Whether it’s caused by too much stress or too little sleep, brain fog can affect us all. Usually manifesting as poor concentration, slowness of thought and feelings of forgetfulness, the lack of mental clarity that brain fog brings can be frustrating. And while it’s not a recognised medical term, eliminating brain fuzziness and boosting your concentration is something we should all take seriously. According to the Office for National Statistics, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of death in Britain. As with almost everything health-related, diet has a huge part to play. “With brain health, you very much are what you eat,” says global skin and wellness expert Marie Reynolds. “What you fuel your body with directly impacts your brain function. Your brain is energy hungry at all times.” Here are the top five foods to include in your daily diet to help fight off the fog and bolster your brain power.
Eat dark leafy greens to improve neurological processes
Leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are packed with antioxidants that can help neutralise cellular damage caused by free radicals. Research carried out by the University of Georgia indicates a link between two specific carotenoids found in leafy greens – lutein and zeaxanthin – and improved visual processing, a process which more than 50 per cent of the brain’s cortex is dedicated to. It’s thought that the antioxidants are the only two carotenoids that can cross the blood-retina barrier to nourish both the eyes and the brain. As well as improving processing speeds, they aid visual memory, boost blood flow to the brain and encourage cognitive flexibility. Earlier studies also corroborate the correlation between eating dark greens and reduced cognitive decline – according to one which looked at elderly people specifically, lower levels of lutein and zeaxanthin were found in the brains of elderly people with mild cognitive impairment, compared with those who regularly supplemented their diet with the antioxidants.
Eat fatty fish to lower inflammation
The brain boosting benefits of fatty fish are almost unparalleled, thanks to the high amounts of omega-3, or polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fish like sardines, mackerel and herring. Considering around 20 per cent of the dry weight of the brain is made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids, it stands to reason that eating lots of them is essential in order for it to thrive. Two of the main omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are particularly good for the brain as they help preserve cell membrane health, amongst other things. “Essential fatty acids are crucial for brain cells to connect and create new synapses, the places where neurons communicate with each other for daily cognitive function,” says Reynolds. There’s also potential for omega-3 to help in the treatment of brain disorders like depression, a condition which experts believe may be linked to higher than normal levels of inflammation in the brain. Both DHA and EPA are highly anti-inflammatory, meaning they can effectively help reduce symptoms, and prevent their onset too.
Eat animal protein for brain cell signalling
After water, the brain is mostly made up of protein. In order for it to function as it should, it needs plenty of amino acids, also known as the molecules that form protein. These reach the brain through the otherwise impervious blood-brain barrier, a major component of the central nervous system that keeps essential matter in and unwanted matter out of the brain. Amino acids including tryptophan, tyrosine and arginine, found in protein-rich foods like unprocessed red meat, eggs and poultry, are used by the brain to produce and modulate the neurotransmitters responsible for emotional regulation and general cognitive function. Although other plant-based sources contain amino acids, animal proteins are known as complete proteins, which means they contain all the amino acids we need.
Eat eggs to battle brain shrinkage
As we age the brain undergoes many functional and structural changes. As well as a slowing down of receptor activity, the cortex thins, and the volume of the brain decreases by as much as five percent per decade after the age of 40. This loss can lead to impaired thinking and memory. Along with a host of other benefits, eggs are particularly high in B vitamins including B6, B12 and folic acid, all of which reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that, when at elevated levels, can increase the risk of dementia and strokes. In a study of elderly people with mild cognitive impairment, high doses of these B vitamins was enough to significantly slow down the normal rate of brain shrinkage. A fuzzy memory is another reason to eat your eggs. Choline, a nutrient found in egg yolks, is essential to the nervous system because it helps regulate mood and memory. The same B vitamins will also help to keep brain function working smoothly. “Any foods containing B vitamins are beneficial for brain function, as they will bind any heavy metals and transport them out of the body, which is a very important function as heavy metals can slow down brain function,” says Reynolds.
Eat berries to strengthen the brain-gut connection
Berries like blueberries, blackberries and redcurrants have numerous health benefits, but their potential to promote and maintain brain health is especially exciting. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, the enteric nervous system (ENS) is known as the “second brain” thanks to its constant communication with the brains in our heads. That means what happens in our head impacts our gut, and vice versa. Berries are important because they are loaded with polyphenols, prebiotic plant compounds that feed the good bacteria in the gut and maintain a healthy, balanced microbiome. Because of this strong brain-gut connection, polyphenols are vital for strengthening brain health too. As well as protecting neurons from potential harm by neurotoxins, they help reduce inflammation and encourage memory and learning ability.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.