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Nutrition and the Brain

The human brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons, which communicate with each other by sending out chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. When these chemicals send their signals, the message is further amplified electrically and sent throughout the body. The chemical messengers that send signals between nerve cells include norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, which are made from building blocks of protein called amino acids. Nutrition influences mental performance, energy and mood, as well as the long-term aging of brain tissue.

Nutrition affects mental energy and the function of your brain throughout the day. Caffeine consumed in beverages and supplements increases the performance of the brain as measured by positive changes in attention, performance and mood. Low blood sugar from skipping meals or eating unbalanced meals results in reduced mental performance several hours later. On the other hand, meals that maintain blood-sugar levels by balancing protein and the right carbohydrates maintain mental performance. This may account for the increased energy that is sensed after a high-protein and/or high-carbohydrate meal.

The Brain: A Nutritional Barometer
While certain macronutrients, such as Vitamin B12, are needed for normal brain function, the brain reflects the overall nutrition of the individual. For example, having excess fat in the upper body can damage nerve cells by causing inflammation. The brain is 70 percent fat and the type of fat in the diet can affect brain function. Plant-based antioxidants have been shown to improve memory in animal experiments. Increased blood flow to the brain, as occurs with regular physical activity, may also have beneficial effects on brain function. The study of nutrition and brain function in humans is in its infancy, but the central roles of weight management, physical activity, fish oils and antioxidant phytonutrients are being actively studied.

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