Brain Health: Foods & Supplements to Support Mental Wellbeing

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • The other week, I discussed how yoga can help with preventing or slowing the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Today, I’d like to talk about some specific foods and nutrients that can contribute to healthy brain function, which can not only further support the prevention and/or delay of Alzheimer’s disease, but also the overall healthy mental wellbeing necessary for avoiding or overcoming depression, anxiety and other emotional problems.

    Before I share with you a few specific foods that can be extremely beneficial to brain health, I’d first like to review the importance of limiting your intake of processed foods, high glycemic carbohydrates and sugar, especially if you have a pre-existing condition related to inflammation, which directly impacts the health of the brain.  Insulin resistance, for example, which is potentially caused by obesity and excess weight in the stomach area due to the overconsumption of saturated and trans fats as well as refined carbohydrates and processed foods, will not only lead to diabetes type II if unattended to, but can also prematurely cause brain damage and degeneration.[1]

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    Additionally, if you are someone sensitive to gluten, which many of us are without knowing it, studies have identified a relationship between neurological disorders and gluten sensitivity.[2]  Recent studies have even shown that children with ADD or ADHD can significantly improve their condition by following a gluten free diet, as there appears to be an overlap between these learning disorders and celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.[3]

    Along these same lines, avoiding or limiting sugar intake does not mean replacing it with “non sugar” foods, snacks, soda and treats that contain artificial sweeteners, many of which are worse for you then sugar itself. The most common one, aspartame, is made up of food chemicals that can cause damage to the brain, resulting in emotional and neurological disorders and even brain tumors at low doses.[4][5]

    So what are some foods or supplements you can include in your diet to contribute to a healthy brain as well as support your best mental wellbeing? Here are a few helpful foods I came across in my research.

    Coconut Oil
    In general, as related to the discussion about insulin above, those with diabetes or an impaired ability to produce their own insulin have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia due to brain cell loss or brain atrophy, which occurs when the brain is not able to convert glucose into energy properly. However, it has recently been discovered that a substance called ketone bodies can convert fat into energy and thus provide what the brain needs. Coconut Oil which is made up of 66% MCT (medium chain triglycerides), a primary source of ketone bodies, gets converted into energy and transferred to the brain directly in the bloodstream. Just 2 Tablespoons per day of coconut oil provides a therapeutic level of 20g/day of MCT.[6]

    Omega 3 Fatty Acids
    Omega 3’s are likely the most talked about brain food out there. Omega 3’s are high in two fatty acids essential to overall health (DHA & EHA) and in particular the health of the brain, DHA. Low DHA levels have been linked to neuropsychiatric disorders including depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies indicate that DHA is critical for healthy neuronal function.[7]  Related to depression, it is said to increase serotonin and dopamine concentrations and can be equally as effective as antidepressants.[8]  Although fish (and good fish oil) is arguably the best source of Omega 3s out there, Omega 3 can also be found in flax seed and walnuts.

  • An interesting study was recently conducted on walnuts in particular. Peter Pribis conducted an 8-week study at Andrews University in which he gave participants ½ cup of walnuts per day. What he found was that those consuming walnuts improved significantly on their tests involving critical thinking and in particular inferential reasoning (determining true from false based on context). Walnuts contain ALA (a-linolenic acid), which contributes to our own body’s production of EHA and DHA.[9]

    Vitamin B-12
    This important vitamin is primarily found in animal tissue and thus an important topic for vegetarians and vegans limiting or eliminating their intake of animal products. Without B-12, memory problems, brain fog, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and behavioral problems can arise, among other nervous and immune system impairments.[10] This is extremely important for expecting and nursing mothers, in which a deficiency can lead to permanent neurological problems in the baby.[11

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    If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend that you supplement with either B-12 injections or utilize a patch to absorb the B-12 directly into your bloodstream efficiently in an active form that the body can use. Make sure that you do a regular urine test (MMA: Methylmalonic Acid Test) to ensure that your levels are optimal.

    Recently some interesting data has been released showing a relationship between the health of your intestinal tract and the health of your brain. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride with a Postgraduate MMedSci Degree in Neurology has discovered the gut-brain connection after years of working as a Neurologist and Nuerosurgeon. She has created the term GAPS (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) and proposes that an unhealthy digestive tract may be behind learning and psychological disorders such as autism, ADHA/ADD, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bi-polar disorder and others. If her findings are accurate, a diet rich in fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, fermented vegetables, etc.) and a daily probiotic supplement will work wonders for your brain's health.[12]

    [1] Retrieved from


    [2] “Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain,” M. Hadjivassiliou, et al. Lancet Nerol, March 2010: 9(3):318-30

    [3] “Association of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and celiac disease: a brief report,” H. Niederhofer. Prim Care Companion CNS Discord, 2011;13(3).pii: PCC.10br01104

    [4] “Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain,” P. Humphries, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr, April 2008: 62(4):451-62. Epub 2007 Aug 8.


    [5] “Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame?,” JW Olney, et al. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol, November 1996: 55(11):1115-23.


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    [6] Mercola, J. (2010, December 13). Four tablespoons of this brain food may prevent alzheimer’s. Retrieved from


    [7] “Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for the brain. Part 2 : macronutrients,” JM Bourre. J Nutr Health Aging, Sept-Oct 2006:10(5):386-99


    [8] “Antidepressant-like effects of uridine and omega-3 fatty acids are potentiated by combined treatment in rats,” WA Jr Carlezon, et al. Biol Psychiatry, February 2005: 57(4):343-50


    [9] “Effects of walnut consumption on cognitive performance in young adults,” P. Pribis, et al. British Journal of Nutrition, May 2012: 107 : pp 1393-1401


    [10] (2012, February 12) Important brain food that vegans may be deficient in. Retrieved from


    [11] “Brain damage in infancy and dietary B12 deficiency,” MC Wighton, et al. Med J Aust., July 14 1979: 2(1):1-3


    [12] Retrieved from

Published On: July 16, 2012