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The Talon

The Talon

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June 20, 2024

How what you eat and drink can impact your brain

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The brain is one of the most fascinating and complex organs in all of science. Despite extensive research, neuroscientists still do not fully grasp the fine functions of the brain. Recently, there has been increasing amounts of research into how diet and other lifestyle factors can influence brain health and function.

A wide variety of foods have been found to possibly improve brain function and reduce the risk for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Over half of your brain is made up of fat, a large majority of which are omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming foods high in omega-3’s consequently helps your brain build and maintain healthy nerve cells, especially by maintaining the myelin sheath, an insulated layer surrounding nerve cells formed by fatty acids and proteins (1). One of the best sources of high quality omega-3’s is fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring and sardines. In addition, omega-3’s are linked to lower levels of blood-beta-amyloid, a protein that generates damage to the brain found in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s (2). When consuming fatty fish though, it is important to be mindful of overconsumption, especially in larger fish such as tuna, as they can accumulate high levels of mercury over time which is very dangerous to humans. Smaller fish like sardines are safer to eat on a more frequent basis, but it is probably your best bet to limit consumption of fatty fish to 2-3 servings per week (3). Other foods to boost your omega-3 intake without the potential downsides of fatty fish include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, avocados, eggs and almonds (4).

Another compound linked to improved brain health are antioxidants. Antioxidants work against degenerative biological processes such as inflammation and oxidative stress. These processes lead to the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Foods high in antioxidants which may help counteract these processes are berries, broccoli, dark chocolate and foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits (1).

Some foods hold a variety of brain-health promoting properties, such as eggs, which in addition to their great omega-3 content, contain choline which is an essential component of acetylcholine– a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and memory (1).

While there is a great number of foods that can help boost your brain health, there are a number of foods, drinks and other factors that can contribute to the same neurodegenerative processes that the foods above work against. Certain foods such processed meat like sausage, salami and ham, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates high in sugar can lead to the development of oxidative stress, which as previously mentioned can lead to the decay of the brain in the formation of early onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s (5,6).

Apart from food, one of the biggest killers of brain health is alcohol. While it may seem clear that a cognitively impairing drug is not beneficial for long term brain health (7), many do not grasp how little alcohol consumption is needed to break down neurological connections. One study found that even small-moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce health globally (8). Studies regarding the neurodegenerative effects of small-moderate alcohol consumption are recent and limited, but the overall data shows that across the board, alcohol is a net negative when it comes to brain health. It is also important to note that these effects are enhanced among young people (aged 25>), as the brain is known to not cease developing until at least through the middle 20s, and expanding research continues to show the possibility of this number being further down the line (9).

Another frequented substance, marijuana, which has significantly increased in usage since legalization in many U.S. states (10), especially among teens, 44.5% of which report having tried marijuana by the 12th grade, 6% of which continue to be daily users (11). In a similar fashion to alcohol, marijuana can have damaging effects on cognition which are amplified in adolescents (12). Like alcohol, however, research on the cognitive impact of marijuana is young and limited by many factors, notably how medicinal marijuana use has beneficial effects on cognition, possibly because it reduces symptoms which could have been blurring cognition (13). It is important to note the differences in recreational and medicinal marijuana usage when reviewing scientific literature regarding the substance’s effects on cognition.

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the brain is nowhere near fully understood and despite significant research into how diet, drug and alcohol usage can affect the brain, there are still many limiting factors across all aspects of these studies and the information is ever expanding and changing. So while this information should be reviewed with reservations, it is important to know that the general consensus in the fields of neuro and nutritional sciences is that abstaining from drugs and alcohol while exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet can help improve cognition, slow it’s decline and prevent the neurological disorders that currently plague western society.



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About the Contributor
Sullivan Nolan
Sullivan Nolan, Junior Content Editor
Sullivan Nolan is a second year journalism student and a member of the Class of 2025. Sullivan is a part of the soccer and track teams here at school. Outside of school he enjoys hanging out with friends and cooking.