Your brain needs fuel for all the work it does and also requires a high level of maintenance. A balanced diet with an emphasis on quality protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and herbs can improve brain function and may even prevent cognitive decline. There is some convincing research, which suggests that some basic foods and herbs may stimulate and improve memory, learning and problem solving.

 

Good fats

We know that a diet high in refined sugar can cause inflammation but also it seems that certain types of fat can also worsen memory and cognitive skills over time. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Study indicated that women who consumed a diet high in saturated fats found in red meat and butter had lower memory recall and poorer cognitive outcomes. Women who consumed monounsaturated fat (MUFA) in their diet from olive oil, nuts and avocado had better memory and cognitive outcomes. [1,2]

Nootropics

Nootropics are drugs, supplements or functional foods that may have the ability to improve mental functions. Synthetic ‘smart drugs’ usually come with adverse effects, however clinical studies involving functional foods, essential oils and herbs have shown interesting outcomes.

A nootropic is any substance that enhances mental function. That substance can include synthetic chemicals, nutritional supplements or food. [3]

According to one review on nootropics [3], these substances work directly or indirectly on the brain and the mechanisms are as follows:

  • Increase circulation to the brain;
  • Improve neuron function or growth;
  • Prevent oxidative damage to brain cells;
  • Provide energy to the brain;
  • Improve or alter the brain’s chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

 

10 Evidence Based Brain Boosters

 

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens & cruciferous vegetables contain vitamins and minerals such as folate, which is important for functioning of the nervous system at all ages. Folic acid affects mood and cognitive function, especially on the ageing population. A folate deficiency due to low dietary intake has been associated with depression and cognitive decline. [4,5]

How to choose: Choose a variety of greens and focus on organic, local and seasonal produce. Try Kale, Beetroot leaves, Endives, Purslane, Parsley, Chicory, Bok Choy.

Fish

Oily fish such as sardines, wild salmon, anchovies and mackerel contain omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA & DHA) and are essential for normal brain function and has been shown to pay an important role against development of many diseases of the body. The protective activity can be attributed to the anti-inflammatory activity of EPA and DHA. Dimethyaminoethanol (DMAE) is also found in seafood and increases acetylcholine an important neurotransmitter involved in muscle stimulation and optimal brain functioning such as memory, concentration and focus. [6,3]

How to choose: Look for seafood that is local and wild caught such as Fremantle sardines.

Walnuts 

Walnuts contain brain-boosting substances such as protein, polyphenols, tocopherol, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)- ALA converts to EPA and DHA in the liver and plays a role in reduction of oxidative stress. [7]

How to choose: Western Australia grows some of the best, creamiest walnuts in the world. Avoid packaging and buy in the shell.

Eggs

Not only high in protein but contains choline, a precursor to acetylcholine. Acetylcholine diminishes as we age and is vital for not only optimal brain function but also for contraction of muscles of the heart, digestive system and muscular system.

How to choose: Choose pastured, local eggs.

Berries

Berries/ berry extracts especially dark blue/purple (blackberries, bilberries and wild blueberries) contain anthocyanin, which provides protection against free radicals.

How to choose: If you can’t find seasonal berries try freeze dried or frozen berries. These can be placed in smoothies or chia, porridge.

Rosemary & Sage Essential oils

The inhalation of certain aromas have been shown to influence mood. Rosemary and sage has been traditionally linked to brain stimulation and memory enhancement. [9]

Green tea

One of my top favourites for anti-ageing. Green tea is known for its anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective effects. There are several catechins in green tea, which show promising results for improving learning and memory. It also contains caffeine, which stimulates the brain and a small amount of L-theanine. Theanine converts in the brain to GABA, which causes instant relaxation [3]

Ayurvedic Herbs

Hundreds of herbal plants have been traditionally used for learning and memory improvement but only a few have been tested in clinical trials. Always seek advice from a medical herbalist or naturopath for correct choice of herbal nootropics, correct dosage and a review of interactions.

Herbs that have proven to be beneficial are:

  • Ginko biloba– Improves blood flow. Increased blood flow benefits the brain by supplying, oxygen, and nutrients and also removes waste products.
  • Gotu kola– Gotu kola is an adaptogenic herb and may improve depression and stress, which can affect cognitive performance.
  • Bacopa monniera has been used as a cognitive enhancer and brain tonic in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It main active ingredients are bramine and herpestine. [3,8]

Beets

Beets are of high nutritional value and a definite brain booster. They contain choline, which helps to boost the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. They also contain iron, which helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. A deficiency in iron will give you brain fog.  Beets contain nitrates, which dilate blood vessels allowing an increase in nutrients and oxygen to the brain. [10]

Best way to consume: Both roots and leaves can be eaten. Roots can be steamed or roasted. Try Kvass a fermented beetroot tonic complete with probiotics!

 

References:

  1. Okereke OI, Rosner BA, Kim DH, Kang JH, Cook NR, Manson JE, et al. Dietary fat types and 4-year cognitive change in community-dwelling older women. Ann Neurol 2012  [cited 2018 Aug 10];72(1):124–134. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405188/pdf/nihms365507.pdf
  2. Harward Health Publishing. Protect your brain with good fat [internet] Harvard University. 2012. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-with-good-fat
  3. Asif K. Unique Journal of Engineering and Advanced Sciences. 2013 [cited 2018 Aug 10];1(1):31–7. Available from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a01a/f800271cf11f4ccb87c7c739d29582bea2f3.pdf
  4. Reynolds EH. Folic acid, ageing, depression, and dementia. BMJ: British Medical Journal. 2002 [cited 2018 Aug 10]; 324(7352):1512-1515. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1123448/
  5. Gómez-Pinilla F. the Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function [internet]. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 [cited 2018 Aug 9]; 9(july):568–78. Available from: http://dx.doi:10.1038/nrn2421
  6. Köbe T, Witte AV, Schnelle A, Lesemann A, Fabian S, Tesky V a., et al. Combined omega-3 fatty acids, aerobic exercise and cognitive stimulation prevents decline in gray matter volume of the frontal, parietal and cingulate cortex in patients with mild cognitive impairment [Internet]. NeuroImage. 2015 [cited 2018 Aug 10]; Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811915008721
  7. Poulose SM, Miller MG, Shukitt-Hale B. Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age [internet]. J Nutr. 2014 [cited 2018 Aug 7]; Available from: http://dx.doi:10.3945/jn.113.184838
  8. Russo A, Borrelli F. Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: An overview. Phytomedicine [internet]. 2005 [cited 2018 Aug 10]; Available from: http://dx.doi:10.1016/j.phymed.203.12.008
  9. Moss, M., Cook, J., Wesnes, K., & Duckett, P. Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adults [internet]. The International Journal Of Neuroscience 2003 [cited 2018 Aug 10];113(1), 15-38.
  10. Petrie M, Rejeski WJ, Basu S, Laurienti PJ, Marsh AP, Norris JL, et al. Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain [internet]. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 [cited 2018 Aug 10]; 72(9):1284–9. Available from: http://dx.doi:10.1093/gerona/glw219