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August 2, 2022

Sicilian Secret

Brain Health Newsletter

Food and nutrition have a very strong impact on brain health and learning. According to the WHO, world health organization, good brain health is a state in which every individual can realize their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral functioning to cope with life situations. The first 1,000 days of life are crucial for brain development — and food plays an important role.

The ways that the fetus’s brain develops during pregnancy and during the first two years of a child’s life predict how the brain will work for the rest of a person’s life. Nerves grow, form connections, and get covered with myelin, which is an insulating layer, made of proteins and fats and allows for electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently. All of this creates the systems that will decide how a child and the adult she becomes, thinks, behaves, and feels. The Brain and nerve’s growth affect sensory systems, learning, memory, attention, processing speed, the ability to control impulses and mood, and even the ability to multitask or plan.

As adults, we chose to eat the foods we remember from our childhood. Studies show that what the mother eats can form the baby’s taste buds. Exposing our children to a variety of whole foods is very helpful because, by the age of 5, retraining our taste buds or introducing new foods becomes much more difficult. Multiple studies support that low consumption of fish, fruits, vegetables, and fast food, sausages, and soft drinks is linked to poor cognition and academic achievement.

Poor cognition and poor academic achievement in childhood have been linked to an increased risk of adulthood obesity, unemployment, and low socioeconomic status in later life.

Only half of the children in the United States get the daily recommended 60 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and the proportion decreases as age increases. Sleep duration has decreased during the past decades in children and adolescents possibly due to increased use of electronic devices in the evening that blocks the production of melatonin and impairs sleep. Sleep deprivation and sedentary behavior, particularly television watching, and excessive screen time have been associated with the increased consumption of energy-dense food and lower consumption of fruits and vegetables

Nutrition is a key modulator of cognitive health. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet, support mitochondria, which are the membrane cell-bound organelle that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions and help maintain brain structures are of necessary importance for optimal brain health.  Recent clinical studies have confirmed the role of ALC, resveratrol, polyphenols and omega 3 fatty acids in the potential delay of cognitive decline.  Poor nutrition, such as consuming a Western diet, is correlated with reduced hippocampal volume while intake of fish oil has beneficial effects on white matter microstructural integrity and gray matter volume.

A paper from the Nederland ministry of a study published in 2012 demonstrated that providing male prisoners with broad-spectrum micronutrients decreased violence by over 30% compared to the placebo group. This study was duplicated in many other countries, such as the United States, England, and Singapore. consistently all these studies show 35 % reduction in acts of violence. Interesting if there was a drug introduced in the market that could offer a 35% reduction in violence would be considered a great and sought medication.

Healthy Nutrition Provides the Best Communication Between the Body and the Brain

The microbiome is the population of microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  They break down and make good use of the food that we eat and cannot digest such as fibers and polyphenols compounds. Fibers are fermented by the gut microbiome, this fermentation breaks down the fibers into metabolites that we can use, such as vitamins, short-chain fatty acids, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The microbiome also trains our immune system.

The vagus nerve is the tenth nerve. It takes the name from the Greek vague, vagabond. It is a very long nerve; it extends from the voice box and connects to all our major organs and ends in our guts. The vagus nerve gives the brain all the information about what is happening in our body so that the brain can make the best decisions for us, and it also helps us with managing our emotions. Unfortunately, rates of depression are going up and the rate of medications created to treat depression has increased. We know that 50% of people that are depressed continue to experience depression and 30% do not respond to medications.

Epidemiology studies support that the more we adhere to a whole food diet the more we reduce the chance of developing depression later in life, possibly because lack of fibers in our diet has an impact on immune function and inflammation. The lack of brain nutrients such as vitamin B complex, omega 3 fatty acids,  the impact of blood sugar spikes and the effects on cortisol production all have a negative effect on brain mood. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that help us to give a sense of well-being. The synthesis of serotonin requires, besides tryptophan, other nutrients such as b6, B9.  People that improve their diet have an improvement in the symptoms of depression. Of interest is the Smiles trial in Australia that shows a positive effect of mediterranean diet. patients were in remission from depression after 12 weeks of consuming a prevalent Mediterranean diet. Stress also impairs the production of serotonin because cytokines are released during stress and cytokines interfere with the tryptophan pathway creating instead quinoline acid in the brain which is actually neurotoxic.

The brain is 2% of body weight but uses 25 % of the total energy at rest. It requires micronutrients to make dopamine; b12, vitamin c to make serotonin, and choline from eggs to make acetylcholine. When the body is stressed, the brain needs more micronutrients. A healthy diet and some dietary supplements improve stress management. Julia Rockledge in New Zealand has researched the use of large spectrum micronutrients during stressful situations. People that received large spectrum of micronutrients immediately after a mass shooting were less likely to develop PTS and had less reported stress and anxiety.

The number of fatty acids present in the pregnant mother is very important at conception, during gestation, and during breastfeeding. The uptake of Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is found along with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in cold-water fish, increases up to the age of 2 and then stabilizes. DHA plays a key role in the development of 

The recommendation is for people to consume fish at least twice per week and possibly to have one fatty fish such as mackerel and herring. We know that the average adult eats fish less than once per month and less than 5% of children get an adequate amount of fish. With rapid brain development, the lack of micronutrients has created children that are progressively unwell. 

The symbol of Christianity is the fish which is a symbol of calmness. Omega 3 has helped our brain to grow and develop well. We are now struggling with developing healthy and happy brains because of a lack of omega-3 fatty acids. The foundation of a healthy brain is a healthy diet.

Eating more fruits and vegetables improves Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children, according to a study published online in Nutritional Neuroscience. Children who ate more fruits and vegetables had less severe symptoms of inattention than children who ate more foods higher in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

As life expectancy lengthens around the world, the incidence of dementia and cognitive decline is also increasing. The number of people affected by dementia is growing exponentially, with an estimated 50 million people diagnosed worldwide today and 82 million predicted to be diagnosed by 2030.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common disease of aging, affecting as many as 70 million people worldwide.  Findings from a 2017 study suggest that omega-3 fatty acids improve brain function and structure in older adults.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients. Found in both plants and fatty fish, they influence cell membrane integrity, affect the function of membrane-bound cellular receptors, and participate in pathways involved in the biosynthesis of hormones that regulate blood clotting, arterial function, and inflammation. The fish-sourced omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both play important roles in brain health, but DHA in particular
A study involving 65 cognitively healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 75 years, showed that the participants that received omega 3 supplementations performed better on tests of executive function and exhibited improved white matter microstructural integrity and increased gray matter volume in their brains. In addition, their brain-derived neurotrophic factor increased, and their peripheral insulin decreased.

In Summary: Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet correlates with larger total and regional brain volumes and higher white matter integrity. High adherence to the diet is associated with lower diffusivity (markers of microstructural changes) and with higher cognitive scores.

Low adherence to the diet is associated with increased beta-amyloid in the left frontal-parietal cortex. Total gray matter volume is positively associated with the Mediterranean diet as well as fish consumption and negatively associated with meat intake. Total white matter volume increases with the Mediterranean diet.


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