Friday, February 10, 2012

Does brain food work? Short answer = no solid evidence

I’m still wading through Barbara Strauch’s book, and I am learning that the world of brain food is confusing.

I yearn for the simple answer. The “eat like a Greek” answer that is clear and straightforward.

But if you believe Barbara Strauch and her book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, the issues are complex, hard to research and the science is still at early stages.

Is seems that the idea of correlating food consumption and brain performance is a rather recent question.  According to Ms. Strauch, “For years, scientists believed diet had little impact on our brains because they thought most nutrients didn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. 

The blood-brain-barrier is real. Cells linking blood vessels in the brain are packed close together to keep out certain large molecules and maintain a chemical balance.”

Overlaying that whole idea was that, until recently, everybody “…believed the brain was on a downhill slalom course from our mid-twenties, losing as many as 40 percent of its cells as it aged. Why bother worrying about a brain that is programmed from the get-go to decay? Did anybody really think that another forkful of carrots was going to stop that from happening?”

Thankfully, we’ve scientifically put a lie to the myth of not being able to build brain cells (if you’re reading this for the first time, please see my February 8th posting).

Finally, though, we’ve figured out that food can help.  According to Paula Bickford, a neuroscientist who studies nutrition at the University of South Florida, “The brain is not uniquely sensitive but it is sensitive to what we each. And now we’re realizing more and more that what you eat can affect cognition.”

Well, that sounds promising.

Since I can’t do the science justice, let me say that as I understand it scientists have identified oxidative stress and inflammation is bad for the brain. The question then becomes “will eating foods high in antioxidants or anti-inflammatory agents make a difference?”

From what I’ve read, it could/should/might work in theory but, quoting Strauch, “…there have been no long term clinical trials in humans to test this.” That’s another way of saying that there is no proof that passes scientific scrutiny.

As best I can tell, it seems like eating brain food should be good for cognition. And I’ve read nothing that would suggest that blueberries, salmon, oats or almonds are harmful to the brain.

At the same time, we seem to know that eating unhealthily – rich fatty foods – are by and large bad.

So I’m going to continue to hope – not a great strategy – that someday, somehow, someway, somebody will prove that the almonds on my Milk & Honey granola not only taste good, but they also help spiff-up or at least help me hold onto my cognitive skills.

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