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