Cognitive ability or ‘having all your marbles’ is a common factor that most people consider vital in order to have a good quality of life.
Many people would have heard a loved one say that they would rather die than lose their mental function and be stuck in an otherwise healthy body. So many people suffer from poor memory and/or anxiety and depression, that it is wise to follow nutritional principles to optimise your brain function and to preserve your brain cells.
In the 19th Century four distinct sections (lobes) of the brain were identified:
Each lobe has particular chemicals (neurotransmitters) and brainwave patterns that govern particular traits. Neuro-transmitters are the chemicals that transmit messages from brain cell to brain cell. Brain wave patterns are the electrical energy patterns produced by the brain’s activity that can be mapped and measured by an electro-encephalograph machine.
Mood disorders, addictions or weight excess can often be attributed to an imbalance in a neurotransmitter or brain wave that applies to a certain lobe of the brain.
Brain neurotransmitters each have nutritional precursors, so it is often possible to overcome mood disorders or food addictions via nutritional means, before resorting to chemical drugs.
The frontal lobe of the brain – brain energy
The frontal lobe is in control of our emotions, judgment and personality. Its function relates to energy of the brain. The associated brainwave pattern is Beta and the primary neurotransmitter is Dopamine.
The symptoms that may be related to a deficiency in dopamine include sugar/carbohydrate/caffeine cravings, mental fatigue, poor concentration, lack of motivation, routine-task difficulty, decreased physical activity and low mood. This can lead to conditions including obesity, addictions and sexual disorders, as well as more serious conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
The amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine are the raw materials for the brain’s production of Dopamine.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that can be converted in the body to tyrosine, which in turn is used to synthesize two important neurotransmitters – dopamine and nor-epinephrine.
Tyrosine is a ‘non essential’ amino acid, which means the body can manufacture it from other dietary amino acids. Tyrosine is also helpful in suppressing the appetite and reducing body fat and vital for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Tyrosine may assist in food addiction, stress management, mental fatigue, anxiety and depression. Phenylalanine assists in elevating mood, and has been shown in some trials to increase mental alertness, suppress appetite and reduce chronic pain.
A diet high in first class quality proteins as a source of amino acids is important to;
Provide the brain with the substances it requires to produce neuro-transmitters.
Prevent the effects of intense stress and mental exhaustion.
The function of the parietal lobe relates to brain speed (the brain’s ability to process and recall information quickly). The parietal lobe’s brain wave pattern is Alpha and the dominant neurotransmitter is acetylcholine.
The B vitamin called choline is necessary for the production of acetylcholine, which is a neuro-transmitter fundamental to the proper functioning of the nervous system. Studies have shown that choline-enriched diets improved memory recall, and choline-deficient diets contributed to memory loss. There is also evidence to show that acetylcholine can affect mood.
Deficiencies of acetylcholine and/ or its precursor choline, may manifest as fat-cravings, memory dysfunction and difficulty concentrating. Associated disease states are Senile dementia, Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
A diet rich in choline (or phosphatidylcholine) will help to improve memory and cognitive speed.
Consume the following food regularly to stay mentally sharp:
Eggs, blueberries, wheatgerm, peanut butter, cheese, fish, chicken, cabbage, iceberg lettuce, fava beans, caviar, cauliflower, almonds and grapes or their juice.
The temporal lobe – brain calm
The temporal lobe is the calming part of the brain and is involved in the primary organisation of sensory input and is highly associated with memory skills.
The temporal lobe’s governing brain wave pattern is Theta. Its dominant neurotransmitter is GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). GABA is a derivative of glutamic acid, which comes from the amino acid glutamine.
Some brain chemicals excite the neuronal activities and stimulate nerves to fire. While this is a vital function, the opposite effect – the calming of a neuron, is just as important. GABA provides an inhibitory function by blocking the transmission of impulses from one brain cell to another. By doing this, GABA balances the effect of the excitatory neurotransmitters and thus ensures the brain waves operate in harmony and the body stays in a state of calm.
Interestingly the temporal lobe is involved in the romantic and spiritual part of ourselves. Feelings of “deja-vu” come from the temporal lobe, and music and smells can evoke strong emotions and memories. This all occurs in the temporal lobes and also via their nervous pathway connections to the frontal lobes.
Deficiencies in GABA or glutamine may cause unpleasant symptoms such as –
Anxiety, panic attacks, carbohydrate cravings, trembling, twitching, hyperventilation, flushing, tachycardia (racing heart beat), sweating, chest pain or discomfort, restlessness, tinnitus, abnormal sense of smell, abnormal odours, pins & needles, numbness, vibratory sensations and a feeling as if something is crawling on you or biting you.
Conditions that may arise as a result of this deficiency are-
Gastro-intestinal disorders, tinnitus, Pre-menstrual syndrome, seizures, bi-polar disorder, mania and severe agitation.
Glutamic acid is very poorly absorbed across the blood brain barrier whereas glutamine is readily absorbed into the brain from the blood stream. Once in the brain, glutamine can be easily converted back to glutamic acid. Glutamic acid can then be converted into the desirable GABA neuro-transmitter.
So by regular consumption of foods high in glutamine we can ensure an increase in the levels of glutamic acid in the brain available to be converted into GABA, which helps keep the brain calm.
Food sources of Glutamine are:
Complex carbohydrates are an important source of glutamine such as whole grains and their products. Other sources are beans, citrus fruits, Brewer’s yeast, brown rice, broccoli, molasses, liver, organ meats, halibut, lentils, potatoes, spinach and nuts.
The occipital lobe – brain rest
The occipital lobe is concerned with rest and is also the centre for visual perception. A brain that has sufficient rest (or down time), will maintain a higher level of overall function. This is important for stable moods and cognitive ability.
The occipital lobe’s brain wave pattern is delta and its primary neurotransmitter is serotonin.
Serotonin balances the brain’s overall electrical activity and allows the body to maintain healthy sleep patterns.
A deficiency of serotonin can lead to –
Salt cravings, a reduced ability to cope with physical pain, shortness of breath, choking sensations, chronic and/or severe sleep disorders, appetite disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, insatiable hunger. Depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are usually associated with a deficiency of serotonin. Serotonin deficiency has been implicated in some cases of premature ejaculation.
The dietary amino acid called tryptophan is required for the production of serotonin. Thus, tryptophan allows the brain to restore itself adequately by achieving efficient rest phases.
A diet including plenty of foods rich in tryptophan can assist in the maintenance of pleasant, stable moods by supporting the body’s production of serotonin.
Good sources of tryptophan are:
Banana, salmon, turkey, blue fish, mackerel, beets, brown rice, baked or mashed potatoes and sunflower seeds.