Food For Thought
By Michelle Badash
A Ithough every major organ is critical to physiological functioning, one might say that the brain is the body’s dictator. This three-pound, walnut-shaped organ encased in the skull orchestrates an astounding array of functions throughout the body. As Richard Restak, M.D., notes: "The human brain can store more information than all the libraries in the world. It is also responsible for our most primitive urges, our loftiest ideals, the way we think. ... The workings of an organ capable of creating Hamlet, the Bill of Rights and Hiroshima remain deeply mysterious."
Naturally, medical researchers have been trying to crack the mystery for years. In their efforts to analyze the central nervous system, they discovered that complex brain functions depend on a balance of nutrients. Increasing evidence demonstrates that nutrient deficiencies and chemical imbalances can disrupt both emotional and psychological well-being.
It May Not Be Alzheimer’s
One of the most common indications of deteriorating brain function is memory loss. Many older people, when they become aware of memory lapses, jump to the conclusion that they are experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, when in fact their declining memory may be rooted in a nutritional deficiency.
In the mid-1940s and 1950s, scientific research clearly showed that healthy brain functioning depends on sufficient amounts of B vitamins. Experts today still tout the importance of B vitamins, particularly the following five (keep in mind that these vitamins are all water-soluble and should be taken together for maximum benefit):
B1 (thiamine) helps convert glucose to energy. It also mimics acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter involved in memory) and plays a role in brain functions related to memory and cognition.2 Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can cause a thiamine deficiency resulting in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disease marked by mental confusion. Severe thiamine deficiency leads to beriberi, a disease characterized by weakness, wasting, nerve inflammation and numbness of the hands and feet. A recent study shows that high-dose thiamine supplementation (3-8 g/day) may actually decrease the deleterious effects of senility.
Thiamine supplementation also appears to elevate mood. In another study, 120 young women took either placebo or 50 mg thiamine daily for two months. Before and-after tests assessed mood, memory and reaction times. Women who took the thiamine supplements reported feeling significantly more clearheaded, composed and energetic.
B3 (niacin) enhances the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It is also vital to the formation and maintenance of many tissues, including nerve tissue. A severe niacin deficiency produces pellagra, a disease characterized by the three Ds: dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia.
B6 (pyridoxine) is needed for the production of amino acid-derived neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. B6 deficiency can cause many ailments including slow learning and visual disturbances. Low levels of this vitamin may also provoke epileptic seizures in people prone to them.
B12 (cobalamin) plays an important role in the formation of the myelin sheath around nerve fibers. It also helps the body transport and store folic acid. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause pernicious anemia, nerve dysfunction (weakness, poor reflexes and s