How can food affect brain activity?

When you are hungry, do you often get cranky? On the contrary, when you are full, you will feel comfortable and sleepy? “Tighten the skin of the abdomen and slacken the skin of the eyes”. Or when drinking coffee, energy drinks make you awake immediately. Have you ever wondered how the food you eat every day affects the functioning of your brain?

It has long been questioned whether rich nutrition can affect cognitive and emotional processes. Sugar, protein, fat, and water are the main components that make up the body structure. They create energy, prevent and protect the body against disease.

New research, over the past two decades, shows interesting evidence of the effects of these molecules on the nervous system, especially on mental function. For example, can a meal rich in omega 3 support cognitive processes and prevent Alzheimer’s? Although these studies show the role of substances found in food in the brain. But more research will be needed to confirm whether these changes and supplements have therapeutic or preventive effects.

This article deals with the role of fats, proteins, sugars and micronutrients in brain activity.

1. How does fat affect brain activity?

What if all the fluid in the brain was drained? Can you guess which ingredient accounts for the most percentage? It is fat – 60% of the dry weight of the brain. They are major components that play an important role in the structure of cell membranes. Not only that, nerve cells can perform their functions thanks to fat.

What foods are high in good fats?

Of the many types of fat, omega 3 is perhaps the best known. Our body cannot synthesize this fat on its own, it must be obtained from external food.

Oily fish like salmon, herring, sardines… are rich in omega 3. Or if you don’t like fish, fish oil capsules are also a suitable choice. In addition, olive oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soybeans… are also rich natural sources of omega 3.

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Foods high in good fats

Foods high in good fats

The role of fat in the brain

Fat is essential for fetal brain development. Most brain cells are formed and develop before birth. This process will continue to complete when the baby is one year old. Many studies show that, when pregnant women eat a lot of fish or use fish oil, their babies will be born smarter. Therefore, omega-3 fats are really essential for pregnant women and children.

This is not to say that we adults do not need to absorb them. These important fatty acids are essential for maintaining the functioning of cells in the body. They are the protective barrier of cells, involved in metabolic activity. With brain cells, fat helps to transmit messages and communicate between cells more quickly.

Can drinking a lot of fish oil cure neuropathy?

Many studies are done to find the role of omega 3 in neuropsychiatric disorders. Dementia, schizophrenia, and depression are the three disorders that receive the most attention. Although taking fish oil supplements or eating more fish has been shown to improve symptoms in some people. But that’s not enough to make a difference. Large, valuable studies have not shown a different effect between omega 3 users and non-users.

Therefore, if you do use it, remember that this is only a dietary supplement. They are not meant to replace the medication your doctor has prescribed for you.

Fish oil

Fish oil

2. How does protein affect the brain?

Besides water, protein is the component that makes up most of the body’s weight. Muscles, skin, hair, nails… are all made of protein. The brain is different, its main component is fat. But in order for nerve cells to communicate and communicate with each other, it is necessary to use a neurotransmitter – a protein. The hormones and enzymes involved in the regulation of the body’s activities are also protein in nature.

Protein source

Poultry, seafood and lean meats are the richest sources of protein. Milk, dairy products, legumes, and nuts are also high in protein. Whole grains and vegetables also have protein, although less often, they have no fat.



Functions of proteins in the brain

Have you noticed that a high-carbohydrate lunch can make you drowsy? Or eating a luxurious meal high in protein, makes you more alert and energetic in the afternoon? There is a slight connection here.

What you eat affects which neurotransmitters prevail in the brain. And that affects how you feel. The three important transmitters we are talking about today are serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin.

Carbohydrates increase levels of the amino acid tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan produces serotonin. And serotonin is very important in the regulation of sleep, emotions, appetite, concentration … In milk there is a lot of tryptopan. So it is not difficult to understand that drinking a cup of hot milk in the evening will make you sleep better.

When you eat foods high in protein, you also absorb another amino acid, tyrosine. Tyrosine is a precursor for the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. These two neurotransmitters are heavily associated with alertness, focus, and feelings of well-being. They make you feel energized, motivating you to work more efficiently.

That said, it does not mean that to stay awake, you should eat a lot of protein and ignore other substances. A healthy brain needs hundreds of essential substances to maintain normal functioning.

3. How do carbohydrates affect the brain?

The brain accounts for only about 2% of the body weight, but consumes more than 20% of the total energy. Studies show that the brain spends two-thirds of this available energy helping nerve cells transmit signals. . The rest is for them to “clean up” their brains, removing harmful substances. Maintain nerve cell protection in the most healthy state

To do that, the brain requires a steady supply of fuel. The brain can use two main types of fuel, glucose or ketones. In people who eat a moderate to high carbohydrate diet, the brain’s main source of energy is glucose.

What foods provide carbohydrates?

Carbohydrate is a general term for sugar, starch and fiber molecules. Many familiar foods appear in daily meals, with the main ingredient being carbohydrates. Like rice, vermicelli, pho, potatoes, cassava, fruits, vegetables, and even milk tea…. After being absorbed, the sugar molecules are broken down into glucose, which will go to the brain to create energy.

What is the role of sugar in the brain?

Not only providing the main source of energy for the brain, glucose also performs many other functions.

As mentioned above, sugar increases serotonin levels. Serotonin itself regulates sleep, appetite, and emotions. Some people are very irritable and restless when they are hungry, but when they have a full meal, they become calm. Or when we feel sad, angry, we often tend to look for sweets. Eat to dispel sadness, eat to anger. These are all related to serotonin.

The reason sweets can increase serotonin is because sweets raise insulin levels in the blood. Thanks to insulin, tryptopan has an advantage in competing with other amino acids for entry into the brain. However, it is interesting to know that eating a high-protein meal does not necessarily increase tryptophan and serotonin levels as much as eating a high-carbohydrate meal.

Carbohydrates also aid in the regulation of cerebral blood flow and assist the brain in processing information. Without enough glucose in your brain, your memory and reaction speed are reduced. And so, you are not able to continue the work.

However, you should not eat too much sugar. Whatever is just enough is best, whether refined or complex sugar. Not only does it increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases… Too much sugar intake makes the brain “confused”, unable to recognize your body is full. As a result, you eat uncontrollably, and the weight goes up.

4. Micronutrients and brain

We are told that vitamins and minerals are necessary to maintain a healthy body. With the brain, the older we get, the faster the degeneration of neurons progresses. At this time, the role of new micronutrients is most revealed.

We all want to be young and healthy. The good news is that degenerative diseases can often be avoided with adequate prevention. In fact, less than 1% of the population develops Alzheimer’s because of a rare genetic mutation. That means, the remaining 99% can actually prevent it. Chances are this 99% includes you.

A healthy lifestyle is often mentioned with combos: regular exercise, healthy eating with lots of fruits and vegetables, staying away from beer, alcohol, tobacco… Great from different food groups.

What micronutrients are necessary for brain function?

Vitamins B1, B6, B9, B12, vitamins C, D & E and magnesium, zinc, iron… are all essential for brain health and development. Research shows that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Vitamin B complex in brain cell communication

Especially vitamins B12, B6, B3, B1 and folate (B9) are at the top of the list of essential micronutrients for the brain. All of them need to be present for all activities in the brain to run smoothly. From regulating energy release to transmitting information between more than 100 billion neurons.

With such a big role to play, vitamin B deficiency can lead to many degenerative diseases. These include memory impairment, confusion, behavioral changes, gait abnormalities, etc.

How is brain function affected without these vitamins?

A vitamin B1 deficiency limits the brain’s ability to use glucose, the main fuel source. Wernicke–Korsakoff encephalopathy syndrome is a neurological disease that characterizes acute B1 deficiency. When suffering from this syndrome, the patient staggers like a drunkard. Consciousness is not alert, confused, forgetful, crossed eyes, blurred vision….The disease can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Vitamin b6 contributes to the synthesis of neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, noradrenalin… This process is very sensitive to B6 deficiency. Therefore, without b6, people easily lose control of sleep, behavior, depression, unstable heart.

Signal transduction of nerve cells

Signal transduction of nerve cells

Folic acid (vitamin B9) deficiency is known to cause neural tube defects in the fetus.

Vitamin B12 is also closely related to the action of vitamin B9. Also affects the division of brain cells of the fetus in the womb. In adults, a decrease in these two vitamins can cause:

  • Mood disorder
  • Behavior change
  • Chaos
  • Cognitive decline: Alzheimer’s dementia

And sources of these B vitamin complexes are varied. You can get them from foods: fish, meat, eggs, organs, green vegetables… If you are a vegetarian, or have difficulty in consuming these foods. There are vitamin B supplements on the market that can help. However, when taking any medication, it is still best to consult a doctor.

The role of other micronutrients

Like B1, vitamin E is also particularly important in communicating information between nerve cells.

Meanwhile, vitamin C is an essential antioxidant for the brain. Vitamin C also contributes to the maturation of brain cells and the synthesis of neurotransmitters (dopamine). Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the influence of vitamin C on learning, memory, and motor problems.

Along with vitamins, minerals also contribute to the regulation of neurotransmitters. All minerals are absorbed mainly from fruits and vegetables. In adequate concentrations, the mineral helps the brain function optimally.

Magnesium is necessary for a nervous system to function properly in memory and learning. They are abundant in avocados, spinach, brown rice, and nuts.

Copper is key to the health of the immune system, blood vessels, nerves and bones. While zinc supports brain metabolism. Iron is necessary for the production of blood that carries oxygen everywhere, including the brain. And there are many other micronutrients, each of which has certain contributions to the functioning of the brain.

Although there is no magic food that completely protects the brain from neurological diseases. But what you eat and don’t eat can make a significant difference. A varied and balanced combination of food sources, combined with a healthy lifestyle can help you live a healthy, happy life every day.

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