Nutritional Neuroscience

Nutritional Neuroscience
Poor diet in early childhood affects the amount of neurons in parts of the brain.[1]

Nutritional neuroscience: is the scientific discipline that studies the role of various components of the average diet such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats, dietary supplements and synthetic hormones, and food additives have on neurochemistry, neurobiology, and behavior.

Recent research on nutitrional mechanisms and their effect on the brain show they are involved in almost every facet of neurological functioning including alterations in neurotrophic factors, neural pathways and neuroplasticity, throughout the life cycle.[2]

Factors involved in both maternal and paternal nutrition can affect gene expression via a process known as epigenetic mutation. These mutations alter the gene's expression without structural changes to the underlying DNA. These changes can be passed on to future generations as shown in the Överkalix study conducted in Sweden. Nutritional effects on epigenetic mechanisms occurring in utero can cause a variety of complications throughout the child's life.[3]

Saturated Fat

Consuming large amounts of saturated fat can negatively affect your brain. Eating foods with saturated fats elevates the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in your body. Studies have shown that high levels of triglycerides strongly link with mood problems such as depression, hostility and aggression. This may occur because high triglyceride levels decrease the amount of oxygen that blood can carry to your brain. [4] The American Heart Association recommends that you consume no more than 16g of saturated fat daily. Common sources of saturated fat are meat and dairy products.

Essential Fatty Acids

There are two kinds of essential fatty acids that you must consume because your brain cannot produce them on its own. Both Alpha-linoleic acid, also known as omega-3, and Linoleic acid, also known as omega-6, are important for healthy brain activity. Experts say that you need to eat a balanced amount of omega-3s and omega-6s however, some estimate that Americans consume twenty times more omega-6s than omega-3s. An imbalance of essential fatty acids may lead to mental disorders such as depression, hyperactivity and schizophrenia. Sources of omega-3 include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, sea vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and cold water fish. You can find sources of omega-6 in sunflower, safflower, corn, and sesame oils.[5]


Studies have shown that learning and memory improve after consuming carbohydrates. There are two kinds of carbohydrates that you can consume, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are often found in processed foods and release sugar into the bloodstream quickly after consumption. Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and therefore cause sugar to be released into the bloodstream more slowly.[6] Good sources of complex carbohydrates are whole-grain breads, pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and potatoes. It is recommended that you consume more complex carbohydrates because consuming complex carbohydrates will cause the level of sugar in your bloodstream to be more stable which will cause less stress hormones to be released. Consuming simple carbohydrates may cause the levels of sugar in your bloodstream to rise and fall which can cause mood swings.[7]


When protein is consumed, it is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are used to produce many things like neurotransmitters, enzymes, hormones, and chromosomes. Proteins known as complete proteins contain all eight of the amino acids. Meat, cheese, eggs, and yogurt are all examples of complete proteins. Incomplete proteins contain only some of the eight amino acids and it is recommended that you consume a combination of these proteins. Examples of incomplete proteins include nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains.[8] Eating any kind of protein will cause the levels of tyrosine in your body to rise. Tyrosine then causes the brain to produce dopamine and norepinephrine which help keep you energized.[9]


Antioxidants consist of vitamins, phytochemicals, and other nutrients that protect your body against free radicals. There are many kinds of antioxidants with different functions. Studies have shown that elderly people who consume the proper amount of vitamin A perform better on cognitive tests than those who consumed less. Researchers have found that vitamin A helps regenerate nerve cells in animal brains.[4] B vitamins are needed to convert glucose to energy in the brain and produce myelin. Some believe that a deficiency in vitamin B12 is the cause of dementia. You can find B vitamins in whole grains, beans, eggs, and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin C protects DNA and produces and protects dopamine and norepinephrine. Consumption of vitamin C has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, reduce high blood pressure and increase longevity. There are many foods containing vitamin C, but the best sources of vitamin C are rose hips, guava, black currants, cranberries, kale, parsley, peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards, and cabbage. Vitamin E protects mitochondria, strengthens cerebral capillaries and red blood cells, and helps oxygen get to the brain. Consumption of vitamin E has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and increase longevity. The best sources of vitamin E are seeds, nuts, and soybeans. Lutein is an antioxidant that is said to reduce the risk of stroke. Dark leafy greens, eggs, and oranges are all good sources of lutein. Proanthocyanidins are antioxidants that cross the blood-brain barrier and protect against different kinds of free radicals. Proanthocyanidins have been shown to improve motor activity and memory and improve mood. You can find proanthocyanidins in blueberries, ginkgo leaves and grapes. Magnesium helps produce the myelin sheath around nerve fibers and is necessary to activate hundreds of enzymes. Studies have shown that magnesium deficiency correlates with high stress levels. There are only small amounts of magnesium in most fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains, so taking a magnesium supplement is recommended.[10] There are many kinds of antioxidants and more studies are being done to show their effects on the brain.


  1. ^ Bedi KS.Nutritional effects on neuron numbers. Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Jun;6(3):141-52. PMID 12793518
  2. ^ Dauncey MJ.New insights into nutrition and cognitive neuroscience.Proc Nutr Soc. 2009 Nov;68(4):408-15. Epub 24 August 2009. PMID 19698201
  3. ^ Mathers JC. Early nutrition: impact on epigenetics.Forum Nutr. 2007;60:42-8.PMID 17684400
  4. ^ a b Blaun, Randy; Andreas Wiesenack (1996). "How to Eat Smart". Psychology Today 29 (3): 34. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "The Human Brain-Fats". The Franklin Institute Online. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "The Human Brain-Carbohydrates". The Franklin Institute Online. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "Brain Foods". Dr. Sears Official Website. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  8. ^ [:// "The Human Brain-Protein"]. The Franklin Institute Online.
    // Retrieved 13 April 2011. 
  9. ^ Lawson, Willow. "Brain Power: Why Proteins Are Smart". Psychology Today. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 
  10. ^ "The Human Brain-Micronutrients". The Franklin Institute Online. Retrieved 13 April 2011. 

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