How to feed a healthy brain

Joy Thomas, Technical Business Development Manager, Cornelius Group looks at the latest development in food supplements to promote brain health and maintain mental functions

The brain is a key organ at the centre of the nervous system; it’s our 'on board computer'. It gives us the capacity for art, language, moral judgements and rational thought. It is also responsible for an individual’s personality, memories, movement and how we see the world. So, really, it plays a key role in making us human.

There is still so much that we do not know about the brain and research is ongoing all the time. Recently, researchers found that a single region of the brain may control the ageing process. It is believed that the hypothalamus - the area that controls hunger, thirst, body temperature and fatigue – may be the 'fountain of ageing', controlling how the body declines with time. Studies blocking particular pathways in the brain have shown a slowdown in ageing in mice, increasing longevity by about 20%.

It is believed that the hypothalamus may be the 'fountain of ageing', controlling how the body declines with time

There are lots of issues associated with when the brain does not work as well as it should, or when things start to go wrong. We know that good nutrition builds better brains and nutritional depletion threatens the brain in later life. Work has been done to show that children with unhealthy diets have the worst behaviours and achievement levels, while research shows that good supplementation can help to improve matters. So, what are the latest supplements that can help brain health?

Not so fishy

The idea that eating fish is somehow good for the brain has been around for many years. The medical profession dismissed it as an old wives’ tale; however, current science has proved that the premise is largely correct. Fish oils contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an essential omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to have a positive effect on the brain and boasts an approved Health Claim in the EU for DHA contributing to the maintenance of normal brain function.

A new development in DHA is DHAid from Lonza Nutrition. This is a source of DHA obtained from the microalgae Schizochytrium sp. by using a unique fermentation process. As well as being vegetarian, it contains high levels of DHA, is environmentally friendly (being derived from renewable sources), allergen free and is free from the potential contaminants associated with seafood.

Chicken protein

DIANA FOOD has taken advantage of its 25 years of expertise in the poultry industry to develop an innovative protein extraction process. Peptid’Up is an extract made from 100% chicken muscle containing high, guaranteed levels of the naturally occurring dipeptides carnosine and anserine. Carnosine and anserine are two dipeptides that were discovered in the 1900s that are made of beta alanine and histidine. These are thought to be strong antioxidants and enzymatic regulators.

Carnosine and anserine are thought to be strong antioxidants and enzymatic regulators

Our carnosine content has been shown to decrease as we age, so taking a supplement of Peptid’Up can help neuroprotection and maintain cognitive function. Clinical trials on students have highlighted the impact of chicken extract on stress modulation by reducing cortisol concentration, promoting attention and memory.

Not just for sports

Creapure is another ingredient that is new for brain health. Creapure (creatine monohydrate from AlzChem) has been used by sportsmen and women for many years to improve maximal strength and recovery. Creapure intake also results in improved concentration and contributes to brain function and memory. The effects of creatine supplementation on mental performance were investigated in a Japanese study published in 2002. More studies are always being done, including looking at the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle and cognitive function in young healthy male adults and an ageing population.

Studies are looking at the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle and cognitive function
Copyright AlzChem

Bananas and sleep

We all know that some foods can make us sleepy, such as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. But how does this work? Foods such as dairy, oats, bananas and turkey contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps to raise serotonin and melatonin levels in the body, both of which can induce sleep and have a positive impact on mood, anxiety and stress control.

As tryptophan is an essential amino acid, it cannot be produced by the body so must be obtained in our food. However, it is the least abundant amino acid in the diet. Turkey meat contains only 1g of tryptophan per 300g. Therefore, supplementation may help increase levels in our diet.

Turkey meat contains only 1g of tryptophan per 300g

Alpha-lactalbumin from Davisco contains 4.8g of tryptophan per 100g of protein, the purest on the market. This is because of the ion exchange method of manufacture. One study showed that evening alpha-lactalbumin (20g containing 1g of tryptophan) intake caused a 130% increase in the ratio of plasma tryptophan to the sum of the other large neutral amino acids before bedtime. This significantly improved sleep quality and mental alertness in the morning.

Optimal nutrition

We are living longer. Eurostat estimates that the percentage of people aged 65 and older will increase from 17% to 30% by 2050. Also, conditions such as dementia are increasing. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, by 2015 there will be 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and by 2025 this will increase to 1 million. Therefore, we are all keen to investigate simple diet and lifestyle changes that can help to delay or avoid the onset of many conditions associated with ageing and so improve the quality of life. This includes the brain.

The proper function of neurotransmitters and hormones depends on correct nutrition

The brain communicates with the body, and vice versa, through electrical signals, through neurotransmitters and via hormones. The proper function of neurotransmitters and hormones depends on correct nutrition, so we should not be surprised if mental function improves with optimal nutrition.

The key to optimal nutrition is to find what works for you. It may be healthy eating supplemented with particular nutrients, maybe some of the ones mentioned previously. This may help to maintain good brain health but also act preventatively against the risk of degenerative disease. Through a healthy diet and lifestyle, we may be able to keep our brain healthy for longer.