Naturally, your body needs fuel to function correctly and repair itself. The same goes for your brain. Just as certain body parts benefit from specific nutrients - like proteins for your muscles and vitamin C is for your immune system - your brain requires particular vitamins and nutrients for both basic brain function and peak performance.
Some of the nutrients are essential, meaning if you go without them for too long you’ll start to suffer severe ill effects. Other nutrients can be seen as a sort of bonus, helping you to further optimize your mind for productivity, clarity, and focus. Many of these nutrients can be classified as nootropics, or compounds that help to increase cognitive function and protect the brain. It is important to understand that nootropics are not magic. Taking a nootropic supplement won’t automatically give you the chess skill of Bobby Fischer or the insight of Buddha. They can, however, help keep you alert, assist in maintaining focus, and provide sustained energy without a subsequent crash.
So why even bother to be concerned about brain nutrition? Isn’t a generally healthy diet enough? While it’s true that a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and sufficient amounts of exercise are excellent for both your brain health, it helps to further “fine tune” your mental performance by creating optimal nutritional conditions for your brain.
The well-known self-development author Brian Tracy has said, “Your external world is a mere reflection of your internal world.” While Tracy was speaking about organizing your environment as an aide to help structure your mind, the reverse is also true. Enhancement and optimization of your brain can lead to concrete improvements in your external daily life.
So, let’s take a look at some of the most important nutrients for peak brain function.
Vitamins B6 and B12
Vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are absolutely essential for several key cognitive functions. In fact, according to a study published in 2014 in The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamins B6 and B12 had “both immediate and long-term effects” on energy status and brain health.
One of the reasons for these vitamins’ effect on brain health is that both act as a cofactor in neurotransmitter synthesis. Specifically, vitamin B6 and B12 help with the synthesis of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters affect memory, mood, and alertness, and a boost in these neurotransmitters helps decrease anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Food sources that are good sources of vitamin B6 include pistachios, chicken, bananas, spinach, and avocados. Food sources that contain vitamin B12 include crab, salmon, fortified tofu, skim milk, and eggs.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are another type of nutrient that offers brain benefits. Two specific types of omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are involved in cognition and brain health.
Both EPA and DHA are necessary for neuron membrane formation in the brain. Also, these fatty acids seem to have a protective effect on brain aging and atrophy. In fact, a study appearing in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that omega 3 fatty acids had a significant beneficial effect in preventing brain atrophy in people with high vitamin B levels. This reinforces the potential boons of consuming both vitamin B and omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in a variety of food sources, like salmon, sardines, olive oil, and flaxseed. Additionally, along with the increased cognitive benefits of these fatty acids, they also play a huge role in many body systems, such as promoting cardiovascular health and may even prevent some cancers.
Keep Your Brain Healthy
We hear so much about the twin killers of cardiovascular disease and cancer these days that it’s all too easy to forget about our most important organ - the brain. Yet brain health is crucial, and nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and certain B vitamins are as essential for the health of your brain as vitamin C is for your immune system and protein for your muscles. Proper brain nutrition not only helps improve cognitive function in the short term, but also helps prevent or delay cognitive diseases in the long term.