Brain Health

brain imageIn every great production or successful sports team, there are many more people who work ‘behind the scenes ‘ that support the main players. The same is true for our brain. The role of vitamins and minerals is to help turn glucose into energy, amino acids into neurotransmitters, simple essential fats into more complex fats like GLA, or DHA and prostaglandins, and choline and serine into phospholipids. They help build and rebuild the brain as well as the nervous system to ensure all is running smoothly.

Phospholipids improve the brain’s hearing, by keeping neuron receptor sites in good condition. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins improve the brains talking. The words the brain uses to send messages from one cell to another are neurotransmitters and the letters they are built from are the amino acids. A deficiency in amino acids can be quite common and can give rise to depression, apathy and lack of motivation, an inability to relax and poor memory and concentration. Supplementing amino acids has proven to correct these problems. For example, tyrosine has shown to improve mental and physical performance under stress.

To understand why amino acids are vitally important to our brain, we need to explore the function of neurotransmitters. There are hundreds of neurotransmitters in the brain and body, but the main players are Adrenalin, Nor Adrenalin and Dopamine (stimulating, motivating, mood lifting) Serotonin (improves mood, banishes the blues), GABA ( counteracts these stimulating neurotransmitters by relaxing and calming), Acetylcholine ( keeps the brain sharp, improving memory & mental alertness), Tryptamines ( keep us connected ie melatonin keeps us in sync with day and night)

There are many other substances in the brain that act much like neurotransmitters , such as endorphins which gives us a sense of euphoria. But these are the key orchestras of the brain. Our mood, memory and mental alertness are all affected by the activity of different kinds of neurotransmitters. If serotonin is up we are likely to be happy, if dopamine and adrenalin are down we are likely to feel unmotivated and tired. Having the right balance of these key neurotransmitters is a must if we want to be in tip top mental shape.

How neurotransmitters work?

Neurotransmitters are released from one neuron and sent across the gap, the synapse, to deliver their message to the next neuron. Each neurotransmitter only fits into certain receptor sites- the letter boxes of the receiving cell. When the message is delivered an electrical signal passes from one neuron to another.

Neurotransmitters are made directly from amino acids taken into the body from food. There are nine essential amino acids and from these we can make all the other amino acids our brain and body need. From these we can make neurotransmitters eg serotonin which is known to help improve mood, is made from tryptophan. Therefore eating food rich in tryptophan ie turkey may improve mood.

This was shown very clearly by an experiment carried out at Oxford University’s psychiatry department. Eight women were given a diet devoid of tryptophan. Within 8 hours most of them started to feel more depressed. When tryptophan was added to their diet without their knowledge, their mood improved.

Another example is tyrosine, which has been well researched by the US military. Studies found that giving tyrosine to soldiers in stressful conditions over prolonged periods of time showed clear improvements in both mental and physical endurance.