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Dietary Guidelines For Promoting Nervous System Health
This paper focuses on the importance of dietary nutrition that benefits the human nervous system. The nervous system is responsible for countless daily functions that are vital and often overlooked. The human body, however, cannot generate all of the nutrients required for proper nervous system functioning by itself. Therefore, it is incredibly important to care for one’s body and consume essential foods that promote and aid nervous system health. Specifically, foods that contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support the nervous system. Furthermore, such properties found within certain foods can improve the condition of neurodegenerative conditions. Certain vitamins have also proven critical to promoting a healthy nervous system . These vitamins include B12, D, and E. With the correct diet and supplements, the nervous system can experience beneficial results.
Diet/Nutrition to Promote Nervous System Health
One’s diet and nutrition have a significant impact on nervous system health. This is important because the nervous system is one of the most critical systems within the human body. Responsible for emotional thinking, memory, visual processing, and heart rate, it needs an extensive amount of proper care for it to function properly. The most fundamental and vital unit within the nervous system is a nerve cell or neuron. Therefore, nutrition begins with the influence it has on the neurons that later affect the function of both the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). Research has shown that specific properties found in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins contribute and promote nervous system health.
Blueberries are filled with numerous antioxidants that provide countless benefits within the human body. A high source of “blueberry extracts exhibited reversals of age-related deficits in the way that neurons function and in motor and cognitive behavior. In the brain, antioxidant molecules wage war against molecules known as free radicals, which can harm brain cells and brain function” (Society for Neuroscience, 2007). By fighting against free radicals, this provides neurons with enough strength to not continue to degenerate over time. Also improving function within the motor and cognitive behavior throughout the brain, the blueberry extract aids in neurological development. Francis C. Lau, from Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, states, “Our previous research showed that blueberry extract was effective in preventing oxidant‐induced calcium response deficits in M1 (muscarinic receptor)‐transfected COS‐7 cells” (Lau, 2007). Due to the blueberries’ rich antioxidant properties, it provides the body with a sufficient amount of energy to stop oxidant properties in a ligand-receptor responsible for the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Another study has shown that there may be a link between blueberries and reduced inflammation within the central nervous system and may even contribute to reversing neurological degeneration seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease, or senile dementia, is the degeneration of neuron connections and neurons, destroying memory and other important mental functions. Inflammation within the CNS is known as a critical issue in the development of neurodegeneration. The inclusion of blueberries into one’s daily diet significantly reduces psychological decline related to neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s Disease. Ron Mervis, Ph.D., of the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, states:
“Supplementing the diet of old rats with blueberries for a relatively short period (8 weeks), resulting in maintenance and rejuvenation of brain circuitry. These results, using a small amount of blueberry extract, two percent, to supplement a standard rat diet, are the first to show that a dietary intervention, specifically blueberries, can not only protect against the loss of dendritic branching and dendritic spines (e.g., synapses) seen in aged animals but can result in neuroplastic enhancement of brain circuitry such that it looks like a much younger brain” (Society for Neuroscience, 2007).
Age-related oxidation and swelling in the brain can damage nerve cells. Blueberries contain essential chemical compounds that contain strong body-protecting and anti-swelling properties. “Inflammation within the brain and spinal cord are associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease” (Society for Neuroscience, 2007). Therefore, eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, can contribute to and promote nervous system health by reversing degeneration within the CNS.
Blueberries also have certain extracts that are rich in anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid with antioxidant effects that gives the berry its pigmentation). Anthocyanins have individual effects on cellular signaling. A study by Esposito et al. (2014), from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, determined the capacity of blueberry bioactives to protect murine RAW 264.7 macrophages (model of mouse cells used to study cellular response) from lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation. “Fractionation of the crude extract (CE) into polyphenol-rich (PPR), anthocyanin-rich (ANC), and proanthocyanidin-rich (PAC) fractions and an ethyl acetate fraction (EA) revealed that PPR, ANC, and PAC components most effectively suppressed mRNA biomarkers of acute inflammation (Cox-2, iNOS, and IL-1β)” (Esposito et al., 2014). Along with the numerous other polyphenols (micronutrients obtained through plant-based foods containing antioxidants) found in blueberries, malvidin-3-glucoside (pigment of blueberries) was most effective when compared to “epicatechin or chlorogenic acid in reducing the expression of pro-inflammatory genes in vitro” (Esposito et al., 2014). In light of this, it is clear that blueberries contain specific extracts that are rich in vital functions that support and aid in the health of the nervous system.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be observed in salmon and walnuts. “Two omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), seem to be the most beneficial in the nervous system by maintaining neuron membranes” (American Psychological Association, 2009). Since the human body is not able to produce these nutritive supplements on its own, it is important to incorporate them within one’s diet. Norman Salem Jr., Ph.D., who pioneered this research at the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, states:
“In the study, the researchers fed four different diets with no or varying types and amounts of omega-3s to four groups of pregnant mice and then their offspring. They measured how the offspring, once grown, responded to a classic test of nervous-system function in which healthy animals are exposed to a sudden loud noise. Normally, animals flinch. However, when they hear a softer tone in advance, they flinch much less. It appears that normal nervous systems use that gentle warning to prepare instinctively for future stimuli, an adaptive process called sensorimotor gating” (American Psychological Association, 2009).
These observations thereby suggest that “the mice that were solely presented with DHA and EPA conveyed normal and adaptive sensorimotor qualities by responding in a far calmer way to loud noises than those that were not on the same diet” (American Psychological Association, 2009). Furthermore, insufficient DHA supplies within one’s body can result in a decreased ability to handle sensory input. This, in turn, can be a root cause of schizophrenia. “Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly” (Treatment Advocacy Center, 2018). Weak sensorimotor gating is an indication of various system disorders that can be seen in neurological diseases, such as schizophrenia. Malcolm Peet, author of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders states, “Epidemiological studies indicate an association between depression and low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and biochemical studies have shown reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes in both depressive and schizophrenic patients” (Peet, 2005). Therefore, implementing a diet containing salmon and walnuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, proves to have positive effects that contribute to the well-being of the nervous system. Although changing one’s dietary choices may not eliminate the chances of being diagnosed, it does provide one’s body with the adequate nutrients for a fully functional neurological response.
Numerous vitamins play an important role when it comes to sustaining the health of the nervous system. If one’s diet lacks certain vitamins, the body is now responsible for producing vital nutrients needed for the proper function of the nervous system and neurological development. Many vitamins are responsible for energy production, body defense mechanisms, and the development of neurons. Among the numerous vitamins needed throughout the body, the most vital to the nervous system are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E.
Vitamin B12 appears in most animal products, e.g. meat, eggs, and milk. This particular vitamin is essential to keep nerve and blood cells healthy, make DNA, and even helps prevent certain life-threatening conditions. “Vitamin B12 has fundamental roles in CNS function at all ages, especially the methionine-synthase mediated conversion of homocysteine to methionine, which is essential for nucleotide synthesis and genomic and non-genomic methylation” (Reynolds, 2006). Because the vitamin plays a role in a chemical reaction as a cofactor (an inorganic molecule that speeds up enzymes rate reaction), it is necessary to convert the amino acids to establish the process of hormones, proteins, lipids, and metabolism.
Vitamin D is formed within the epithelial cells through photochemical synthesis and can be gained through dietary sources. It is mainly known for its regulation of calcium balance and bone metabolism. However, it also regulates nervous system development and function. “Animal model data provide compelling evidence that vitamin D has a crucial role in proliferation, differentiation, neurotrophism, neuroprotection, neurotransmission, and neuroplasticity” (DeLuca, 2013). Therefore, it is incredibly important to make sure Vitamin D is a recurrent aspect of each person’s dietary consumption. It also exhibits a “neuroprotective effect associated with its influence on neurotrophin production and release, ineuromediator synthesis, intracellular calcium homeostasis, and prevention of oxidative damage to nervous tissue” (Wrzosek, 2013). By determining its prevention of oxidative damage (among numerous other benefits), it is easy to understand the underlying and undeniably important role Vitamin D has on the nervous system.
Vitamin E, most abundant in almonds, avocados, and broccoli, is responsible for acting as an antioxidant and protecting cell membranes. “It is the major lipid‐soluble, chain‐breaking antioxidant in the body, protecting the integrity of membranes by inhibiting lipid peroxidation” (Sen, 2006). Since it protects the cell membranes throughout the body, especially those within the nervous system, it allows for signals to be recognized at a faster rate and improve balance and coordination. A lack of Vitamin E may result in slow nerve impulses, muscle weakness, and degeneration of the retina. Since this vitamin, in particular, has a tremendous impact on the nervous system, it is important to replenish one’s body by providing it with a sufficient amount necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Through an in-depth understanding of both the central and peripheral nervous systems, it is clear that the body needs to be constantly nourished and cared for within one’s daily diet. The inclusion of foods that contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties provides the body with adequate nutrients that enhance the performance of the nervous system. The benefits that derive from the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and essential vitamins are crucial to optimal bodily functioning and should be implemented within everyone’s day-to-day food intake. Therefore, the next time you’re at your local grocery store, be sure to add blueberries, salmon, walnuts, almonds, dairy, broccoli, and avocados inside your cart.
American Psychological Association. (2009, December 19). New study links DHA type of omega-3 to better nervous-system function. Science Daily. Retrieved October 19, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091216130718.htm
DeLuca, G. (2013, January 21). The role of vitamin D in nervous system health and disease. Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology (Volume 39, Issue 5). Retrieved November 12, 2019 from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/nan.12020
Esposito D., Chen, A., Grace, M. H., Komarnytsky, S., Lila, M. A. (2014, January 8). Inhibitory Effects of Wild Blueberry Anthocyanins and Other Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Acute and Chronic Inflammation in Vitro. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf4051599
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Lau, F. C. (2007, January 30). Inhibitory effects of blueberry extract on the production of inflammatory mediators in lipopolysaccharide‐activated BV2 microglia. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved November 8, 2019 from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jnr.21205
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2019, July 9). Vitamin B12. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
Peet, M. (2005, June). Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders. Drugs (Volume 65, Issue 8). Retrieved November 8, 2019 from link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00003495-200565080-00002
Reynolds, E. (2006, November). Vitamin B12, folic acid, and the nervous system. The Lancet Neurology (Volume 5, Issue 11). Retrieved November 12, 2019 from sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1474442206705981
Sen, C. (2006, January 12). Tocotrienol: The Natural Vitamin E to Defend the Nervous System. The New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1196/annals.1331.013
Society For Neuroscience. (2007, November 7). Diet Of Walnuts, Blueberries Improve Cognition; May Help Maintain Brain Function. Science Daily. Retrieved October 20, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071106122843.htm
Treatment Advocacy Center. (2018). Schizophrenia Fact Sheet. Treatment Advocacy Center. Retrieved November 17, 2019 from treatmentadvocacycenter.org/evidence-and-research/learn-more-about/25-schizophrenia-fact-sheet
Wrzosek, M. (2013). Vitamin D and the central nervous system. National Center for Biotechnology. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23744412