Food plays a veryimportant role in our brains performance and health. In our review “Brain foods – the role of diet in brain performance and health” we have outlined the role of diet in five key areas: brain development, signalling networks and neurotransmitters in the brain, cognition and memory, the balance between protein formation and degradation, and deteriorative effects due to chronic inflammatory processes.
As an introduction, we make a survey of the neuroprotective effects of specific established diets like the Mediterranean, DASH, MIND, and Healthy Nordic diet, based on results from clinical human studies. There are continuously updated summaries and recommendations available, e.g. from the Global Council on Brain Health. In general, the old saying, “a healthy mind in a healthy body,” is still very valid, and the overall positive results on cognitive ability of entire diets can be summarised with: “what is good for your heart, is also good for your brain.”
Looking at the importance of dietary components for the development of the brain, we can begin with lipids. The fatty acid composition of the polar lipids in the brain is very special, with arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as major components. They are essential for the structure of synapses, the secretion and uptake of neurotransmitters, and as precursors for endocannabinoids—the intrinsic ligands for cannabinoid receptors. How the growing brain can be supplied with the relatively considerable amounts of these specific lipid components during the growth of the fetus and the newborn infant is still a little of a mystery.
Vitamins and minerals are as important for the brain development as for the rest of the body, and beside that they often have special roles in the brain. A few examples: vitamin B6, B9 (folate), and B12 are very important in brain development, i.a. related to one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation. Vitamin D has been called “the neglected neurosteroid” and has its own receptors in the brain. Iron is essential for development and transmission in the brain, and zinc plays a key-role in maintenance of the brain functions.