It doesn’t take the brain power of Albert Einstein to understand that our bodies naturally tend to slow down as we continue the unavoidable journey through the aging process. From our joints and heart to the digestive system and every corner of our biology in between, getting older requires constant vigilance to keep the body healthy well into old age.
Article at a Glance:
The Complexity of the Brain
- Einstein’s Brain
- All brains are truly remarkable
Neurons & Glial Cells
- Neurons are responsible for gathering and transmitting information
- Glia guide fledgling neurons and protect them
- Glia also regulate communication between nerve cells
Nutrients For Your Brain
- Vitamins B6, B12, Folate/Folic Acid - These work individually and in conjunction to support the nervous system, guard against cognitive decline, and positively influence mood
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids maintain normal brain function in adults, promote neurological health into old age, and even combat depression
- Magnesium is essential for many enzymatic reactions in the body, but also shows promise in reducing anxiety
And as the super computer guiding and monitoring the entire system, your brain needs a specific dose of carefully curated daily nutrients in order to maintain—and even improve—cognitive function with each passing birthday.
Exactly How Complex Is Your Brain?
Before we can know what nutrients your brain needs for everyday health, we should attempt to unlock the secrets of the brain and understand what it is and what it does. Shouldn’t be too difficult a task, right?
When the aforementioned Nobel Prize-winning physicist Einstein died in 1955, scientists clamored to study the brain that gave us e=mc². The New York Times even ran a front-page article two days after Einstein died with the boisterous headline “Key Clue Sought In Einstein Brain; Study of Blood Vessels in Its Covering May Shed Light on Secret of Genius.” The scientific community—and curious readers—wanted to know what was special about the brain that worked out the theory of relativity.
And while a handful of studies argued that Einstein’s brain did in fact boast unique qualities, none have presented conclusive evidence. Therefore, it is possible to infer that the truth is, all brains are impressive in their own way—regardless if the organ’s host is a physicist, a journalist or average high school student.
Weighing in at approximately 3 pounds, the human brain is a congealed collection of fats and protein with a molecular construction comprised of cells called glia and neurons. This is as true for your brain as it was for Einstein’s. As for the role of these two cells, putting it simply, the neurons transmit electrochemical signals and the glia protects those neurons from damage. However, the truth is, there is nothing about the human brain that should be “simply put.”
The Neurons & Glial Cells of Your Brain
Numbering in the billions each, your neurons and glial cells exist in a harmonious relationship that sees amazing accomplishments made possible by tireless support. Neurons are well-known in the nervous system for their branch-like protrusions called axons and dendrites, each constantly gathering and transmitting information like nerve impulses, action potential, and environmental perception. But while neurons are often credited as the main player in the nervous system, they are actually outnumbered by glial cells.
And without glia, your neurons would be completely unable to function. Glia work to guide fledgling neurons to their destinations, while keeping potentially dangerous ions and chemicals at bay. Meanwhile, scientists suggest glia could play a key role in regulating communication between nerve cells.
One scientific paper states that, “the realization that neurons and glia actively communicate with one another through reciprocal chemical and trophic signals suggests that many important roles for glia in nervous system development, plasticity and disease remain to be identified.”
This complex network of cells we label as “the brain” are responsible for every shred of our shared humanity—giving us the ability to breathe, love, work, remember, and everything else that makes us human. The sheer possibility that our brain can be compromised in any way should inspire us to rigorously adhere to a well thought-out daily regimen of brain empowerment.
The Nutrients That Do A Brain Good
Brain health is something that should be on your mind every day—after all, your brain is constantly hard at work, even when you’re sleeping or zoning out at the end of a long day. This is especially true as you age, when cognitive conditions that could jeopardize your very humanity are an ever-looming threat. Then there’s much more immediate concern associated with mood, specifically anxiety, and depression—which are detrimental to your overall brain health, as well as your ability to complete even the most routine of tasks. We've talked about nootropics and their ability to deliver oxygen to the brain before, but let's get into the nitty gritty of the everyday brain health.
Vitamins B6, B12, & Folate (Folic Acid) For Brain Health
While your brain only represents around 2% of your total body weight, it is by far the most metabolically active organ in your entire body. This means it requires a wealth of energy to keep humming along—and the B complex of vitamins is a good place to start when energy is what you need. But when it comes to the brain, there are three B vitamins in particular that have the ability to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Let’s start with vitamin B9, better known as folate/folic acid, a water-soluble vitamin naturally occurring in leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. While all B vitamins are critical for the production of your brain’s neurotransmitters, folate specifically is important to the nervous system for people of all ages, especially in mood and cognitive function.
According to research, folic acid (the common version of folate used in nutritional supplements) works to lower inflammation and levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that could contribute to a decline in brain health if levels get too high.
But perhaps the most critical significance of folic acid is the role it plays in gene expression, which relates to a gene being switched either on or off. Studies have shown that folic acid can actually silence (switch off) genes that could potentially produce proteins that have a hand in jumpstarting certain degenerative brain conditions.
And folic acid isn’t just good for your brain when you are in advanced age; the nutrient is also highly recommended during pregnancy in order to prevent birth defects in a baby’s brain.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are also highly regarded among the B complex for their brain benefits. In fact, studies show that folic acid works with vitamins B6 and B12 in tandem to prevent cognitive decline and dementia. In a study from Oxford University, researchers found that taking folic acid, along with B12 and B6, could reduce brain atrophy, while improving cognitive function and guarding against brain shrinkage in the sector of the brain most associated with degenerative brain conditions.
Meanwhile, one of those B vitamins appears to be connected to a very specific category of mental health. According to a study out of Japan, a deficiency in vitamin B6 and iron could trigger chemical changes in the brain that lead to various forms of anxiety, like hyperventilation and panic attacks. The data from this study demonstrated that individuals with anxiety had low levels of B6 and iron—with researchers surmising that vitamin B6 plays a key role in synthesizing serotonin, one of the hormones linked to happiness.
Omega-3: A Nutrient For Cognitive Function and Depression
Among the many reasons to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your life, brain support might be the most imperative—and when you consider that your brain is 60% fat, it makes all the sense in the world. Found in both fish oil and krill oil, omega-3 fatty acids are explicitly important to the health of that vital organ sitting in your skull. As we’ve discussed in past blogs, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two forms of omega-3 fatty acids most noted for their upkeep of brain function in adults. And with DHA specifically, studies show a positive rate of support in neurotransmission (the process by which your brain cells communicate).
Two studies stand out when it comes to omega-3s and brain health. One followed Dutch adults 55 and older and demonstrated that individuals who consumed fish with high levels of omega-3s were up to 60% less likely to develop degenerative brain conditions. The second study focused on parameters of healthy aging and found that individuals who maintained a more regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to maintain neurological health as they got older.
And omega-3s even chime in when it comes to mood, particularly depression. Evidence seems to show that increasing an individual’s omega-3 intake could be an effective way to combat depression. This is because of omega-3’s proclivity for repairing brain cells in the hippocampus—an area of the brain that could experience shrinkage in some individuals battling depression.
Magnesium: The Calming Mineral
Magnesium is a versatile mineral that has recently become prized for its ability to help people cope with a stressful world. Previously associated with digestive issues like constipation and indigestion, and cardiovascular concerns such as high blood pressure, magnesium has recently found itself in the middle of research related to anxiety and stress.
Magnesium serves as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions, and is essential for the regulation of muscle contraction, among many other functions.
But a 2017 review of magnesium examined 18 different studies and concluded that the mineral showed promise in reducing anxiety. The studies in question focused on mild anxiety, premenstrual anxiety, postpartum anxiety and generalized anxiety, and it was found that magnesium’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters is the chief reason why it could help people feel more calm.
Further research shows that magnesium affects the brain’s hypothalamus, a regulator of the pituitary and adrenal glands—which are responsible for our response to stress. All of this adds up to magnesium coming to the forefront of anxiety management.
The Collective Consciousness of Everyday Brain Nutrition
No matter what complex problems you face on a daily basis, your brain’s state of wellbeing should be of the utmost importance. And while a varied mix of nutrients is as good for your brain as it is for other aspects of health, zeroing in on a specific collection of brain-forward nutrients could drastically elevate your brain’s cognitive performance and everyday mental state. You might not crack the theory of relativity any time soon, but your brain will appreciate your effort to protect it with the proper nutrients.