contribute to the community. Socioeconomic and environmental elements including nutrition contribute to the quality of life and mental well being of individuals.
Balanced metabolism, amount of energy intake and physical activity greatly impact the brain health. Numerous studies show balanced energy intake and physical activity improve mood and cognition, while high caloric diet, sedentary lifestyle, and metabolic syndrome (Including obesity, diabetes, etc) have been related to the increase risks of depression and dementia.
Imbalanced metabolism throughout the life impacts number of hormones and growth factors. These hormones affect the brain cell receptors and modify the brain structure and gene expression. For instance, research has found that high caloric intake increases the concentration of free radicals (highly reactive oxygen molecules) and lowers brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and low BDNF compromises the brain cells' communication and reduces cognition.
Based on a recent research exercise and balanced metabolism increase the amount of BDNF. Higher amount of BDNF lowers the methylation rate of the DNA in brain cells and improved the cell communication. Also certain nutrients like DHA omega 3 fatty acid found to enhanced this positive effect.
Decades of investigations and data analysis have clarified the impact of nutrition and lifestyle on both categories of Neuro-developmental and Neuro-degenerative disorders. Neuro-developmental diseases are such as autism, schizophrenia and eating disorder. Neuro-degenerative disorders are including cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, etc. However, these two categories are not completely separable, because it is very evident that the early life disorders produce both immediate and long time complications.
Prenatal nutrition plays an important role in brain development. Researchers found redistricted access to proper food and nutrition increase the cases of neuro-developmental disorders significantly. Prenatal nutritional deficiencies of macro-nutrients like protein, and micro-nutrients like iodine, zinc, copper, vitamins including folate and B complex, and Essential Fatty Acids found to be responsible in modifying key brain genes and an increase in brain cells' DNA methylation.
Lipids are formed 50-60% of the brain weight. Among the lipids the DHA is found in a very high concentration in the brain tissue in comparison to other parts of the body. DHA if found in higher concentration in the eyes' Retina and the brain's Gray Matter. Essential Fatty acids (EFA's) influence the function of the nerve cells in multiple ways. For example the neural cell membrane contains great amount of phospholipid fatty acids, and receptors for the neurotransmitters (chemical compounds transferring signals/data from one neuron to the other) are placed on this membrane. Animal Studies indicated that the deficiency in EFA's reduces the number of the dopamine and serotonin receptors on the frontal lobe as well as altering their production. Human studies have found infants with additional DHA in their diet during 18 months show 7 points increase on their mental development index. Other human researches suggest that changes in neurotransmitter function in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is related to lower levels of DHA in the cellular membrane. Epidemiological and clinical studies have found relation between Depression and Omega 3 deficiency.
Studies have found that in some patients, impaired glucose metabolism in the brain may contribute to cognitive decline. Improving Insuline Sensitivity was found promising to lowers the risks of Alzherimer's and improves the brain glucose metabolism. In addition, replacing glucose with ketons as a fuel for the brain may help improving brain function. As the brain cells are very sensitive to the lack of energy, ketogenic supplements help to reduce further cognitive decline specially in those individuals who have problem metabolizing glucose in their brain. Medium Chain Trigycerides (MCT) and DHA omega 3 fatty acids are found to play a very Important role in improving brain energy and metabolism.
Usually studies on the cognitive decline target the individual over 60 year of age. However, more recent research showed that cognitive decline is starting much earlier around the age of 45-50. This is important in particular because small cognitive changes in the earlier life increase the risk of developing more serious complications like dementia and Alzheimer's later on. Reviewing the effects of exercise on the brain showed moderate aerobic exercise and activities such as walking and gardening are beneficial in preventing and alleviating Alzheimer’s. Recent Findings also suggest reduction in excess sugar consumption particularly for those deficient in essential fatty acid , as well as taking B vitamins and Folate play a very important role is decreasing Homocycteine levels which is a risk factor for brain shrinkage and dementia. Two years supplementing with B vitamins in a group of 70 years of age slowed and lowered the rate of moderate cognitive decline.
Consuming flavonoids has been suggested to reduce, prevent and/or reverse neuro-degenerative disorders. These potent antioxidants protect the brain cells against toxins, reduce inflammation and potentially improve cognition. Research suggest flavonoids are able to help our brain via three different mechanisms including: a) ability to interact with brain cell signalling mechanism related to self destruction and differentiation of the brain cells, b) by improving general and cerebral circulation, and c) directly via their antioxidant property they neutralize toxins and damaging free radicals produced by the brain cells.
What are the flavonoids?
Flavonoids are made by plants through enzymatic pathways. Flavonoids are found in fruits, seeds, vegetables, herbs, etc. Flavonoids are sharing similar core structure with different branches which results in different groups and sub groups of flavonoids including:
- flavonols (e.g. catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallate (EgCG) and proanthocyanidins) are found in green tea, black tea, red wine , apples, and cacao.
- flavones (e.g. apigenin) are found in artichoke, celery, parsley, chives and other herbs
- flavanones (e.g. naringenin, hesperetin) are found predominantly in citrus fruit and tomatoes
- falavanols (e.g. quercetin) which are found predominantly in onions, leeks, and broccoli.
- iso flavones
(e.g. daidzein and genistein) found in soybean and soy products.
- anthocyanidins found in red wine and berry fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries and strawberries.
- proanthocyanidins(tannins) found in grapes and many berry fruits
Neuro-inflammation has been found to be responsible in the progression of the diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Recent studies show that flavanones such as Hesperetin, Naringenin found in high quantities in citrus fruits, flavonoids present in blueberry, flavanols catechin and epigallocatechin gallate (Egcg), and the isoflavone genistein all are able to reduce neuro-inflammation via different pathways. Egcg from green tea and Ginkgo biloba extract are found to protect the brain cells against the neurotoxins.
Flavonoids are now well known to modulate neuronal signalling pathways involved in increasing the number of, and strength of, connections between neurons. For example in studies Fisetin, a flavonoid found in strawberries, is shown to increase object recognition in mice. Other flavonoids such as Quercetin, Hesperetin, and blueberries found to be beneficial in improvement of memory.
Brain imaging techniques show that there is a link between cerebral blood flow and cognition. For example Low cerebral blood flow is associated with dementia. Multiple human research indicate the benefits of flavonoinds in improving cardiovascular health which is consequently beneficial in improving cognition. Evidence suggest Flavonoids are able to prevent many different types of cerebro-vascular diseases. Improving brain circulation promotes new hipocampal cells' formation near the blood vessels and that may benefit the memory. Human brain exams shows consuming flavanol rich cacao in less than 2 hours increased blood flow and oxygenation in certain regions of the brain.
Flavonoids promote neuronal survival and differentiation. Flavonoids also enhance peripheral and cerebral blood circulation. These functions induce beneficial changes in the cellular architecture required for cognition and interpreting nerve or sensory information, for the storage, processing and retrieval of memory, and for providing protection against neuronal losses trough ageing, known to adversely affect populations or connections of the brain cells over time, leaving the system less efficient in the processing and storage of sensory information.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is one of the neurotrophic factors which is crucial in both protection and repair of the brain cells. Levels of brain BDNF have been shown to be related to human learning, memory and cognitive function. BDNF is a biomarker that passes the brain blood barrier, and its plasma level is indicative of the brain health. Animal studies show taking Flavonoids increase the BDNF suggesting that there is a possibility that the same may occur in human subjects.
Significant number of research and clinical studies support the positive effects of exercise and balance metabolism on improving mental health and well being. Nutrition in fact plays an important role in gene expression which consequently will help in preventing and/or improving of mental health conditions. The impact of plant nutrients, vitamins and essential fatty acids on the brain cells and their respond is observed by measuring brain biomarkers such as BDNF and advanced brain imaging techniques.
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