A healthy diet contains sufficient vitamins to provide us energy, building material, and protection against diseases. Vitamin deficiency results not just in various physical problems but also those related to behavior and cognition. Study of neuroscience reveals the effects various components of the diet such as minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates fats, dietary supplements and food additives have on brain cells.
It is interesting to note that brain consumes an immense amount of energy in comparison to the rest of the body. The human brain is approximately 2% of the body mass and uses around 25% of total energy. Therefore a good deal of energy that we derive from food is transferred to the brain. And insufficient intake of certain vitamins affects cognitive processes and memory.
What are brain vitamins?
Choline is an essential nutrient and its primary function is the synthesis of cellular membranes. And because of its role in the cellular synthesis, it contributes heavily to the development of the brain. Poultry, dairy food, wheat rice spinach beet root are rich sources of choline.
B VITAMINS or B-COMPLEX
These are an interrelated group of nutrients that are found in food. It is possible to identify broad cognitive effects of certain B vitamins as they are involved in many significant metabolic processes within the brain.
VITAMIN B1 (THIAMINE)
It is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates. This plays an important role in the facilitation of glucose use and thus ensuring the production of energy for the brain. Even in the case of B1 deficiency in the body, the brain tries to retain thiamine contents greedily for itself.
Signs of B1 deficiency include mental changes such as apathy, a decrease in short term memory, confusion, and irritability. Foods providing rich sources of thiamine include unrefined grain products, dairy products, peanuts, legumes, fruits, and eggs.
VITAMIN B3 (NIACIN)
Niacin is also involved in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol which are known mediators of brain biochemistry cognitive functions.
Severe niacin deficiency manifests itself as the disease named Pellagra. Neuropsychiatric symptoms of pellagra include a headache, irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, hallucinations, stupor, apathy, psychomotor unrest, fatigue, depression, confusion, memory loss.
The best method of prevention is to eat food rich in B3. Generally, this involves the intake of a protein rich diet. Foods containing high concentrations of niacin include beans, and meat as well as enriched grain.
VITAMIN B9(FOLIC ACID)
It is not present abundantly in foods but has to be supplemented with vitamin pills or fortified food products. Folate has been linked to the maintenance of adequate brain levels of cofactors necessary for chemicals reactions. In one study mood disturbances were recorded for the majority of patients B12 deficiency. Folate concentrations in blood plasma have been found to be lower in patients with depressive disorders.
Good sources of folate include ready to eat breakfast cereals, beans, asparagus, spinach broccoli and orange juice.
VITAMIN B12 (COBALMIN)
B12 is an essential vitamin necessary for normal blood formation. It is also important for the maintenance of neurological function and psychiatric health. Low B12 may cause loss of concentration, memory loss, disorientation and mental slowness.
In order to get adequate amounts of this vitamin, orally administered pill or fortified foods such as cereals and soy milk, are recommended.
Lack of vitamin A affects spatial memory. In an experiment by Chongqing Medical University, it was found that rats on vitamin A deficient diet have more problems with learning memory and had a harder time finishing the Radial arm maze for which they were trained than rats who had normal levels of the vitamin.
The foods highest in Vitamin A are any pigmented fruits and vegetables and leafy green vegetables. It has been found that memory has the largest improvement when along with A zinc is also increased. Zinc is a mineral found in spinach, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, watermelon seeds.
In fine, the food we eat does affect our moods, learning, memory, and other brain functions. Therefore the modern research has substantiated the age-old adage:
‘We are what we eat.’
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