Category Archives: brain

Igennus MindCare® : Lift your mood

Lift your mood with optimum nutrition MindCare cover woman iStock_000016416086XXXLarge - Copy

Nutrition can have a huge impact on mood, by providing the brain with the right building blocks for the structure of the brain, as well as supporting production of mood-enhancing brain chemical messengers such as serotonin. The brain requires an array of vitamins and minerals to support cell structure and enzyme processes, so it’s no surprise that nutrition has such a strong effect on mood.

For this reason, Igennus have formulated four targeted MindCare® supplements offering all-in-1 advanced brain nutrition to transform how you feel.

Key nutrients for enhancing mood

Omega-3 EPA and DHA

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are possibly the most well known and beneficial nutrients for supporting brain function and mood. A diet naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids from seafood effectively boosts mood and also correlates with reduced levels of bipolar disorder, helping to stabilise mood. (1)

A deficiency of omega-3 can result in an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, resulting in excess inflammation in the body. Low levels of omega-3 EPA not only induces a state of inflammation in the brain, but can also lead to destruction of serotonin (2), the chemical messenger in the brain responsible for giving us feelings of happiness. It is not surprising, then, that a state of chronic inflammation coupled with imbalanced omega fatty acids is associated with depression. (3,4)

It is important to note that not all omega-3 fatty acids are equal as they have very different roles in the brain: to improve your mood you should concentrate on the active omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. EPA, in particular, plays a key role in controlling inflammation in the brain, protecting against damage and promoting transmission of messages in the brain, helping us to feel balanced and happy. Omega-3 DHA is required for structure of the brain due to its presence in cell membranes.

In an ideal world, we would all be eating plenty of oily fish, but this is certainly not the case. If oily fish is not regularly consumed in the diet, a concentrated EPA and DHA supplement may help to boost mood.

When it comes to choosing a fish oil, concentration and dose will determine how effective they are for supporting mood. A standard fish oil capsule, for example, only provides 30% of the active ingredients EPA and DHA, whereas ideally you want at least 70% concentration EPA and DHA to achieve full benefits of a therapeutic dose.

A supplement providing EPA and DHA at a ratio of 2:1, or over 60% EPA, is considered ideal for depression, as these levels have been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms. (5;6) For general mood support, look for a supplement providing at least 400mg EPA and 250mg DHA.

Antioxidants

Low mood is often a side effect of too much stress on the body, both mentally and physically; correct nutrition can help your body deal with stress efficiently, so look seriously at your diet. Antioxidants are found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and have the ability to mop up damaging free radicals, thereby protecting the brain against oxidative damage. Concentrate on vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium for their powerful antioxidant effects and ability to recycle other antioxidants in the body.

B vitamins

B vitamins are essential for the functioning of many enzyme processes in the body, particularly those required to produce brain chemical messengers. Feed your enzymes with B vitamins, particularly B6, and your production of serotonin may be improved, helping you to feel happier. Requirements for B vitamins are also increased when you are stressed as the body will be using up significant amounts. If stress is associated with your low mood, B vitamins may be very effective at helping to lift you out of it. B vitamin supplements have been shown to significantly improve dejected mood, reducing stress. (7)

Vitamin D3

We have all heard of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), or at least we can empathise with those who suffer from mild depression during the gloomy winter months. As we get most of our vitamin D from skin exposure to the sun, it is no surprise that vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and depression, with lowest vitamin D levels correlating with severe depression. (8) Consider supplementing with vitamin D, particularly in the months October to March.

5-HTP

If your nutrition is generally spot on, and your brain is functioning clearly, to really lift your mood, you could also try adding a 5-HTP supplement to your regime. 5-HTP converts directly to serotonin in the body, helping to boost your mood. A dose of 100mg is ideal for its effects.

References
  1. Noaghiul S, Hibbeln JR. Cross-national comparisons of seafood consumption and rates of bipolar disorders. Am J Psychiatry 2003 Dec; 160(12):2222-7.
  2. Wichers MC, Maes M. The role of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) in the pathophysiology of interferon-alpha-induced depression. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2004 Jan; 29(1):11-7.
  3. Conklin SM, Manuck SB, Yao JK, Flory JD, Hibbeln JR, Muldoon MF. High omega-6 and low omega-3 fatty acids are associated with depressive symptoms and neuroticism. Psychosom Med 2007 Dec; 69(9):932-4.
  4. Pottala JV, Talley JA, Churchill SW, Lynch DA, von SC, Harris WS. Red blood cell fatty acids are associated with depression in a case-control study of adolescents. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2012 Apr; 86(4-5):161-5.
  5. Rondanelli M, Giacosa A, Opizzi A, Pelucchi C, La VC, Montorfano G, et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on depressive symptoms and on health-related quality of life in the treatment of elderly women with depression: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. J Am Coll Nutr 2010 Feb; 29(1):55-64.
  6. Sublette ME, Ellis SP, Geant AL, Mann JJ. Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry 2011 Dec; 72(12):1577-84.
  7. Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA. The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol 2011 Oct; 26(7):470-6.
  8. Milaneschi Y, Hoogendijk W, Lips P, Heijboer AC, Schoevers R, van Hemert AM, et al. The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders. Mol Psychiatry 2014 Apr; 19(4):444-51.
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Age-Proof Your Brain: Three key brain nutrients

March 16th sees the beginning of Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase awareness of the benefits of brain research. In the UK, we are living longer. This means that more and more people will be affected by diminished brain function and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Taking measures to age-proof your brain has never been more important. Read on to discover the 3 most important brain nutrients.

Omega-3

More than half of your brain is made of fat. The most important fat to ‘feed’ your brain is DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. DHA helps to keep the membrane of each brain cell flexible, so that it can function and communicate quickly and efficiently (1).

If your diet is heavy in saturated fats and trans fats from processed foods, on the other hand, then these types of fats will be used in your brain cells, making then rigid and slow to communicate.

Good sources of DHA include low-mercury oily fish such as wild-caught Atlantic salmon, fresh water trout, herring, anchovies and sardines. If you don’t eat these foods regularly then you may benefit from a regular fish oil supplement, or a vegan omega-3 supplement containing DHA.

Antioxidants

Every time a cell makes energy, it produces damaging waste substances called free radicals. These substances have a tendency to bind with other healthy cells, causing damage called oxidation. In this way, our organs and tissues, including the brain, are constantly under attack.

When free radicals attack your brain, they can prevent the brain from producing energy, which in turn causes fatigue, and can even affect memory, mood and coordination (2).

A systematic review published just last year found evidence for the benefit of antioxidant nutrients in the prevention of cognitive decline. The strongest evidence was in support of the antioxidant mineral selenium as well as vitamins C, E and carotenes (3). These antioxidants were found to slow age-related decline in cognition, attention and psychomotor speed (the ability to coordinate fast thinking with doing something quickly, for example in driving a car
or following a conversation).

B Vitamins

There is growing evidence that B Vitamins – in particular folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 – play a critical role in protecting the brain from the effects of ageing. B vitamins help to protect the brain by lowering levels of homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid that is ‘neurotoxic, and therefore linked to damage in the brain. In studies, levels of homocysteine in the blood have been linked with memory problems and difficulty processing information, as well as age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s (4).

A recent randomised controlled trial of 260 elderly people found that a daily B-vitamin supplement reduced levels of homocysteine by 30%, and improved test scores in both cognition and memory (5).

Folic acid and vitamin B6 are present in leafy green, beans, nuts and seeds, while B12 is present in fish, milk, eggs and meat. Unfortunately our
absorption of Vitamin B12 becomes less efficient as we age, and so for some people a supplement may be a sensible measure.

Brain function can in fact start declining as early as age 45, a condition labelled ‘age related cognitive decline.’ (6). By looking after our health and nutrient status in middle age, we can ‘age-proof’ our brain to help ensure a sharp mind and independent lifestyle in later years.

References
  1. Cole GM, Frautschy SA. DHA may prevent age-related dementia. J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):869-74.
  2. Poon HF et al (2004) Free radicals and brain aging. Clin Geriatr Med. 20(2):329-59
  3. Rafnsson SB et al (2013) Antioxidant nutrients and age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review of population-based cohort studies. Eur J Nutr 52(6): 1553-67
  4. Sachdev (2005) Homocysteine and brain atrophy. 29(7):1152-61
  5. de Jager et al (2011) Cognitive and clinical outcomes of homocysteine-lowering B-vitamin treatment in milkd cognitice impairment: a randomised controlled trial. Int J Geriat Psych. 26(6):592-600
  6. Singh-Manous A et al (2012) Timing of onset of cognitive decline: results from Whitehall II prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal. 344:d7622
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Nutrition to Battle the January Blues

Monday 21st January – the Monday of the last full week in January – has been labelled ‘Blue Monday’, to signify the most depressing day of the year. Bad weather, empty pockets and that ‘back to work’ feeling can combine to make the best of us pretty miserable at this time of year.

The good news is that our mental and emotional health has been shown to be linked to our diet, suggesting that we can choose to eat our way to happiness. A new study of more than 8000 adults in the UK has found links between our food choices and mental health (1). The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick and looked at the fruit and vegetable intake of each individual, comparing it to measures of life satisfaction, mental wellbeing and self-reports of happiness, nervousness and low mood.

The researchers also took into account other variables such as meat consumption, alcohol intake and  social and economic factors, so that these factors would not influence the results of the study.

They found that both happiness and mental health appear to rise in a ‘dose-response way’ along with the number of daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Wellbeing appeared to peak at seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Study co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, said “the statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by wellbeing researchers”.

fruits
Fruit and vegetables contain folic acid, potassiam and flavnoids.

There are a number of reasons why fruit and vegetable consumption might give our mental wellbeing a boost. For example, these foods provide an abundance of minerals such as potassium (2) and vitamins such as folic acid (3) which have an impact on adrenaline and serotonin receptors. Fruits and vegetables also provide a whole host of flavonoids, some of which can enter the brain and might very well have a positive influence on mood. Vitamin C, found in abundance in fruit and veg, is essential for the synthesis of noepinephrine, a chemical message in the brain that affects mood.

Of course this type of research is not able to prove causality. Do seven portions of fruit and vegetables create happiness, or do happy and well-adjusted individuals tend to eat more fruit and vegetables? The researchers admit that further controlled trials would be needed to prove such a link, but they maintain that the study’s results are compelling.

In the meantime, there is no harm in boosting your daily fruit and vegetable intake. It will certainly boost your physical health and it might just stave off those January blues. Just five small changes can help you to increase your daily fruit and vegetable intake:

  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your snacks by keeping raw carrots and other crunchy vegetables to hand.
  • Add chopped fruit or berries to your morning cereal.
  • Try a daily fruit or vegetable smoothie.
  • Replace your lunchtime sandwich with vegetable soup.
  • Replace your usual dessert with a fruit salad.

References

1. David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown (2012), Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables? Warwick Economic Research Paper no. 996.

2. Torres S J, C A Nowson and A Worsley (2009), “Dietary electrolytes are related to mood”, British Journal of Nutrition, 100(5),1038-45.

3. Gilbody S, T Lightfoot and T Sheldon (2007), “Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta‐analysis and exploration of heterogeneity”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(7), 631–637. 

4. Image courtesy of ctr’s.

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Maternal Vitamin D levels linked to baby’s brain development

Earlier this year I wrote about a study that links vitamin D in pregnancy with children’s body fat levels. Evidence on the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy continues to grow. More recently, a new population-based study has linked expectant mothers’ vitamin D levels with their children’s brain development (1).

The study, to be published this month in Pediatrics, suggests that pregnant women who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to give birth to children with slower brain development and decreased motor skills.

The Spanish study, a population-based cohort study recruiting 1,820 pregnant women, was conducted between 2003 and 2008. The women had their vitamin D levels measured during their second trimester of pregnancy. Later, their children’s mental development was assessed by trained psychologists.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements can help raise vitamin D levels in the body to an adequate level during pregnancy

The data showed that 20% of the women were deficient in vitamin D, and a further 32% had ‘insufficient levels’ of the vitamin. The babies of mothers who were deficient in vitamin D scored lower on mental and psychomotor tests at the age of 14 months when compared to children of women with adequate vitamin D levels.

To ensure that the study was fair, the authors used statistical techniques to account for other variables that could have influenced the children’s development. These included factors such as birth weight, maternal age, social class and mother’s education level, and whether or not the mother drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy.

The differences in scores were significant, with the children of vitamin D deficient mothers scoring 2.6 points lower on mental tests and 2.3 points lower on psychomotor tests. Study leader Dr Eva Morales notes that a difference of just 4-5 points in these such tests could result in halving the number of children with above-average IQ scores. As a result, Morales believes that these differences in scores ‘might have an important impact at the population level’.

This is not the first study to look at the effect of maternal vitamin D on children’s development. A study published by the same journal in March this year indicated links between maternal vitamin D deficiency and children’s neurodevelopment (2). This study found that low vitamin D levels in the second trimester of pregnancy were linked with language impairment in children at the ages of 5 and 10 years old.

While these studies show a link between vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and children’s brain development, they do not prove the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship. Possible reasons for a link include the known role that vitamin D plays in brain function. For example, vitamin D receptors are present throughout the brain, and the vitamin is essential for the formation of neurotrophins, proteins in the brain that help nerve cells to survive and develop.

According to the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, up to a quarter of people in the UK have low levels of vitamin D in their blood. In its recent statement on vitamin D requirements, the UK Department of Health considers pregnant and breastfeeding women to be an ‘at risk group’. The current recommendation for vitamin D in pregnancy is 10 mcg, or 400 IU, and the UK Department of Health advises that all pregnant women should supplement this amount. As new evidence comes to light regarding the essential role of this vitamin in children’s development, this advice seems more pertinent than ever.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Morales et al (2012) Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D3 in Pregnancy and Infant Neuropsychological Development. Pediatrics. Published online ahead of publication in Sept 2012.

2.Whitehouse A et al (2012) Maternal Serum Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy and Offspring Neurocognitive Development. Pediatrics Vol. 129 No. 3 pp. 485 -493.

 

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How Oxygen can help…

Oxygen – the natural energy provider

We’ve all heard the expression to “take a deep breath” when we’re stressed. We know that we yawn when we’re tired. And we all understand that we breathe harder when we exert ourselves.

In every case, it’s the body demanding more oxygen. Oxygen fuels our brain and our muscles and actually provides 90% of our nutritional energy.

Here are some interesting facts about oxygen:

  • Two thirds of the mass of the human body is oxygen
  • Oxygen concentration in our blood is around 60% to 70% – anything below 52% and life becomes extinct
  • Before the industrial revolution oxygen levels on the planet were as high as 38% – in some places now they are as low as 10%
  • Oxygen is colourless, odourless and tasteless. But as a liquid or solid, it’s pale blue
booost Oxygen
booost Oxygen can help when breathless at high altitude, during sports or due to pollution levels

Canned oxygen is becoming increasingly popular – celebrities like Simon Cowell and Lady Gaga are using it, and sports stars are increasingly incorporating oxygen into their training and nutrition plans, both to help peak performance and to aid recovery.

One way to think about oxygen is to imagine it like an energy drink – it really does give you that kind of boost, both mentally and physically. But the big benefit is that unlike most energy drinks, oxygen has no calories and no sugar in it, and you don’t suffer from a post caffeine “low” in the same way as you do with most concoctions.

bodykind has recently teamed up with British company booost Oxygen to offer their product to their customers. You can find booost on the bodykind website.

They recommend a few “shots” if you’re feeling tired or lethargic. For exercise, they suggest up to 5 beforehand, as many as are needed during the workout, and 5 more at the end during your recovery phase.

As well as booost focusing on the sports benefits of using oxygen, there are many other uses for canned oxygen:

  • There’s plenty of research that headache symptoms (particularly so called “cluster” headaches) can be relieved
  • Oxygen is well known as being helpful for hangover symptoms
  • People living in areas of high pollution may certainly benefit from breathing pure, clean oxygen
  • It’s helpful at altitude, so anybody visiting high places for skiing, snowboarding or hiking could use the product
  • Canned oxygen is no substitute for medically administered oxygen, but for scuba divers, when there is no alternative, puffing canned oxygen can help until any decompression symptoms are being properly treated
  • Although it can’t help with weight reduction, using it to keep you motivated whilst exercising could contribute to a weight loss programme

Written by the team at booost Oxygen

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Omega-3 supplements buffer the effect of mental stress

Mental stress is known to have a negative effect on heart health, and unmanaged stress is linked with increased blood pressure, an important predictor of heart disease. Managing mental stress can be a huge help to those looking to support their cardiovascular health. Of course this is often easier said than done. After all, stress is a part of everyday life and it cannot be eliminated entirely.

However, managing our physical reaction to mental stress may be one way to support heart health.

High EPA
Omega 3 supplements high in EPA can be good for mental stress and heart health

With this in mind, a team of researchers at Alleghany College in the US recently investigated the effects of an omega-3 supplement on the effect of mental stress in adults. The team gave a group of 43 college students either a daily omega-3 supplement or a daily placebo supplement for three weeks. They then measured blood pressure and heart rate of the students at rest and during a mental arithmetic task. The stress response to the maths test in the omega-3 group was found to be significantly lower than that of those in the placebo group.

The authors concluded that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cardiovascular reactivity to stress.
The study is preliminary and will hopefully encourage further research to clarify the role of omega-3 in cardiovascular health.

The supplement used in the study provided a daily dose of 1400mg omega-3 (1000mg EPA and 400mg DHA). This intake is fairly normal for adults living in countries such as Japan where fish, seafood and tofu are a major part of the diet. In the UK, however, the level of omega-3 in the diet is far lower and is estimated at an average of 244mg daily.

Options for increasing EPA and DHA intakes include use of fish oil supplements, increased consumption of fish or consumption of foods enriched with omega 3 such as omega-3 enriched eggs.

Those considering taking fish oil supplements should first check with their GP, especially if they are taking medications such as anticoagulants. Also, be sure to choose a good quality oil that has been screened for contaminants. Finally, if your fish oil supplement leaves you with a fishy aftertaste this is a sign that the oil has oxidised (‘gone off’). I tend to favour omega-3 oils that can be taken straight from the spoon, such as the Eskimo brand, so that I can be sure on tasting that it is a good quality, fresh oil.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Preliminary Evidence that Acute Long-Chain Omega-3 Supplementation Reduces Cardiovascular Reactivity to Mental Stress: A Randomized and Placebo Controlled Trial. Biol Psychol. 2012, Jan. 89(1):269-72.

 

 

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Nutrient levels linked to brain health

I recently wrote about the reported benefits of the nutrient choline for improved memory and brain health. A new study, soon to be published in the journal Neurology, has now investigated the link between brain health and other nutrients in the diet, including Vitamins B, C, D and E, omega 3 and trans fats.

The study measured indicators of Alzheimer’s such as cognitive difficulties, brain shrinkage and memory problems. It found that nutrition could play nearly as strong a role as other factors such as age and high blood pressure.

A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life
A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life

The researchers tested a group of 104 elderly people with average age of 87. They then tested the blood of each participant for levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fats, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats. Each participant also undertook mental function tests including tests of memory, language skills and spatial skills. Finally each participant underwent an MRI scan to look at the size of certain brain structures related to Alzheimer’s.

The team found that those who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests than those with lower levels of these nutrients. In contrast, those with higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests; they had more trouble with memory and language skills and were slower in completing the tests.

Brain scans were then carried out on 42 of the participants, and found that those with nutrient-rich diets had larger brains as well as higher test scores. Again, the scans of those with high levels of trans fats in their blood also showed more brain shrinkage.

A huge benefit of this study is that it used measurements of nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on individual’s food diaries and recall. As all nutritionists know, even with the best of intentions, food diaries and questionnaires can be inaccurate and misleading.

The researchers, however, didn’t distinguish between nutrient levels raised due to foods rather than supplements. It’s therefore difficult to say whether taking supplements can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s as effectively as a nutrient-rich diet.

Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and oily fish provide good levels of vitamins and omega-3 fats. Trans fats are unhealthy ‘damaged’ fats found in margarine, some packaged food, fast food and baked goods.

“These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, a professor of public health at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The study team concluded that the findings suggest that nutrients work “in synergy” with one another to be protective of brain health.  Bowman concluded that “the combination of the B vitamins, the antioxidants C and E, plus vitamin D was the most favorable combination of nutrients in the blood for healthy brain aging in our population.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
G.L. Bowman, L.C. Silbert, D. Howieson, H.H. Dodge, M.G. Traber, B. Frei, J.A. Kaye, J. Shannon, J.F. Quinn. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology E-published ahead of print December 28, 2011.

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Choline: The Brain Food

A new study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine suggests that the nutrient choline may improve cognitive function in healthy adults.

Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a part in memory and other cognitive functions. Low acetylcholine levels are linked with Alzheimer’s.

A group of 1391 healthy (dementia-free) adults completed a food-frequency questionnaire administered from 1991 to 1995 and at a later date from 1998 to 2001. Each adult underwent cognitive tests and brain scans (MRI) at the later date. The tests measured factors such as verbal and visual memory. The brain scan also measured white matter hyperintesity (WMHI) – changes in the brain’s blood vessels that can predict conditions such as dementia and stroke.

Broccoli is high in Choline
Broccoli is a well known "super food" and is also high in Choline which may be good for brain health

The researchers used the adults’ food questionnaires to determine whether dietary choline intake had an effect on brain function. The results found that adults whose choline intake was highest did better on tests of memory. Brain scans in this group of adults were also less likely to show areas of WMHI, indicating a decreased risk of dementia or stroke.

The differences in test performance were small. “As far as your day-to-day functioning, it would not be an appreciable difference,” says senior researched Rhoda Au. However, she added, the findings suggest that people with lower choline intakes were more likely to be on a “pathway” toward mental decline than their counterparts with higher intakes.

We cannot yet say for certain that choline in itself protects memory or wards off unhealthy brain changes. One possibility, Au noted, is that some other nutrients present along with choline are responsible. The study took into account factors such as calorie intake, fat intake, and levels of nutrients such as Vitamins B6 and B12. Even after adjustments were made for these factors, choline was still linked to improved test performance. However, further human studies would be needed to back up these research finding.

It is generally recommended that men require 550 milligrams of choline per day, while women should get 425 milligrams. Several studies have found that generally choline intake in adults does not meet these requirements (2,3). To ensure an adequate supply of choline, you should ensure that your daily diet includes sources of choline such as salt-water fish, eggs, liver, chicken, beef, peanut butter, milk, broccoli and certain legumes, including soy and kidney beans. The supplement soy lecithin is also a good source.

 

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
(1.) Poly C, Massaro JM, Seshadri S, Wolf PA, Cho E, Krall E, Jacques PF, Au R. The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort Am J Clin Nutr December 2011 vol. 94 no. 6 1584-1591

(2.) Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G (2009). “Repeatability and measurement error in the assessment of choline and betaine dietary intake: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study”. Nutrition Journal 8 (1): 14.

(3.) Bidulescu A, Chambless LE, Siega-Riz AM, Zeisel SH, Heiss G. Usual choline and betaine dietary intake and incident coronary heart disease: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2007, 7:20

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Omega 3 fats during pregnancy are important for memory function of children

Long chain omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are essential for the efficient function of the brain and body.  It is well known that having good intakes of the long chain omega 3 fats during pregnancy and in early infancy is important for brain function and cognitive development in infancy.  A new study (1) has now found that having good intakes of the long chain fats during pregnancy has long term positive effects on memory function in school-aged children.
 

Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)
Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, aimed to examine the relationship of the long chain omega 3 fats and memory function in school-aged children who were from a fish-eating community.  The study assessed over 150 children with an average age of 11 years.  The birth records of the umbilical cord plasma concentrations of the long chain omega 3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were used as a measure of omega 3 levels at birth.  The children were asked to perform various tests such as visual recognition tasks and memory tasks.
 
The researchers (1) found that the children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth.  Analysis of the results showed positive associations between cord DHA concentrations and performance on neurobehavioral assessments of memory.  The authors of the study conclude that “To our knowledge, this study provides the first neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of long-term beneficial effects of n−3 PUFA intake in utero on memory function in school-age children”.
 
The study only shows an association between prenatal intake of omega 3 fats and long term memory function in children and further studies would be needed to confirm the links.  However, the omega 3 fats are vital for optimal health.  As my previous blog posts on the topic have shown omega 3 fats are important for the health of the heart, prevention and treatment of inflammatory conditions, the health of bones, brain and nerves.  Including these fats in the diet from a young age (and during pregnancy) is important for health.  As I have previously written there is also evidence to suggest that these fats can help to prevent/treat ADHD  (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children.  Many people in the UK do not eat oily fish regularly (at least twice a week) and may not be getting enough of the long chain omega 3 fats in their diets.  If you do not regularly eat fish you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of taking a daily fish oil supplement.  There are also vegetarian and vegan supplements which provide the long chain omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA, from algal sources. 
 
 
(1) Olivier Boucher O et al.  2011.  Neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of beneficial effects of prenatal omega-3 fatty acid intake on memory function at school age. Am J Clin Nutr.  93:5 1025-1037
(2) Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

Written by Ani Richardson

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Could Saffron be useful for the treatment of depression?

Nutrition and natural remedies for the treatment and prevention of mood disorders and depression is something I am very interested in and have written a lot about.  Nutrition really can impact the brain and it would be wonderful to see nutritional and natural remedies being used more widely by the medical community.  Depression is one of the top five most prevalent diseases worldwide and by 2020 it is expected to be the second leading cause of disability globally.  Finding research-backed, non-pharmaceutical ways of helping to alleviate symptoms of depression is something I believe to be important since many medications have numerous side effects and there is a growing number of individuals who wish to try other treatments.

Previously I have written a fair amount about the long chain omega 3 fatty acids the herb St John’s wort St John’s Wort in the treatment of depression, as well as other potentially helpful nutrients such as vitamin D.  Recently I have become aware of evidence which suggests that the spice saffron might be helpful in the treatment of depression.

A review study published this year (1) found that “Saffron stigma (part of the plant that receives pollen) was found to be significantly more effective than placebo and equally as efficacious as fluoxetine and imipramine[depression medications]. Saffron petal was significantly more effective than placebo and was found to be equally efficacious compared to fluoxetine and saffron stigma”.

Saffron has been used as a medicine for over 3600 years (1) and in 1862 an English herbalist called Christopher Catton was quoted as remarking “Saffron hath power to quicken the spirits, and the virtue thereof pierceth by and by to the heart, provoking laughter and merriness”.  In the review paper (1) the authors write that “the effects of saffron stigma and petal in mild-to-moderate depression compare favourably to results observed in St John’s wort trials”.  Further, larger and longer trials looking into the effectiveness of saffron in the treatment of depression are certainly warranted and needed. 

It is important to visit your medical doctor if you have any concerns about your health and mood.  If you wish to try a saffron supplement it is important to discuss this with your doctor.   Saffron stigma is one of the world’s most expensive spices, however the new studies which seem to show the effectiveness of saffron petal may result in a reduced cost of some supplements.

A laboratory study published last year (2) found that there were bioactive compounds within saffron that could well be responsible for the anti-depressant properties observed.  The authors of the study suggest that their results add support to the validity of using saffron for the treatment of depression and also say that further studies would be useful to gain further insight into how certain compounds within saffron might be acting to alleviate depression.

(1) Dwyer AV et al.  2011.  Herbal medicines, other than St. John’s Wort, in the treatment of depression: a systematic review. Altern Med Rev.  16(1):40-9.

(2) Wang Y et al.  2010.  Antidepressant properties of bioactive fractions from the extract of Crocus sativus L.  J Nat Med.  64(1):24-30.

Written by Ani Richardson

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