Top 5 Nutrients Your Brain Needs
Menopause affects the health of the entire body, from the bones to the immune system. Does that mean it also affects the health of our brains? Yes! There are millions of estrogen receptors scattered throughout the body, including the brain. These receptors bind to estrogens. When they bind together, the estrogen molecule feeds information to the estrogen receptor that helps regulate specific processes within the system (i.e., the brain).
So what happens when levels of estrogen decrease and can’t bind to those estrogen receptors as often? Without those estrogens, it becomes more difficult for the brain to regulate certain functions, like memory, concentration, and alertness. Finding ways to support this shift through proper nutrition is essential to supporting the health of your brain.
So what nutrients does the brain need in order to maintain its many functions? These are the top 5 nutrients your brain needs to stay healthy.
B-Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12)
Now each of these B-vitamins is its own compound, but these B-vitamins are essential to helping maintain neurological functions. Without enough B-vitamins, the brain has an increased risk of suffering nerve cell damage, developing early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and mood disorders like depression or anxiety. Additionally, B-vitamin deficiency can lead to the degeneration of the myelin sheath, which is the protective coating around nerve cells. Without the myelin sheath, information can’t be passed between nerve cells and can result in the loss of many motor functions.
It’s important to get enough B-vitamins through diet and dietary supplements. There are 8 essential B-vitamins, part of the B-vitamin complex. Ideally, women should consume foods or supplements that provide them with the full panel of B-vitamins, but there are six of these B-vitamins that are specifically crucial for keeping the brain (and nervous system) healthy.
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pyridoxine (B6)
- Folate (B9)
- Cobalamin (B12)
It’s recommended that the average person consumes foods that contain up to 20 percent of their Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of specific vitamins and minerals. The best food sources of B-Vitamins tend to be meat and dairy sources like:
Some fortified products like fortified cereals can provide you with adequate amounts of B-vitamins, and are a good alternative option for people who are lactose intolerant, have other related food allergies, or choose not to eat meat. However, it’s important to introduce B-vitamin supplements into a regular dietary regimen if these circumstances apply to your diet.
Magnesium also plays an essential role in maintaining brain health. Magnesium helps regulate the function of specific receptors that are attached to nerve cells, called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These receptors help maintain memory functions in the brain. When the brain is healthy, magnesium rests inside these NMDA receptors and prevents nerve cells from being accidentally and unnecessarily stimulated by weaker signals.
When NMDA receptors are stimulated by weaker signals too often, they become overused, which can damage and even kill nerve cells. If enough of these nerve cells become damaged or die, it can lead to brain damage, decreased memory, and changes to other neurological functions.
Foods high in magnesium can help maintain healthy nerve cells in the brain. The best dietary sources of magnesium tend to be nuts, seeds, and vegetables like:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black beans
Taking a magnesium supplement can also help improve the dietary intake of magnesium for people with nut and seed allergies.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, and like all antioxidants, it plays a critical role in reducing oxidative stress and eliminating free radicals in cells. This helps keeps cells healthy and lowers the risk of serious infections spreading from cell to cell. Most people may think that antioxidants are only needed to fight off cases of flu and colds, but actually, antioxidants help lower the risk of all kinds of diseases, including neurological ones.
Oxidative stress in brain cells can lead to the development of neurological disorders that can affect everything from memory to motor functions. Antioxidants like Vitamin E can help lower this risk by improving the immune response of certain cells, which can help cells fight against oxidative stress more effectively.
Excellent sources of Vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds (seed oil)
- Red bell peppers
- Collard greens
Vitamin E supplements are available on the market, but additional medication options may need to be used for individuals who have inherent nutritional deficiencies.
Choline is a water-soluble compound that’s often grouped with B-vitamins due to its behavioral similarities. That being said, choline is not a vitamin or mineral, unlike the B-vitamin complex. Choline is involved in various processes in the body.
Its most important regulatory roles include:
- Supporting cell structure
- Maintain cell messaging
- Metabolizing fats and cholesterol
- DNA synthesis
- Regulating the nervous system
In terms of brain health, Choline helps keep cell membranes of different neurological cells intact. However, the most important role that choline plays in brain health is cell signaling. Choline helps improve the creation and release of a necessary protein, acetylcholine, which carries signals between brain cells. This protein is especially important to maintaining memory.
Choline can be found in a variety of food sources like:
As women age and undergo menopause, it’s especially important to get enough choline in their diet to maintain brain health and support memory.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Many women are familiar with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that help regulate many processes associated with brain development and neurological health. These fatty acids are essential to maintaining cell functions in the brain. They help maintain healthy cell membranes. This means that brain cells can better communicate with each other and send signals more effectively.
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids have been observed to possess certain properties that may help improve and stabilize moods. Several studies have looked at the anti-inflammatory properties of these fatty acids and their potential effects on depression. While the testing methods between each study differed, similarities were seen among people who consumed moderate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and general improvements in mood.
Foods with moderate to high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish (salmon, mackerel, herring)
- Flax seeds
Brain Health Starts With Nutrition
Taking proactive steps to support brain health starts with a balanced diet and great nutrition. As women go through menopause, it’s essential to help preserve all aspects of health. Be sure to adjust dietary elements to better serve nutritional needs. Drink plenty of water every day to help the body better absorb those nutrients, and remember to get enough sleep every night to help maintain neurological health.