Do you sometimes find that you remember things from the past but forget what you did yesterday? Do you have mood swings and become angry or upset easily?
If this sounds familiar then maybe your memory and mood need a boost. Life’s hectic pace coupled with increasing demands on our time can impact on our wellbeing, sometimes resulting in us becoming forgetful and irritable. Vitamin deficiencies can also affect how we feel.
World renowned UK based nutritionist and bestselling author Patrick Holford, who has given workshops in Galway, says it is important to remember that our intelligence and memory are not purely determined by our genetic programming. Although there is clearly an in-built element to them both, the development of learning skills and what you eat make a big difference to your mental abilities.
“The brain and nervous system - our mental hardware - are made up of a network of ‘neurons’, special cells which are each capable of forming tens of thousands of connections with others,” he explains. “Thinking is thought to represent a pattern of activity across this network. Such activity or signals involves neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in our brain.
“When we learn, we actually programme the wiring of the brain. When we think, we change the activity of neurotransmitters. Since both the brain and neurotransmitters are derived from nutrients in food it is logical to think that what you eat has a bearing on your mental performance.”
He says keeping your blood sugar balanced is probably the most important factor in maintaining an even energy, mood and concentration level as well as many other factors, including weight.
He points out that when the level of glucose in your blood drops you are likely to experience a whole host of symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, nervousness, depression, excessive thirst, sweating, headache and digestive problems. You are likely to want to eat or drink something - starchy, sweet, coffee or tea - to give you a lift.
Mr Holford outlines that an estimated three in every 10 people have a compromised ability to retain an even blood sugar level - it may go too high and then drop too low.
“The result over the years is that they become increasingly lethargic and fat. On the other hand, if you can control your blood sugar levels you are likely to have more constant energy as well as balanced moods and concentration.”
Conclusive research now clearly shows that the amount and type of fat consumed during foetal development, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age and indeed every day of your life has a profound effect on how we think and feel, he says. The brain and the nervous system are dependent on a balance of fats.
“While essential fats are needed for both the structure and the function of the brain and nervous system, they can also be converted into messenger molecules called prostaglandins which affect the release of neurotransmitters and hence the transmission of nerve impulses.
“The prostaglandins derived from omega 3 fats are essential for proper brain function, affecting vision, learning ability, co-ordination and mood as well as countless other body functions.
“In fact, the level of the Omega 3 fats, DHA and EPA - both found in fish oils - are markers for intelligence. Studies have found that the blood levels of these essential fats correlate with intellectual performance and learning ability at the age of five. The World Health Organisation now recommends that baby formula feeds include these oils.”
Nutrients and Mood
Patrick Holford says all the 50 known essential nutrients, with the exception of vitamin D, have a role to play in improving brain function.
The B complex group of vitamins are vital for mental health and deficiency of any of the eight B vitamins will rapidly affect how you think and feel. This is because they are water soluble and rapidly pass out of the body so we need a regular intake throughout the day. Also, as the brain uses a very large amount of these nutrients, a short-term deficiency will affect mental abilities.
“B vitamins have many roles to play in ensuring optimal brain function,” he outlines. “Niacin, or B3, is particularly good for memory enhancement. In one study 141 of niacin was given daily to a group of various ages. Memory was improved by 10 to 40 per cent in all the age groups.”
B5 (pantothenic acid ) has many functions in the body. It is essential for the brain and helps improve energy. The nutritionist points out that B 12 has been shown in laboratory experiments to accelerate the rate that rats learn - it is very important for the health of nerve cells.
B6 (pyridoxine ) plays a significant role in brain function as it is essential for the manufacture of neurotransmitters. It is also necessary for the conversion of amino acids into serotonin; a deficiency in this important neurotransmitter can cause depression and other problems. He says that one study showed that about a fifth of depressed people who participated in it were deficient in this vitamin.
He stated that vitamin C does more than help stop people getting colds. It has many roles to play in the brain, helping to balance neurotransmitters.
Mr Holford describes calcium and magnesium as natural tranquillisers. “Our nerves send messages through a series of chemicals which change the positive or negative charge of our nerve cells. This difference in charge creates a current of electricity, passing on the nervous signal. Just like an out of tune car, these signals can get out of synch. Calcium collects inside and outside the cell to help turn on a signal while magnesium acts to relax the cell signal. So, a lack of magnesium helps create that edgy feeling. Next time you reach for a sleeping pill reach for calcium and magnesium instead. As a natural sleeping aid 600 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium usually does the trick.”
Patrick Holford offers the follows tips:-
Memory and Mood Action Plan
• Eat a serving of fish at least every other day - particularly oily “fish with teeth”, such as sardines, salmon, herring, tuna and mackerel.
• Use cold pressed sunflower, pumpkin or flax oil on salads - a blend of oils is best.
• Eat one heaped tablespoon of ground seeds daily - on cereal, soups, salads or casseroles.
• Eat plenty of B vitamin-rich foods - wholegrains, beans, lentils, fish, seeds and vegetables.
• Eat lots of zinc-rich foods - nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
And as always....
1 heaped tablespoon of ground seeds or one tablespoon of cold pressed seed oil.
2 servings of beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu (soya ) or seed vegetables
3 pieces of fresh fruit, such as apples, pears, bananas, berries, melon or citrus fruit
4 servings of wholegrains, such as rice, millet, rye, oats, corn or quinoa
5 servings of dark green leafy and root vegetables such as watercress, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, green beans, peas and peppers.
6 glasses of water, diluted juices, herb or fruit teas.
7 Eat whole, organic raw food - as much as you can
8 Avoid any form of sugar, white, refined or processed food with chemical additives
9 Avoid all stimulants - coffee, tea and cigarettes
10. Relax during your meal and chew your food well.