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Food for Thought

"Battling mental malnutrition"
By: Stef dela Cruz, MDFood for Thought

Smart people are born that way, or so many believe. Although that is partly true, the brain is not hard-wired once you are born.

Intellect depends not only on one’s genes but also on proper nutrition during the brain growth period. For instance, if a baby less than 4 months old receives enough decosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, in his diet, studies show he has a good chance of getting a higher Mental Development Index (MDI) score.

Several studies have already shown the integral role of DHA in maximizing a baby’s I.Q. In a study by Birch Garfield and his colleagues published in Developmental Medicine and Childhood Neurology in 2000, the use of infant formula containing DHA in 79 healthy babies during their first 4 months was linked to an increase of 7 points in their MDI scores. In another study by James Drover and colleagues published in Childhood Development in 2009, babies with higher DHA levels could complete multi-step tasks more quickly without forgetting the final step. And the list of studies goes on.

Even a person’s earlier mental nutrition affects his performance later in life. Moms with high DHA levels when giving birth had babies who were less distractible once they reach 2 years of age, reported John Colombo and his team in a 2004 study published in Childhood Development. That reveals a long-term effect of mental nutrition, linking nourishment at birth to performance up to two years later.

But don’t fret; even after you’ve stopped using diapers and pacifiers, you can still benefit from “brain food.” For instance, eating antioxidant-rich food, such as dark-colored vegetables and berries, can help protect your brain from functional decline, as shown by a 2010 study presented by Shibu Poulose in the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

These types of food help protect the brain not only because they minimize damage caused by free radicals but also because of a newly-discovered mechanism: toxins are cleared faster with the help of antioxidants. Different berries were found to inhibit the production of rapamycin, a substance that tells your body’s cells to leave toxins alone.

Aside from keeping your memory sharp, brain food can also keep your psyche healthy. For instance, those who consume more fruits, veggies, unsaturated fats, whole grains, fish, and nuts also get up to 30 percent greater protection from depression, according to Almudena Sánchez-Villegas and colleagues in a 2009 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
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