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Food for Thought

It is important for physicians to discuss brain health with their patients, especially patients who are over the age of 40. Not only is it helpful for them to understand that keeping the brain active can prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but also that eating the right “brain food” can be just as important. Most food fits the bill, but there are specific fruits, vegetables, and proteins that are better than the rest.

Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and physiological science and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, has spent many years studying how food, exercise, and sleep affect the brain. “Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” Gómez-Pinilla said. There are certain foods that feature vitamins to help boost mood and brain power (almonds, sunflower seeds), enhance memory and thinking skills (green tea, pumpkin seeds, chocolate, broccoli), increase healthy blood flow for better brain function (avocados, cashews), and improve age-related brain function decline (strawberries, blueberries).

Gómez-Pinilla’s research focused on food high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts, kiwi) and folic acid (orange juice, spinach, yeast). He found that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve learning and memory and fight against depression, schizophrenia, and dementia. In fact, these conclusions were proven upon reviewing the results from studies conducted in England and Australia that evaluated the effects omega-3 fatty acids had on school-aged children. “Children who had increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids performed better in school, in reading and in spelling and had fewer behavioral problems,” said Gómez-Pinilla. Folic acid is similar to omega-3 fatty acids because having adequate levels can prevent “cognitive decline and dementia during aging and enhancing the effects of antidepressants.” Additionally, results from a clinical trial found that taking a three-year folic acid supplementation “can help reduce the age-related decline in cognitive function.”


Additional Resources


7 nutrition tips for increasing brain power

20 super brain foods

Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function

Food for the Brain Conference 2008

How often do you discuss nutrition with your patients? Were you aware of the health benefits of the food mentioned in this article?


Further Reading
Substitution of dietary saturated fatty acids with linoleic acid seems to be associated with increased risks of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease, according to research published online Feb. 5 in BMJ.
A low glycemic load diet including α-linolenic acid and monounsaturated fatty acid can improve glycemic control for patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published online June 14 in Diabetes Care.
Emerging risk factors for postpartum depression include the serotonin transporter genotype and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid status, both of which may interact to affect risk, according to a review published in the November issue of The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
Intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, but not circulating biomarkers or supplements, correlates with modestly reduced cerebrovascular risk, according to a meta-analysis published online Oct. 30 in BMJ.
Researchers have confirmed the clinical and epidemiological studies which have revealed associations between an omega-3/omega-6 imbalance and mood disorders.
It turns out that playing on the computer is actually good for the brain based on results from a recent study conducted at UCLA.
A new study finds that brain tumor patients taking valproic acid in addition to customary therapy, may live longer than patients taking other AEDs.
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