Why Your Brain Loves Vitamin D

by Mia Syn, M.S., R.D.

Vitamin D has long been referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin.’ Vitamin D researchers suggest that 5-30 minutes of sun exposure at least twice a week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to exposed skin without sunscreen will result in sufficient vitamin D synthesis. (1) However, research suggests that almost 50 percent of the world population has vitamin D insufficiency – an estimated 1 billion people. (2) This has been attributed to populations staying indoors more and environmental factors like air pollution, which can obstruct the sun’s rays. (2)

Vitamin D is important for not only brain health but bone mineralization as well. Women are more likely to suffer from a bone fracture than men. (3) Roughly 40 percent of white women 50 years old or older in the United States will experience a bone fracture in their lifetime. (3) With International Women’s Day in early March, it is important to shed light on this key nutrient and elucidate the best ways to obtain adequate amounts.

All about vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin obtained from food and dietary supplements, or made by the body. It is produced endogenously when skin is exposed to ultraviolent rays. This vitamin, however, is not active upon consumption. It must be activated through hydroxylation in the body, which occurs first in the liver, followed by the kidney. In the kidney, the activated form of vitamin D is produced in response to serum calcium and phosphorous concentrations. This is a reminder that several nutrients work synergistically with one another. Once vitamin D is activated, it acts as a hormone in the body.

Why your brain loves vitamin D

While the link between vitamin D and bone health has been largely explored, research just recently began illuminating the importance of vitamin D when it comes to brain health. Neuropsychiatric disorders such as cognitive impairment and dementia have been linked to vitamin D deficiency across the last decade of research. (4) The presence of vitamin D receptors in the brain implies that this vitamin plays a role in the functioning of this organ. (5) These receptors are largely located in areas associated with cognition and memory including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. (6) Additionally, the central nervous system has been identified as a target for vitamin D. Vitamin D metabolites have been found present in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain. (7)

There is evidence that vitamin D and its metabolites act to protect the brain through several mechanisms including promoting nerve growth and clearing amyloid plaques. (8) Because several neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by amyloid plaque buildup, this may be particularly beneficial.

Neurocognitive decline characterizes a large portion of the aging population. This population is especially at a high risk for vitamin D deficiency due to decreased synthesis and dietary intake. (9) Additionally, malnutrition is common in the elderly, which often accompanies other diseases that afflict these populations including diabetes and kidney disease.

How much do you need?

The recommended dietary intake for a healthy adult is 600 IU (15 mcg). However, elderly individuals over the age of 70 should aim for 800 IU (20 mcg). These intakes are established as sufficient to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism in healthy individuals.

Dark-skinned individuals are more prone to vitamin D deficiency since dark skin is higher in melanin and requires more sunlight to synthesize the vitamin. Research shows that vitamin D insufficiency is more prevalent among African Americans than other Americans. (10)

How can you get it?

There are few food sources that contain vitamin D which makes it that much more important to balance the need of sun exposure in moderation and supplementation where needed. Fatty fish including salmon, tuna and mackerel are known sources. Additionally, fortified foods provide a large portion of vitamin D in the American diet, including certain dairy products and breakfast cereals.

Sun exposure is an obvious answer when it comes to ways we can obtain vitamin D. However, there are several factors that determine the sufficiency including the season, time of day, cloud coverage, sunscreen and melanin content in the skin. The balance of sun exposure and skin protection from UV rays is a fine line. Ultra violet radiation is responsible for an estimated 1.5 million skin cancers yearly in America. (11)

Because of the few natural food sources of vitamin D coupled with the need to protect skin from the suns rays, dietary supplementation may be viable option to fill in gaps. Most dietary supplements contain vitamin D3, which has been considered the more efficacious form in its ability to raise active vitamin D levels in the serum while supplements containing the D2 form have been mostly considered less efficacious. (12)

References

  1. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med 2007;357:266-81
  2. Nair R, Maseeh A, et al: Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Phrmacother 2016; April-June.
  3. United States. (2004). Bone health and osteoporosis: A report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, Md: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General.
  4. Soni M, Kos K, et al. Vitamin D and cognitive function. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl 2012.
  5. Harms L, Burne, THJ, et al. Vitamin D and the brain. Best Practice and Research Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2011.
  6. Eyles DW, Smith S, Kinobe R, Hewison M, McGrath JJ. Distribution of the vitamin D receptor and 1 alpha-hydroxylase in human brain. J Chem Neuroanat. 2005;29:21–30.
  7. Balabanova S, Richter HP, Antoniadis G, Homoki J, Kremmer N, Hanle J, Teller WM. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D, 24, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D in human cerebrospinal fluid. Klin Wochenschr. 1984;62:1086–90.
  8. Schlog M. Holick MF. Vitamin D and neurocognitive function. Clin Inter Aging. 2014.
  9. Harris SS, Soteriades E, Coolidge JA, Mudgal S, Dawson-Hughes B. Vitamin D insufficiency and hyperparathyroidism in a low income, multiracial, elderly population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000;85(11):4125-4130
  10. Harris S. Vitamin D and African Americans. The Journal of Nutrition. April 2006.
  11. Wolpowitz D, Gilchrest BA. The vitamin D questions: how much do you need and how should you get it? J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;54:301-17.
  12. Tripkovic L, Lambert H, Hart K, et al. Comparison of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 supplementation in raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(6):1357-1364.

What’s Good for Your Heart, Is Good for Your Brain

by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.

“The heart is the chief feature of a functioning mind.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

The heart and the head are not always on the same page. But one thing is certain, when it comes to nourishing these two essential parts of you, what’s good for one is also good for the other.

You probably already know that you can support the health of your heart with lifestyle changes. Even if you are genetically susceptible, the lifestyle choices you make can turn on or off those genes, raising or lowering your inherent risk for heart disease. In short, even family history can be rewritten depending on how you choose to eat, move and live. (64-66)

What’s the Connection?

Everything known to be unhealthy for blood vessels and the heart is also linked to poor brain health. The culprits that raise heart disease risk, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, stiff arteries, inflammation and obesity, may also impact brain function. (61,62)

In contrast, every habit you adopt to lower the risk of heart disease helps to support positive brain health. For example, a study from the University of Miami compared cardiovascular health with cognitive function in more than 1,000 people. Results showed that those who had the highest scores on measures of heart health did the best on mental tests. They scored highest on processing information, memory and the ability to organize, manage time and control impulses, a set of skills known as “executive function.” (1)

A Hearty Diet for the Mind

To protect your brain, adopt a heart-healthy diet, preferably one that resembles the Mediterranean diet rich in fatty fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and nuts. This diet supports healthy arteries that supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to both the brain and heart, and helps clear fatty deposits from arteries to help keep blood pressure in check. (58-60,63)

  1. Think Fish
    One of the mainstays of this diet is the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA found in fatty fish, such as salmon and herring. The health benefits of consuming at least two servings a week of fatty fish has been known for decades. (17-21,38) The body cannot make these fats at optimal levels, so it holds true that as intake decreases, levels in the brain of these omega-3s also decrease. (2-15,56,57) The benefits of DHA and EPA to mood, cognition and learning are noted around the world in both men and women and throughout life, from infancy through the senior years. (22-37)
  2. Eat the Rainbow
    The heart pumps one-fifth of its blood to the brain, where billions of brain cells use 20 percent of the blood’s oxygen and fuel. Along with that oxygen comes oxygen fragments, called oxidants or free radicals. Left unchecked, the oxidative damage caused by this onslaught damages cells. The antioxidants in foods, such as vitamins C and E, protect both the arteries and the brain from damage. (39,40-42) For example, preliminary evidence suggests that vitamin E helps lower the risk for both heart disease and dementia. (43-47,56,57) Load at least half of every plate with a variety of antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables, and include vitamin E-rich nuts in the weekly diet.
  3. Supplement Responsibly
    On the days when you don’t eat perfectly, supplement. Make sure your multi-vitamin contains antioxidants, such as vitamin E. Supplement your multi-vitamin with DHA and EPA omega-3s. Rest assured that supplemental sources of these fats are just as effective at protecting your heart and brain as are the same fats found in fatty fish. (48-52)
  4. Stay Lean
    Humans are not meant to be overweight. Excess body fat is associated with most aspects of aging and health conditions. For example, being overweight in the middle years significantly increases the risk for dementia down the road. The good news – the very diet that protects your brain and heart also helps to slim your waistline! (53-55)

Live It Up!

One cannot live by diet alone. To protect your heart and head, include exercise in the daily routine. Move at a level that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat, and you’ll stimulate growth of the hippocampus, the memory and learning center in your brain. You’ll also reduce many of the risk factors for heart disease. Then, sleep well, lower stress, and of course, don’t smoke! Adopt those habits and your brain and heart will repay you a thousand-fold!

References

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  8. Makrides M, Crowther C, Gibson R, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid and post-partum depression. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003;12(suppl):S37.
  9. Hibbeln J: Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet 1998;351:1213.
  10. Tanskanen A, Hibbeln J, Tuomilehto J, et al: Fish consumption and depressive symptoms in the general population of Finland. Psychiatric Services 2001;52:529-531.
  11. Schaefer E, Bongard V, Beiser A, et al: Plasma phosphatidylcholine docosahexaenoic acid content and risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease. The Framingham Heart Study. Archives of Neurology 2006;63:1545-1550.
  12. Pjamondon H, Roberge M: Dietary PUFA supplements reduce memory deficits but not CA1 ischemic injury in rats. Physiology & Behavior 2008; July 22nd.
  13. Lim G, Calon F, Morihara T, et al: A diet enriched with the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid reduces amyloid burden in an aged Alzheimer mouse model. Journal of Neuroscience 2005;25:3042-3040.
  14. Morris M, Evans D, Bienias J, et al: Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology 2003;60:940-946.
  15. Stark K, Holub B: Differential eicosapentaenoic acid elevations and altered cardiovascular disease risk factor responses after supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid in postmenopausal women receiving and no receiving hormone replacement therapy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004;79:765-773.
  16. Conquer J, Holub B: Supplementation with an algae source of docosahexaenoic acid increases (n-3) fatty acid status and alters selected risk factors for heart disease in vegetarian subjects. The Journal of Nutrition 1996;126:3032-3039.
  17. Schwellenbach L, Olson K, McConnell K, et al: The triglyceride-lowering effects of a modest dose of docosahexaenoic acid alone versus in combination with low dose eicosapentaenoic acid in patients with coronary artery disease and elevated triglycerides. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2006;25:480-485.
  18. Pounis G, Panagiotakos D, Chrysohoou C, et al: Long-term fish consumption is associated with lower risk of 30-day cardiovascular disease events in survivors from an acute coronary syndrome. International Journal of Cardiology 2008; 136:344-346.
  19. Marklund M, Leander K, Vikstrom M, et al: Polyunsaturated fat intake estimated by circulating biomarkers and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in a population-based cohort of 60-year-old men and women. Circulation 2016;132:586-594.
  20. Minihane A, Armah C, Miles E, et al: Consumption of FISH oil providing amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid that can be obtained from diet reduces blood pressure in adults with systolic hypertension. The Journal of Nutrition 2016; 146:516-523.
  21. Tukiainen T, Tynkkynen T, Makinen V, et al: A multi-metabolite analysis of serum by (1)H NMR spectroscopy: Early systemic signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Biochemical & Biophysical Research Communications 2008;August 9th.
  22. Tanaka K, Kon N, Ohkawa N, et al: Does breastfeeding in the neonatal period influence the cognitive function of very-low-birth-weight infants at 5 years of age? Brain & Development 2008; July 18th.
  23. Henriksen C, Haughholt K, Lindgren M, et al: Improved cognitive development among preterm infants attributable to early supplementation of human milk with docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. Pediatrics 2008;121:1137-1145.
  24. Virtanen J, Siscovick D, Longstreth W, et al: Fish consumption and risk of subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults. Neurology 2008;71:439-446.
  25. Leaf D: Omega 3 fatty acids and coronary artery disease: More than a fish tale. Postgraduate Medicine 1989;85:237-244.
  26. Kaur P, Heggland I, Aschner M, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid may act as a neuroprotector for methylmercury-induced neurotoxicity in primary neural cell cultures. Neurotoxicology 2008; June 20th.
  27. Haapala E, Eloranta A, Venalainen T, et al: Diet quality and academic achievement. European Journal of Nutrition 2016; September 9th.
  28. Wu D, Feng L, Gao Q, et al: Association between fish intake and depressive symptoms among community-living older Chinese adults in Singapore. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 2016;20:404-407.
  29. Sarris J, Murphy J, Mischoulon D, et al: Adjunctive nutraceuticals for depression. American Journal of Psychiatry 2016;173:575-587.
  30. Khajehnasiri F, Akhondzadeh S, Mortazavi S, et al: Are supplementation of omega-3 and ascorbic acid effective in reducing oxidative stress and depression among depressed shift workers? International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2016;May 10th.
  31. Song C, Shieh C, Wu Y, et al: The role of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in the treatment of major depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Progress in Lipid Research 2016; January 4th.
  32. Chhetry B, Hezghia M, Miller J, et al: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation and white matter changes in major depression. Journal of Psychiatric Research 2016; 75:65-74.
  33. Heras-Sandoval D, Pedrraza-Chaverri J, Perez-Rojas J: Role of docosahexaenoic acid in the modulation of glial cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroinflammation 2016; March 10th.
  34. Nishihira J, Tokashiki T, Higashiuesato Y, et al: Associations between serum omega-3 fatty acid levels and cognitive functions among community-dwelling octogenarians in Okinawa, Japan. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2016; February 16th.
  35. Oulhaj A, Herneren F, Refsum H, et al: Omega-3 fatty acid status enhances the prevention of cognitive decline by B vitamins in mild cognitive impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2016; January 6th.
  36. Li F, Liu X, Zhang D: Fish consumption and risk of depression. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2015;September 10th.
  37. AHA recommendations to eat 2 servings weekly of fish: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp#.WJEd2WczXcc
  38. Panth N, Paudel K, Parajuli K: Reactive oxygen species: A key hallmark of cardiovascular disease. Advances in Medicine 2016;9152732.
  39. Lakshmi S, Padmaja G, Kuppusamy P, et al: Oxidative stress in cardiovascular disease. Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics 2009;46:421-440.
  40. Garcia-Blanco A, Baquero M, Vento M, et al: Potential oxidative stress biomarkers of mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer disease. Journal of Neurological Sciences 2017;373:295-302.
  41. Di Domenico F, Pupo G, Giraldo E, et al: Oxidative signature of cerebrospinal fluid from mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease patients. Free Radical Biology & Medicine 2016;91:1-9.
  42. Li G, Li Y, Chen X, et al: Circulating tocopherols and risk of coronary artery disease. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 2016;23:748-757.
  43. Loffredo L, Perri L, Di Castelnuovo A, et al: Supplementation with vitamin E alone is associated with reduced myocardial infarction. Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease 2015;25:354-363.
  44. Xu W, Tan L, Wang H, et al: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 2015;86:1299-1306.
  45. Grimm M, Mett J, Hartmann T: The impact of vitamin E and other fat-soluble vitamins on Alzheimers’s disease. International Journal of Molecular Science 2016;17 (11):E1785.
  46. Shinohara M, Yamada M: Vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease. Brain and Nerve 2015;67:1509-1513.
  47. Kris-Etherton P, Hill A: n-3 fatty acids: Foods or supplements? Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008;108:1125-1130.
  48. Bourre J: Dietary omega-3 fatty acids for women. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 2007;61:105-112.
  49. Arterburn L, Oken H, Hoffman J, et al: Bioequivalence of docosahexaenoic acid from different algal oils in capsules and in a DHA-fortified food. Lipids 2007;42:1011-1024.
  50. Arterburn L, Oken H, Hoffman J, et al: Algal-oil capsules and cooked salmon: nutritionally equivalent sources of docosahexaenoic acid. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008;108:1204-1209.
  51. Hibbeln J, Nieminen L, Blasbalg T, et al: Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;83(suppl 6):1483S-1493S.
  52. Lafortune L, Martin S, Kelly S, et al: Behavioural risk factors I mid-life associated with successful ageing, disability, dementia and frailty in later life. PLoS One 2016;February 4th.
  53. Pedditizi E, Peters R, Beckett N: The risk of overweight/obesity in mid-life and late life for the development of dementia. Age and Ageing 2016;45:14-21.
  54. Beydoun M, Meydoun H, Wang Y: Obesity and central obesity and risk factors for incident dementia and its subtypes. Obesity Reviews 2008;9:204-218.
  55. Morris M: The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease. European Journal of Neurology 2009;16: 1-7.
  56. Morris M: Nutrition and risk of dementia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2016;1367:31-37.
  57. Whayne T: Ischemic heart disease and the Mediterranean diet. Current Cardiology Reports 2014;16:491.
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Your Brain Health Nutrition Guide: What You Should Know

by Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD

Your brain: it helps command everything you do. It powers digestion, circulation, breathing and thinking. It controls your body movements and emotions. Parts of your brain and nervous system help release chemical messengers that give you signals that it is time to eat, that you are thirsty, that you are full or that your body should start digesting the food it has just eaten.

It is understood that you should provide your brain with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Though carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for the brain, we know that the brain needs several other nutrients to support its health. So, what are those nutrients and foods that you should have, and others you want to steer clear from? This Brain Health Nutrition Guide gives you six helpful tips for keeping your brain in gear.

  1. Go Nuts for Healthy Food
    Eat your nuts and olives – and your vegetables, too! Why? An eating pattern that focuses on antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods may provide protection from cognitive decline. Recent research demonstrates that nuts and olive oil, when paired with a Mediterranean-style diet (rich in green leafy vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables) may help improve cognitive function.1 Incorporate nuts like walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, almonds, and their nut butters into your eating plan more often.
  1. Berries for Better Brain Health
    Berries, specifically strawberries and blueberries, may support brain health while reducing the speed of cognitive decline in older adults.2-3 Berries contain flavonoids, specifically anthocyanidins, which appear to confer the brain-health benefits – so much benefit that women who eat more berries appear to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years! Pop your berries in a smoothie, add them overtop a salad, or serve them fresh with a handful of nuts. And, consider choosing a balanced variety of other flavonoid-rich foods, too, like apples, oranges, onions, tea and red wine (in moderation, of course).3
  1. Catch of the Day: Omega-3s
    About 60 percent of the brain is made up of essential omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which supports brain health and reaction time in young adults.4-5 Since it’s so important, it makes sense to consume enough DHA through what you eat. Find brain-healthy DHA in lower-mercury fish like anchovies, sardines, salmon, and herring, as well as in algal-based DHA supplements and fortified foods.
  1. Get Privy with Probiotics
    Can healthy gut bacteria (i.e. probiotics) also support the health of your brain? Recent research seems to point to “yes,” and the reason lies within the gut-brain axis. You see, your digestive tract is full of neurons (nerve cells) that send signals to and from your brain, so maintaining a healthy digestive system is important for preserving healthy nervous system functions. Though more research is needed, in animal studies, those supplemented with probiotics tended to show less anxious behavior, a decrease in depressive behaviors, and benefits to memory performance.6 What can you do? Choose cultured and fermented foods that offer probiotics, like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt, and consider a quality probiotic supplement, if necessary.
  1. Consider What Else You May Be Eating
    Do you tote around plastic water bottles, microwave food in plastic containers or use canned foods? Be careful, as some of these items may contain bisphenol A (or BPA), which may have the potential to disrupt normal brain development in the prenatal period and lead to long-lasting learning impairments.7 To stay away from BPA, choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, straws and water bottles, reduce the amount of food you eat that is packaged in BPA-lined cans, and keep plastics out of the microwave, dishwasher, freezer and sun.
  1. Cut Back on Added Sugar and Fructose
    From your baked goods to fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, and from your soft drinks to ketchup, added sugar and fructose find its way into not only your treat foods, but your everyday foods, too. Why is this a concern? Along with its potential role in contributing to obesity and insulin resistance, fructose – especially when eaten alongside a diet that is insufficient in omega-3s – may impair cognitive function.8 More is yet to be learned about this association, so for now, be aware of how much added sugar you eat in a day, and strive to get less than 5 percent of your total energy from sugar per day (about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons), as recommended by the World Health Organization for better overall health.

Need some brain boosting meal ideas? How about plain yogurt with berries and walnuts for breakfast, an avocado with sauerkraut for lunch, or a green salad with salmon, strawberries and pistachios for dinner? Begin to combine these foods with an eating pattern full of vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains and fatty fish as you strive for improved health.

References

  1. Valls-Pedret C, Sala-Vila A, Serra-Mir M, Corella D, de la Torre R, Martínez-González MÁ, Martínez-Lapiscina EH, Fitó M, Pérez-Heras A, Salas-Salvadó J, Estruch R, Ros E. Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive DeclineA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094-1103. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668
  1. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M.D., Nash, T.A., et al. Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010;58(7):3996-4000. doi:10.1021/jf9029332.
  1. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MMB, Grodstein F. Dietary intake of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of neurology. 2012;72(1):135-143. doi:10.1002/ana.23594.
  1. Sinn N, Milte C, Howe PRC. Oiling the Brain: A Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Psychopathology across the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2010;2(2):128-170. doi:10.3390/nu2020128.
  1. Stonehouse, W, Conolon, CA, Podd, J, Hill JR, Minihane, AM, Haskell, C, Kennedy, D. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 May; 97(5): 1134-43. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.053371.
  1. Wang H, Lee I-S, Braun C, Enck P. Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2016;22(4):589-605. doi:10.5056/jnm16018.
  1. Negri-Cesi P. Bisphenol A Interaction With Brain Development and Functions. Dose-Response. 2015;13(2):1559325815590394. doi:10.1177/1559325815590394.
  1. Lakhan SE, Kirchgessner A. The emerging role of dietary fructose in obesity and cognitive decline. Nutrition Journal. 2013;12:114. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-114.

4 Steps to Better Brain Health

The brain is much like a newborn baby. It is fragile and needs all of the proper care and nutrition to help it grow into a strong organ to carry us throughout our lifespan. We are sharing four important steps to better brain health that you can start today.

No. 1: Volunteer with today’s youth – A science-based initiative through Johns Hopkins University and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), called Experience Corps, found that older adults who volunteer in urban schools improved the educational experience of children AND the older volunteers also experienced meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health. Why? Because they were increasing their daily socialization and they had a reason to get moving early in the day – all things the brain loves.

No. 2: Eat the catch of the day – Well, only if the catch of the day is a fatty fish high in DHA omega-3. This specific omega-3 makes up about 30 percent of the structural fats in the grey matter of the brain. What’s more, it is responsible for 97 percent of the total omega-3s in the brain. If salmon, tuna, mackerel or herring do not grace your table at least twice a week, you should talk with your doctor about taking a DHA omega-3 supplement. It will help to fill in the gaps when fatty fish is not the catch of the day.

No. 3: Drink to better brain health – In this case, we are not talking about raising a glass of bubbly or toasting with your favorite ale. We are talking about hydration in the form of good old-fashioned H2O. Your body needs to stay hydrated to function properly and this includes your brain.

Memory and fitness expert, Nelson Dellis, shares his tips for staying hydrated throughout the day.

No. 4: Put one foot in front of the other – That’s right, get moving for better brain health. According to research published in the Journal of Aging Research, regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping and sweat oozing from your glands) may increase the size of the hippocampus in the brain. The researchers found that resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.

Debunking Common Nutrition Myths

By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Diet dogma has a life of its own. Even when science reveals the truth behind a diet fad or web rumor, the myth lingers on. Here are a few mistaken identities in the nutrition arena.

Myth No. 1: Vitamin supplements are a waste of time.

Fact: Every so often the news reports on a study that found supplements are unnecessary. Before you toss your vitamins, read on.

If a study came out finding that people who drank water had no lower risk for cancer, would you stop drinking water? If another study reported that people who meet their recommendation for protein were at no lower risk for heart disease than people who ate too little protein, would you eliminate protein from your diet? Probably not. Both water and protein are essential nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients, too. The human body can’t make them, yet it needs them to survive and thrive. These essential nutrients must come from the diet on a regular basis and in amounts known to ensure life, as well as health. A lack of even one vitamin or mineral over time can have devastating consequences, in many cases even death.

Just because you’re not on your deathbed, is not a sign you are optimally nourished. National nutrition surveys spanning decades of research repeatedly find that many Americans do not meet the basic requirements for certain vitamins and/or minerals. One study found that 99 out of every 100 Americans don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. The USDA’s Healthy Eating Index, a tool to assess Americans’ eating habits, rating them on a scale of 0 to 100, consistently finds that most Americans score below or in the 60s, equivalent to an “F” or a “D” ranking on nutrition. Why not fill in the gaps with a moderate-dose, well-balanced multi-vitamin supplement on the days when you don’t eat perfectly? There is no harm in taking a moderate-dose multi-vitamin and mineral, in fact, people who supplement tend to be healthier. Supplementing responsibly is one of the lowest cost preventive measures you can adopt. (11,12,23)

Of course, popping a pill is not license to eat junk. That’s why they are called supplements, not substitutes for an excellent diet. Even the most staunch supporters of supplements agree that no pill can replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is one factor in a pattern of living that helps prevent disease and prolong the healthy years. (13-15)

Myth No. 2: Carbs are fattening.

Fact: Just the opposite. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, and 100% whole grains are quality carbs that are the mainstay of all diets worldwide, since they supply glucose, the main fuel for everything from muscles to brain. They also are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For example, the fiber in oats (called beta glucan) helps to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, thus playing an important role in the management of diabetes and heart disease. That fiber also fills you up without filling you out, so is a great addition to any weight-loss diet. But, avoid their refined counterparts, such as white bread, and their high-fat friends, such as butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, since ounce for ounce these add-ons contain more than twice the calories. For example, a generous smear of butter has more calories than a slice of bread (108 versus 61 calories), while a plain potato has only 88 calories compared to the same potato French-fried, which packs more than four times the calories (354 calories). (25,26)

Myth No. 3: Women naturally gain weight after menopause.

Fact: Many women believe that weight gain is part of “the change.” But numerous studies, including one from Michigan State University, offer some surprising results. In this study of 28 postmenopausal women, menopause by itself was not the reason for weight gain. It was the level of physical activity that had the biggest impact on body weight – older women who were vigorously active maintained their girlish figures. (1-3)

Myth No. 4: Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps curb appetite.

Fact: Water does curb appetite, but mostly when it is incorporated into food, not gulped from a glass. Several studies from Pennsylvania State University found that only water in soups, thick beverages like tomato juice, and other liquid foods fills us up. In one study, women were given a snack of chicken rice casserole with a glass of water or a chicken rice soup that contained the same amount of water as broth. Results showed that the soup was more filling even though it contained 27% fewer calories than the casserole. The reason – water bound to food is filling, while a glass of water is not, is unclear, but it could be that the bound water slows digestion, whereas a glass of water just passes right through. (4)

Myth No. 5: Shellfish is high in cholesterol.

Fact: Yes, shrimp is high in cholesterol, containing more than a third of your daily quota or 130 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving. But, shrimp is low in fat and contains a smidgeon of heart healthy omega-3s, which might explain why a study from the University of Southern California found that eating shellfish, like shrimp, every week reduced heart attack risk by 59 percent. Besides, most of the cholesterol in your blood is made in the body from saturated fats consumed in the diet, and shrimp is very low in that artery-clogging fat. The bottom line: shrimp is a healthy addition to your diet, just don’t batter or fry it! (5)

Selected references

Landmark Study Supports Supplementation for Heart Health

By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Nutrition science has finally caught up with common sense. In a landmark study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the researchers conclude that men who supplement with a multivitamin have a significantly lower risk for serious heart disease issues.
What makes this study different from others? In contrast to previous studies on relatively few subjects followed for a few years, the Harvard study was a long-term investigation on a large group of men (18,530 to be exact). The men averaged 40 years at the start of the study and were initially free of disease. Continue reading “Landmark Study Supports Supplementation for Heart Health”

The One Vitamin You Are Low In

 

By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Unless you’re supplementing daily with vitamin D, it’s likely you are deficient and don’t even know it. Up to three in every four people tested are low in this vitamin. What’s the risk?

Until recently, vitamin D’s sole job was to support calcium absorption and deposition into bone, thus lowering osteoporosis risk. This role is now considered the tip of the nutritional iceberg.

Every cell in your body has receptors for vitamin D, which means every cell, tissue, organ, and system, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, needs the vitamin. It’s no wonder research shows that vitamin D might aid the body in muscle weakness, gum disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, hearing and vision loss, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and depression, among other health conditions. It also supports pregnancy outcome and reduces the incidence of falls by up to 60 percent in seniors, while a deficiency can mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia. Preliminary studies also show a possible link between low vitamin D intake and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and more.

Continue reading “The One Vitamin You Are Low In”