The human brain is remarkably responsive to the food we eat. As a result, our meals have an enormous influence over our health and brain functions. Missing nutrients, environmental toxins, day-to-day stress, overwork and stimulants such as alcohol, tobacco and junk food affect our state of health and functioning of brain.
Some people who under stress normally handle a situation with ease at times begin to overreact to the same situation when they age. Such exaggerated reactions become part of a vicious cycle. One may feel that such a reaction is part of one’s personality. But in reality, it may be due to a lack of nutrients that throws you into a stress response further damaging the health of your brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers responsible for the transfer of information, memory and moods. They’re like telephone lines; if there is a problem with the functioning of neurotransmitters, information cannot be transferred and retained by the brain. What constitutes neurotransmitters? Besides adequate protein in your daily food regime, there are key vitamins and minerals that supply the raw material for the provision of dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and serotonin, all of which are neurotransmitters with varied functions.
Vitamin B6: This helps in the making of neurotransmitters, which boost brain function. About 2 mg per day is sufficient to keep your brain in good condition. Vitamin B6 when taken along with other B-vitamins as in a B-complex supplement and vitamin C improves mood, promotes clean thinking and helps control emotions. It protects the brain from stress.
Vitamin B12: A deficiency of this affects memory and concentration, and causes disorientation, burning of feet and problems in the nervous system. Usually those above 60 cannot assimilate B12 from the food they eat. If you have a good digestive system, a B12 deficiency is rare. This vitamin is found in animal foods such as milk, chicken, fish and eggs. If you are a vegetarian and do not consume dairy products, you may develop a deficiency.
B-complex: Even a mild deficiency of B-vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin and niacin has an impact on memory and thinking capabilities. n Lecithin and choline: These play an important role in maintaining a healthy nervous system. Lecithin keeps cholesterol in the liquid form and prevents formation of gallstones. It helps improve memory and protects the brain against damage due to stress. It is an effective liver cleanser and provides choline, a non B-vitamin which in turn is used to make acetyl choline, an important neurotransmitter needed for memory.
Lecithin is available in the form of powder or granules in health food shops. Two tablespoons per day is the recommended dose to boost memory. Lecithin is available naturally in egg yolks, nuts such as almonds, sesame seeds, soyabeans, whole wheat and wheat germ.
While these supplements help your brain think and function better, they have to be complemented with a healthy eating pattern and lifestyle. Exercising regularly helps increase circulation to the brain and protects it from stress. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other such stimulants which damage brain tissues. Above all, cultivating a spiritual life and self-awareness is crucial for longevity, inner peace, destressing and good mental health.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre