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Food for Thought: How Diet Influences Brain Health The Ohio State University Web Site: Psychology.

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Presentation on theme: "Food for Thought: How Diet Influences Brain Health The Ohio State University Web Site: Psychology."— Presentation transcript:

1 Food for Thought: How Diet Influences Brain Health The Ohio State University Web Site: Psychology Today Blog: Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D.

2 Feeding your brain for good mental health I.What Controls Thinking and Feeling II.How Foods Affect Thinking and Feeling III.Take Home Message IV.Questions

3 Acetylcholine neurons control diverse functions related to attention and memory

4 Acetylcholine influences many aspects of a cognitive process..such as reading the word ball and thinking about its meaning.

5 When you are expecting something important to occur this EEG wave appears over the frontal lobes of your brain Following the degeneration or impairment of acetylcholine neurons the wave does not develop to the same degree Acetylcholine & Expectation

6 Components of the diet are used to produce Acetylcholine ACETYL is made from sugar in the diet. CHOLINE comes from the diet (found in many common foods, e.g. lecithin. (Donuts contain sugar and lecithin!)

7 Because of CHOLINEs role in MEMORY, many over-the-counter products contain it. Smoothie Smart Blend drink: Contains niacin, ginko biloba, choline, inositol, lecithin, glutamine, and green tea.

8 Including products intended to mislead us

9 DOPAMINE Controls Happiness

10 False smiles do not involve dopamine- controlled brain regions; Genuine smiles do. False Genuine

11 Amphetamines Cocaine Opiates Marijuana PCP Caffeine Sex Alcohol Barbiturates Chocolate Nicotine FOOD All rewarding things activate dopamine

12 SEROTONIN Controls Sleep, Dreaming & Moods

13 Coma, seizures & death G.I. Disturbances Sexual Dysfunction Insomnia Anxiety Bulimia Panic OCD Depression Too Little Serotonin Too Much Serotonin Adapted from: Stahl SM. Essential Psychopharmacology. Cambridge Univ. Press.


15 Dietary Sources of Tryptophan

16 This neurotransmitter system is impaired… in these conditions Acetylcholine Dopamine Serotonin Alzheimers Disease, Autism, Learning disabilities ADHD, Borderline personality disorder, Bipolar Illness, Risky behaviors Depression, Anxiety, Aggressiveness, Sleepiness, Autism

17 How does food affect your brain? Almost everything you choose to consume will directly or indirectly affect your brain. The most important consideration is to get enough of the chemical from within the food to its site of action in our brain to actually produce some kind of effect that we can notice and associate with consuming that particular food. Most of the time, this simply does not happen

18 How does food affect your brain? Three ways: 1.Fast Acting (e.g. coffee, sugar, heroin, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and some spices) 2. Intermediate Effects (pre-cursor loading) (e.g. tryptophan, carbohydrates, mineral supplements, lecithin, vitamins, apples/cranberries/prunes) 3.Long-term Effects (e.g. anti-oxidant foods, anti-inflammatory plants and drugs)

19 Caffeine enhances the function of acetylcholine neurons. How does caffeine help us to pay attention and learn? Not all fast-acting foods work through acetylcholine though!

20 How does food affect your brain? #2: Intermediate Effects Some foods affect your brain slowly over a period of days to weeks usually with the intent to affect mood or general cognitive function. Their purpose is to bias the function of a specific transmitter system. This is called precursor-loading. Examples: Tryptophan Carbohydrates Mineral supplements Lecithin Vitamins Apples/cranberries/prunes Image from Orlando Florin Rosu -

21 How does food affect your brain? #3: Long-Term Effects Some foods slowly affect brain function over many years or a lifetime. The benefit comes from the fact that all of these foods provide our brains with some form of protection against the most deadly thing we expose ourselves to every day – oxygen Examples: Anti-oxidant rich foods (e.g. colorful fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oils) Anti-inflammatory plants and drugs (e.g. aspirin, some steroids, cinnamon and some other spices, nicotine, caffeine and chocolate, the fat-soluble vitamins, nuts, legumes, beer and red wine). Image from

22 What do we eat that can harm us? Food Additives Pesticides Non-declared Drugs Arsenic Mercury Prednisone Testosterone Cadmium Lead Lots of food Adapted from TRENDS IN PHARMACOLOGICAL SCIENCES, Volume 23.

23 Fatty foods cause obesity and aging of the brain Study followed 22,000 men and 100,000 women for 20 years! N Engl J Med 2011;364:2392-404.

24 Evolution: the fittest individuals preferred a high calorie diet, ate to capacity, stored excess calories as fat and used those stores as efficiently as possible. Social: high caloric food during gatherings with friends. Humans tend to overeat whenever tasty (fat & sugar) food is readily available. We will keep eating no matter what our body tells us – ingestion analgesia functions to defend eating from ending. Foo, H. et al. J. Neurosci. 2009;29:13053-13062 Why do we eat fatty foods?

25 Average quality-of-life rating assigned to U.S. children with cancer: Obesitys Consequences Average quality-of-life rating assigned to obese children: 69 (on a scale of 100) 67

26 Belly fat is an important pathway by which depression contributes to the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes," … depressive symptoms were clearly related to deposits of visceral fat, which is the type of fat involved in disease. -Psychosomatic Medicine, May 2010 Obesity and Mood Control

27 Obese people have elevated levels of endogenous Marijuana-like chemicals Fat cells release bursts of marijuana-like chemicals that induce the munchies and lead to binge eating of high fat foods.

28 Thus…

29 These Foods Defend Your Body Curcumin, DBM Resveratrol Diosmetin, Diosmin Galangin Kaempferol, Quercetin

30 Benefits of Chocolate Men who eat chocolate live longer than men who do not eat chocolate. Estrogen-like compounds may explain why (the effect was not seen for women who have an ample supply of their own estrogen until menopause). Chocolate also contains magnesium salts, the absence of which in elderly females may be responsible for the common post-menopausal condition known as Chocoholism. Anti-oxidants & flavonoids FOOD SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL 11:159, 2005

31 So how much is enough? Lets compare wine and chocolate. 200 ml (6.7 oz) of Cabernet Sauvignon 50 grams (1.7 oz) of dark chocolate (71% cocoa) nearly identical quantities of flavonoids Recommended daily wine intake to produce the most health benefits in a typical adult. Increased blood flow to the brain within two hours and increased performance on a complex mental task in young female adults

32 No studies have yet proven a true cause-and-effect connection between the life- long consumption of anti-oxidant-rich diets and a reversal of age-related deterioration in learning or general mental function. Anti-oxidant activity

33 Whats the solution? Less eating or more exercise? Simple exercise contributes little to weight loss. Physical activity consumes only a small portion of total energy. 80% of energy is used to maintain resting physiological processes and to digest food.

34 Tape worms are actually making a resurgence as an option for losing weight

35 (A)Body weight (B) Percent survival (C) Life-span THE BEST PROTECTION IS TO EAT LESS FOOD

36 WHY? The risk is due to the fact that we keep breathing, eating & exercising Energy production from food converts 2% of oxygen into toxic molecules (oxygen free radicals that can damage DNA).

37 During the 20-year study, Caloric restriction can prolong life span and retain more cognitive abilities into advanced age. 50% of the monkeys allowed to eat freely have survived 80% that ate the same foods but with 30% fewer calories remain alive

38 Effect of Caloric Restriction Fewer cancerous tumors among those on restricted diets Source: R.T. Bronson and R.D. Lipman, Growth, Development and Aging, 1991. 9 2.1 15 1 45 11

39 Degenerative Diseases Source: B.N. Berg, in Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Aging. 55 35 75 18 80 19 95 25 Diaease Type

40 Dietary Restriction

41 Take Home Messages What you eat may affect brain function – effects and duration depend on how often and how much you consume of a particular substance. A single good dietary habit is not enough to provide protection for your brain. Obesity due to overeating impairs quality of life, impairs cognitive function and predisposes you to diseases that are common in old age. Eat as little food as possible. Caloric restriction is the only valid, scientifically supported dietary intervention that has been shown to slow the aging process, improve health and maintain good brain function into old age. It also saves you money! Its never too late to slow brain aging. Do something good for it every day.

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