Nourishing Your Noggin
The top 5 vitamins and minerals to boost your brainpower
Sept. 22, 2004 -- We all know by now that eating a healthful diet rich in
whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help us stay slim and lower our risk
for heart disease, but did you know that a growing body of research shows that
this type of diet also preserves memory, boosts alertness, and may even stave
off the blues and prevent Alzheimer's disease!
It's true! "Nutrition plays a significant and crucial role over the long
run and the short run in brain health," says Ray Sahelian, MD, a Marina Del
Ray, Calif.-based physician and author of Mind Boosters. "We can
maintain a healthy and active mind well into our 80s and 90s by eating
properly," he tells WebMD.
Why tax your brain doing all the research for what it needs to thrive? WebMD
did it for you by putting together a list of the top five brain-friendly
nutrients you need to stay smart, starting with:
Eating More E
"For a long time, people believed that a common component of vitamin E
called alpha tocopherol was most important, but another form called gamma
tocopherol is definitely a protective antioxidant in brain disorders," says
Aimee Shunney, ND, the coordinator of the educational and wellness program at
Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When you consume food rich in vitamin E, including almonds, green leafy
vegetables, corn oil, sunflower oil, hazelnuts, and whole-grain flour, you get
both alpha tocopherols and gamma tocopherols, she says. If you are choosing
supplements, look for vitamin E with "mixed tocopherols" and take 400
IU a day, she says. Vitamin functions as an antioxidant and the brain is
particularly susceptible to free radicals (damaging, unstable molecules). Some
research indicates that vitamin E can delay progression of Alzheimer's disease
and/or prevent it from occurring in the first place by reducing the free
B Good to Yourself
"B vitamins are involved in helping the formation of brain chemicals
such as dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin," Sahelian says. In fact, each
B vitamin plays its own role in preserving brain function and mental acuity.
Starting from folic acid (a B complex), which helps in the early brain
development, these vitamins help in many aspects of metabolism. A few recent
studies have shown a link between declines in memory and Alzheimer's disease in
the elderly and inadequate levels of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6.
Reduced levels of folate are associated with high levels of homocysteine -- a
marker of heart disease and stroke.
"Vitamin B12 has a number of roles including helping in the formation of
myelin," Sahelian says. Myelin forms layers or a sheath around the nerve
fibers and acts as insulation. Sahelian points out that B12 is mainly found in
meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish, and poultry), and an as result,
vegetarians may be deficient. This deficiency could lead to nerve damage,
memory loss, low moods, and mental slowness. His advice? Shoot for between 3
and 100 micrograms a day.
It worked for nutritionist Molly Kimball's grandmother. "Sometimes as
people age, they have impaired absorption of B12," says Kimball, a
nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. In
fact, B12 deficiency can present as similar to Alzheimer's disease, she says.
"My grandmother couldn't make sense until her doctor supplemented her
B12," she tells WebMD.