Malnutrition and Our Neurological Health

This blog was written by Luis Acosta, a 4-H Teen Ambassador in Miami-Dade County.

Malnutrition and Our Neurological Health

“You are what you eat”. It needs to be understood that nutrition is the basis of health. In a sense, it’s what powers one’s body to function properly. So, without proper nutrition, body functions won’t be able to reach their full power and can even be directly harmed.

Malnutrition can be understood in several different ways. However, the term malnutrition includes over-nutrition and under nutrition. Overeating is just as harmful as under eating, and unfortunately it is very common.

Malnutrition and its connection to the brain’s health is crucial and it deserves more attention. With good nutrition many of the leading health concerns in the United States can be avoided. According to the CDC’s top 10 leading cause of death, nutrition can play a big factor in at least 5 of them.

Short Version

Malnutrition can affect the risk factor of getting a Neurological disorder while also increasing the damage it can do to the brain’s cognitive ability. Fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, and nutrients all affect the brain’s health. So, not taking in these substances can harm the brain by limiting its functions and its cognitive processing abilities.

  1. Brandt, J. (2019, September 13). Diet in brain health and neurological disorders: Risk factors and treatments. Brain sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770085/
  2. Puri, S., Shaheen, M., & Grover, B. (2023, March 27). Nutrition and cognitive health: A life course approach. Frontiers in public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10083484/#:~:text=Various%20studies %20on%20adults%20and,cognitive%20and%20verbal%20memory%20trajectories
  3. M;, Ś. S. (n.d.). The role of nutrition in alzheimer’s disease. Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33882663/
  4. B vitamins and Brain Health. Brain Balance Achievement Centers. (n.d.). https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/b-vitamins-and-brainhealth#:~:text=Vitamin%20B6%3A%20Pyridoxine%20or%20vitamin,under%20a%20ph ysician%27s%20direct%20supervision
  5. Advanced Neurotherapy, P. (n.d.). 6 essential nutrients to promote brain function. advanced neurotherapy. https://www.advancedneurotherapy.com/blog/2015/02/06/brainfunctionnutrients#:~:text=Vitamin%20K%20%2D%20Cognitive%20function%20and,disease%2 C%20and%20building%20strong%20bones
  6. Web. (2022, March 30). Seven neurotoxins commonly found in your food and supplements!. BIPRI For a Healthier Brain. https://www.bipri.com/seven-neurotoxinscommonly-found-in-your-food-and-supplements/

Nutritional History

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”-Hippocrates (400 B.C.) The idea of nutrition is key for the body’s health has been present throughout the earliest human civilizations. Today, this belief has dimmed down. Most people understand that “if you want to be strong you take your proteins” or “if you want to be tall you have to eat well”. Since around the 1980s malnutrition has been increasing significantly; and so, have neurological disorders that may have been avoided or aided by good nutrition.

The Brain and Our Nutrition

Nutrition is one of the biggest factors regarding the brain’s health. It helps prevent neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease. Not only is having a well-rounded diet important for avoiding brain disorders, but it is also important for cognition and the brain’s processing.

Neurological Disorders and Diet

Getting into the science of it, there are specific substances in a nutritious diet that can aid the brain in its functions and mechanisms. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is an example. According to “The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s Disease,” consuming vitamin B6, B12, B9, polyphenols, certain probiotic bacteria, and unsaturated acids can protect the brain and help combat AD. This is done by having a protective effect on the brain. This article suggests that specific diets like the “MIND and Mediterranean diet can protect against AD.”

Cognitive Deficits and Our Nutrition

Not only can nutrition affect the success of the brain in fighting off disorders and carrying out its functions, but it can also affect cognition processes. These may include reasoning, memory storage, retrieval, learning, and emotion, all crucial aspects of one’s daily life. According to “Nutrition and Cognitive Health” a high-fat diet causes the hippocampus to “produce a neuron-inflammatory response to even a mild immune challenge, resulting in memory deficits.” It also expressed that a high-fat diet “can increase the chances of cognitive deficits.” This is just skimming the surface of nutrition’s role on cognitive functions.

Neurotoxins in Our Diet

Neurotoxins are substances that destroy the function of the central and peripheral nervous systems, which are the two parts of your nervous system. There are seven major neurotoxins, also known as the big seven. The first is Artificial Sweeteners, where an association with a higher risk of stroke and dementia has been shown (6). High fructose corn syrup has been shown to impair the brain’s ability to understand and process new information (6). Trans fat may lead to inflammation in the brain, causing aggressive behavior (6). And Artificial food coloring has been shown to “exacerbate behavioral issues, especially in children with ADHD, autism, and hyperactivity” (6).

Consider This!

There are several ways to improve nutrition to contribute to a happy and healthy functioning brain.

Foods for a Healthy Brain:

Vitamin B’s: Very important for the brain’s cognitive process and should be a priority in one’s diet. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Shown to better the brain’s intellectual performance and also assist with remembering and learning.

  • Thiamin (B1): Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, helps improve nerve functions. Thiamin deficiency may lead to confusion, poor coordination, and fatigue. Whole grains such as fortified cereals and brown rice, lean pork cuts, and legumes like beans and lentils are rich sources of thiamin.
  • Vitamin B12: Ensures proper neural speed, improving focus and memory. Eggs, dairy products like milk and cheese, fortified cereals, and poultry are also good sources of vitamin B12
  • Folic Acid or Folate (B9): Has anti-inflammatory and memory improving properties. A deficiency has shown to slow down growth rate and cause behavioral and neurological disorders. Leafy green vegetables, legumes, and fortified cereals are primary sources of vitamin B9.
  • Vitamin B6: “Influences brain process and development by helping with the development of neurotransmitters” (4). Bananas, chickpeas, and certain fish like tuna are notable sources of vitamin B6.

Vitamin E: Can “prevent or decelerate cognitive decline” (5), meaning that it supports the brain through its aging process. Almonds, sunflower seeds, and vegetable oils like wheat germ oil are prominent sources of vitamin E.

Vitamin K: “Cognitive function and brain power are dependent on Vitamin K for optimal performance” (5). Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are primary sources of vitamin K.

Lycopene: Has been used in many treatments for different disorders and health conditions. One example is “against dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease” (5). Tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit are major sources of lycopene.

Foods Toxic to Brain Health:

Artificial Sweeteners: “Associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia” (6), having a long-term effect on the brain.

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Limits the brain’s ability to learn, process, and remember information.

Trans Fat: “May lead to inflammation in the brain, agitated mood, aggressive behavior, and decreased memory” (6). Targeting more of the cognitive functions of the brain.

Artificial Food Coloring: Has shown to“exacerbate behavioral issues, especially in children with ADHD, autism, and hyperactivity” (6).

Conclusion

In the time it took you to read this article, your brain processed every single word stated, gathered all the information expressed, and stored it in your memory. Your brain is constantly at work processing information, even when you are not thinking about it. Making sure that the body receives proper nutrients and vitamins is essential for brain functions.

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Posted: September 15, 2023


Category: 4-H & Youth, Health & Nutrition
Tags: Brain, Diet, Food, Health, Nutrition


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