A key strategy for tuning up the nervous system is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to make healthy nerve cells, to protect them from damage, and to enhance their ability to carry out their functions. The results can be astounding. You can boost your mental alertness, increase concentration, promote learning, enhance both short-term and long-term memory, and keep your senses sharp.
Your brain requires a constant source of high-quality nutrition. The brain is so metabolically active that a deficiency of any of a number of nutrients can lead to poor mental function, depression, or other serious mental disorders. Since the neurons in your brain communicate through neurotransmitters, you need to supply your body with the raw materials needed to keep a constant supply of neurotransmitters available.
There are more than fifty known neurotransmitters. Some are found only in the central nervous system, while others are active there and elsewhere in the body. Here are some nutrients for boosting your brain and nerve function.
1. Boost choline intake
Choline, a B vitamin-like substance, is a crucial ingredient in the membranes found in every one of your cells. Dietary or supplementary choline can boost the production of acetylcholine and thus is important for memory, learning, and mental alertness.
Rich food sources of choline include lecithin, peanuts, wheat germ, and soy foods. Choline is also found in good levels in Brussels sprouts, oatmeal, soybeans, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.
The best forms of choline for supplementation are phosphatidylcholine, glycerophosphocholine, and cytosine diphosphocholine, but supplementation is usually not necessary if you boost dietary sources.
2. Boost your antioxidant intake
Vitamins C and E are found in high levels in the brain and nervous system. Because the brain cells are high in unsaturated fat, they are especially vulnerable to damage by free radicals.
There is mounting scientific and clinical evidence that the higher the intake of antioxidants over time, the better the mental function later in life. A high intake of these nutrients is also associated with a significantly lower risk for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Taking 500 to 1,500 mg of vitamin C and 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E is recommended.
3. Balance your electrolytes
The ability of a nerve to fire depends on the presence of electrolytes – minerals such as potassium, sodium, chloride, and magnesium dissolved in water. They are termed electrolytes to signify their critical role in conducting electricity in the human body.
If you have too much sodium and too little potassium in your diet, the imbalance can slow down the ability of neurons to conduct signals. Boosting potassium and magnesium while restricting sodium intake is a very important dietary recommendation for tuning up brain and nervous system function.
Eating more whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding high-salt processed foods and table salt is all that is needed for most people to get their potassium and sodium in balance.
4. Take B vitamins
These vitamins are crucial for brain and nerve function. B1 and B2 help control the use of glucose by neurons. They also help your body make fatty acids needed to preserve the integrity of nerve cell membranes. Along with vitamin B5, they are important for making acetylcholine and thus for helping memory function.
Vitamin B2 (niacin) is vital for proper mental function. People who suffer from niacin deficiency often exhibit signs of dementia.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) acts like a biological shuttle service, ferrying amino acids into the brain for its use in making neurotransmitters. Lack of B6 can cause abnormal brain wave patterns and a decrease in nervous system activity.
Vitamin B12 helps your brain make use of carbohydrates and proteins. It is also vital for producing the myelin sheath that protects the axons of your nerve cells. Folic acid works as a partner with vitamin B12 in many biochemical processes in the brain, including the manufacture of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Impaired mental acuity (or dementia) and depression are common symptoms of folic acid or B12 deficiency.
Deficiencies of these nutrients are common, especially in elderly subjects, and are an often overlooked cause of dementia and depression.