October 31, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
If you could protect your brain against degeneration, nourish your neurons and even boost the production of neurotransmitters just by eating more delicious whole foods… would you do it?
There’s good news for those of you who said yes… you certainly can boost your brainpower with the foods you eat. And if you’re wondering which foods are best for your brain, check out the top eight below.
Eat More of These Top 8 Foods for Brainpower
Curry contains turmeric, a spice that in turn contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant curcumin. Curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent in a wide range of neurological disorders.
Research has shown that curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer's patients, as well as break up existing plaques.1 Curcumin has even been shown to boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis.
A word to the wise… some curry powders may contain very little curcumin compared to straight turmeric powder, so choose the latter for the best health benefits.
Celery is a rich source of luteolin, a plant compounds that may calm inflammation in your brain, which is a primary cause of neurodegeneration. Luteolin has also been linked with lower rates of age-related memory loss in mice.2 In addition to celery, peppers and carrots are also good sources of luteolin.
3. Broccoli and Cauliflower
Broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development. Choline intake during pregnancy "super-charged" the brain activity of animals in utero, indicating that it may boost cognitive function, improve learning and memory,
It may even diminish age-related memory decline and your brain's vulnerability to toxins during childhood, as well as conferring protection later in life.3 Eggs and meat are among the best food sources of choline.
Walnuts are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols and antioxidants, and have been shown to reverse brain aging in older rats. DHA, in particular, is a type of omega-3 fat that’s been found to boost brain function and even promote brain healing, although it’s more plentiful in animal-based omega-3 sources, like krill, as opposed to walnuts.
One serving of crab contains more than your entire daily requirement of phenylalanine, an amino acid that helps make the neurotransmitter dopamine, brain-stimulating adrenaline and noradrenaline and thyroid hormone, and may help fight Parkinson’s disease. Crab is also an excellent source of brain-boosting vitamin B12.
6. Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
Garbanzo beans are one of the best food sources of magnesium (aside from kelp and green leafy vegetables). Magnesium benefits brain cell receptors to speed the transmission of messages, while also relaxing blood vessels, which allows more blood flow to the brain.
7. Red Meat
Red meat like grass-fed beef is an excellent source of vitamin B12, which is vital for healthy brain function. People with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency are more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume, which suggests a lack of the vitamin may lead to brain shrinkage.4
The antioxidants and other phytochemicals in blueberries have been linked to improvements in learning, thinking and memory, along with reductions in neurodegenerative oxidative stress. They’re also relatively low in fructose compared to other fruits, making them one of the healthier fruits available.
9. Healthy Fats
Beneficial health-promoting fats that your body—and your brain in particular—needs for optimal function include organic butter from raw milk, clarified butter called organic grass fed raw butter, olives, organic virgin olive oil and coconut oil, nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, wild Alaskan salmon, and avocado, for example.
What NOT to Eat for Healthy Brain Function
We’ve covered some of the best foods for your brain, but equally important is what foods to avoid. In the video above, Dr. David Perlmutter—probably the leading natural medicine neurologist in the US, from my perspective—shares his insights into how to protect your brain health and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease using a key dietary strategy… namely, avoiding sugar and carbohydrates, including gluten.
Gluten sensitivity is involved in most chronic disease, including those affecting the brain, because of how gluten affects your immune system. Unfortunately, many people, physicians included, still believe that if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten is fair game and you can eat as much of it as you like. However, virtually all of us are affected to some degree.
This is because we all create something called zonulin in the intestine in response to gluten. Gluten proteins, found in wheat, barley and rye, makes your gut more permeable, which allows undigested proteins and gut contents such as bacteria to get into your bloodstream that would otherwise have been excluded. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity.
Once gluten upregulates permeability in your gut, it then becomes “leaky” and all manner of previously excluded proteins—including casein and other dairy proteins—have direct access to your bloodstream, thereby challenging your immune system and contributing to the loss of self-tolerance, the very definition of autoimmunity.
According to Dr. Perlmutter, much of our current disease burden, including brain diseases, stems from the fact that we are contaminating our immune systems with proteins to which the human immune system has never, in the history of humankind, been previously exposed to. To learn more, I highly recommend Dr. Perlmutter’s New York Times best-selling book, Grain Brain.
A Healthy Lifestyle Equals a Healthy Brain
Your brain is not “programmed” to shrink and fail as a matter of course as you age. We now know that every activity in which you engage—be it exercise, the foods you eat, the supplements you take, your personal relationships, your emotional state, your sleep patterns—all of these factors dramatically influence your genetic expression from moment to moment. And this, in turn, influences your overall health and risk of disease.
Lifestyle strategies that promote neurogenesis and regrowth of brain cells include the following. All of these strategies target a specific gene pathway called BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes brain cell growth and connectivity as demonstrated on MRI scans.
Exercise. Physical activity produces biochemical changes that strengthen and renew not only your body but also your brain—particularly areas associated with memory and learning.
Reduce overall calorie consumption, including intermittent fasting.
Reduce carbohydrate consumption, including sugars and grains.
Increase healthy fat consumption.
Increase your omega-3 fat intake and reduce consumption of damaged omega-6 fats (think processed vegetable oils) in order to balance your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. I prefer krill oil to fish oil here, as krill oil also contains astaxanthin, which appears to be particularly beneficial for brain health. As explained by Dr. Perlmutter, it belongs to the class of carotenoids, and is very “focused” on reducing free radical-mediated damage to fat, and your brain is 60 percent to 70 percent fat.
Sources and References
Forbes October 18, 2013
1 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2009; 17(3): 703-717
2 J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1892-8.
3 J Neurophysiol. 2004 Apr;91(4):1545-55.
4 Neurology. 2011 Sep 27;77(13):1276-82.