What to feed your brain with this autumn?
With autumn comes responsibilities: the backlog of work that we all pushed to the 'later' category in the summer, the start of the school year, which means a new chunk of information for our brain. And then there are the employers, constantly demanding results. The summer holidays are over, the brain has rested, and unfortunately, we have to get down to work. And to help you get the job done, today we're going to tell you about 3 nutrients that will help you prepare your brain for the workday.
You've probably all heard about the cardiovascular benefits of Omega 3, but do you know about the importance of Omega 3 for our brains? The brain is one of the fattest organs in our body, with fat making up almost 60% of brain mass (Chang CY et al., 2009). The polyunsaturated fatty acids, including Omega 3, are important molecules that determine the brain's ability to do its job effectively. Omega 3 contributes to various functions in the brain and nervous system, for example (Dyall, 2015; Healy-Stoffel and Levant, 2018):
- facilitates communication between neurons.
- keeps neuronal membranes healthy for proper functioning.
- assists in the production of signalling molecules and maintains the activity of these molecules.
- stimulates the production of neurons, thus indirectly influencing the regeneration of brain tissue.
- potentially improves cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory and object recognition.
- potentially helps to treat and/or alleviate neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, depression.
The main omega-3 fatty acids in humans are alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is a non-essential acid, which means that we do not produce it in our bodies and must get it from food. Some ALA can then be converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but our bodies produce only very small amounts of EPA and DHA (NIH, 2018). It is therefore best to get EPA and DHA from food or supplements as well.
For most people, around 80% of their vitamin D intake is replenished through skin synthesis in sunlight (Wimalawansa, 2018), but as the cold season approaches, the sun hides behind clouds, the UV radiation is not as intense, and vitamin D production is lower. And we need this vitamin not only to maintain normal bones and regulate calcium levels, but also for many other functions. Vitamin D acts in the human body through vitamin D receptors (VDRs), which are located in many cells (Pilz et al., 2019). There is a growing body of evidence linking VDRs and vitamin D activity to immune function, cardiovascular disease and, of course, brain function (Prietl et al., 2013).
Studies show that vitamin D deficiency is associated with Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. (Sommer et al., 2017) A systematic review looked at 5 studies that assessed the impact of vitamin D on the risk of dementia. The study found that people who are severely deficient in vitamin D are at higher risk of dementia than those who are not deficient in vitamin D. The exact mechanism of how vitamin D works in the brain is not known, but the vitamin may remove amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, as well as regulate calcium turnover, and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (Anjum et al., 2018).
Vitamin D stores can be supplemented with food, which contains two forms of vitamin D - vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (or ergocalciferol). Vitamin D3 is found in animal products such as oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), egg yolk and liver. Meanwhile, vitamin D2 is found in plant-based products such as UVB-exposed mushrooms or artificially vitamin D-enriched plant milk and breakfast cereals (Laird et al., 2010). The truth is that we do not consume many of these foods and obtaining vitamin D from food alone is difficult. Therefore, supplementation with vitamin D supplements is recommended, especially during the cold season when we receive less sunlight.
Creatine is an amino acid whose primary function is not the production of protein - as a molecule, creatine phosphate is involved in energy production. Because of this function, creatine is widely used at times of high energy demand, such as during intense sports or mental activity. The largest stores of creatine are found in muscle, but creatine is stored in the brain as well because the brain is one of the most metabolically active organs, accounting for as much as 20% of the body's energy intake (Gualano et al., 2009). When we give our brains more activity, they work harder, so it is natural that the brain needs optimal energy production to recover faster. This is especially true when brain creatine levels are reduced due to stressors, which can be short-term such as sleep deprivation, sports or chronic due to trauma, Alzheimer's disease, depression (H et al., 2021). Creatine can contribute to improving brain performance including cognitive activities such as counting, word recall, reaction time and so on, and the greatest benefits of creatine supplementation have been experienced by individuals exposed to various types of stress and ageing (Avgerinos et al., 2018).
Creatine is not a synthetic molecule produced in a laboratory - our bodies make creatine themselves, but it can also be obtained from other sources - mainly animal products such as meat and fish, as their muscles also produce creatine for energy. Creatine is almost non-existent in plant-based products, so vegetarians, vegans have a lower concentration of creatine in their bodies than omnivores. In this case, it is possible to eat foods that stimulate the synthesis of creatine in the body or to take supplements.
Omega 3, vitamin D, creatine - these are just some of the substances that help our brain’s function. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, physical activity, emotional health - these are the cornerstones we can manage to help ourselves to reach the 'next level of myself'.
- Anjum, I., Jaffery, S.S., Fayyaz, M., Samoo, Z. and Anjum, S. 2018. The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus. 10(7).
- Avgerinos, K.I., Spyrou, N., Bougioukas, K.I. and Kapogiannis, D. 2018. Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Experimental gerontology. 108, p.166.
- Chang CY, Ke DS and Chen JY 2009. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. 18(4), pp.231–41.
- Dyall, S.C. 2015. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 7(APR).
- Gualano, B., Artioli, G.G., Poortmans, J.R. and Lancha Junior, A.H. 2009. Exploring the therapeutic role of creatine supplementation. Amino Acids 2009. 38(1), pp.31–44.
- H, R., B, G., SM, O. and ES, R. 2021. Creatine Supplementation and Brain Health. Nutrients. 13(2), pp.1–10.
- Healy-Stoffel, M. and Levant, B. 2018. N-3 (omega-3) fatty acids: effects on brain dopamine systems and potential role in the etiology and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. CNS & neurological disorders drug targets. 17(3), p.216.
- Laird, E., Ward, M., McSorley, E., Strain, J.J. and Wallace, J. 2010. Vitamin D and bone health; Potential mechanisms. Nutrients. 2(7), pp.693–724.
- NIH 2018. Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Consumer. [Accessed 29 August 2021]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/.
- Pilz, S., Zittermann, A., Trummer, C., Theiler-Schwetz, V., Lerchbaum, E., Keppel, M.H., Grübler, M.R., März, W. and Pandis, M. 2019. Vitamin D testing and treatment: A narrative review of current evidence. Endocrine Connections. 8(2), pp.R27–R43.
- Prietl, B., Treiber, G., Pieber, T.R. and Amrein, K. 2013. Vitamin D and immune function. Nutrients. 5(7), pp.2502–2521.
- Sommer, I., Griebler, U., Kien, C., Auer, S., Klerings, I., Hammer, R., Holzer, P. and Gartlehner G 2017. Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC geriatrics. 17(1), pp.1–13.
- Wimalawansa, S.J. 2018. Non-musculoskeletal benefits of vitamin D. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 175, pp.60–81.