Top Of Mind : How Nutrition Affects Cognitive Function



Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about health and wellbeing are probably at an all time high and we’ve all been forced to adopt and re-evaluate our habits as a result.

With the start of the school year, new challenges will be introduced which have inspired me to write today’s article by taking a closer look at how nutrition and other lifestyle factors interact with the healthy functioning of the human mind.

Emerging research has shown the effects of diet linked with the actions of other lifestyle habits like exercice and sleep.

What Science Knows So Far

For starters, we know that particular nutrients influence cognition. The effect of these nutrients is on vital molecular systems or cellular processes for maintaining cognitive function. It seems that dietary manipulations are a feasible strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities and protecting the brain from damage thus promoting repair and counteracting the effects of aging.

Particular diets and exercise when combined have an impact on molecular systems that are involved in synaptic plasticity. This has strong implications for public health and the design of therapeutic interventions.

Specific Examples

Several dietary components have been identified as having effects on cognitive abilities.

Dietary factors can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission and membrane fluidity.

Omega 3 fatty acids help build cell membranes, antioxidant action and anti-inflammatory effects.

Sources include fatty fish such as salmon, walnuts, chia and flaxseeds.

Curcumin may reduce inflammation.

Found in Turmeric.

Flavonoids may protect neurons against injury, suppress neuroinflammation and promote cognitive function.

Sources include citrus fruits, wine, dark chocolate, green tea.

B vitamins (6, 12 and folate) have numerous effects on brain function such as energy production, cell repair and the synthesis of numerous neurochemicals.

Sources include leafy greens, salmon, eggs, beans.

On the flip side, an excessive intake of saturated fat and refined carbohydrates has a negative impact on cognitive function since a high fat and sugar change intestine bacteria colonies and increase intestinal permeability and lower blood brain barrier. This can develop a vulnerability to the influx of toxins from circulation to the brain, which may result in cognitive dysfunction.

Your Gut Is What You Eat

We know that the microbiome is a complex and dynamic ecosystem in which species are in continual fluctuation.

We also know that the sum of our prebiotic intake has a significant role to play in ensuring that these probiotic populations that make up our microbiome flourish. See article (Intro to prebiotics).

The intestinal microbiota plays a crucial role as evidence of an imbalance of the microbiome has been associated with autism, anxiety and depression. See article (Gut Feelings)

What About The Gut-Brain Connection ?

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines since about 90% of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. The gut-brain connection is a bidirectional and specific pathway that involves the neural, endocrine, and immune systems.

There is a strong connection between gut function and cognition and studies show intestinal microbiotic composition is associated with various scores of cognitive function.

Better results at the speed of movement, attention, and better cognition scores were observed in persons with a higher incidence of actinobacteria. There is a link between diet, microbiome, inflammation and resulting cognitive dysfunction.

Research studies also show that diet and eating habits have both long-term and short-term effects on people’s cognitive functions. For instance, studies have indicated that gut microbial alterations are linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.



Diet and adequate eating habits influence person’s cognition already in prenatal age since diet plays a key role in the maturation of vital organs and the establishment of neuronal connections.



Research indicates that diseases (such as Alzeimer’s Disease or autism) connected with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities have their etiology in an early life.



Poor dietary choices may derail the normal adolescent maturation process and influence neurodevelopmental trajectories. These can also predispose individuals to dysregulated eating and impulsive behaviors.

The Takeaway

Enhanced cognitive function is, quite literally, at your finger tips. Many of the foods discussed in today’s article are strongly linked with a healthy and efficient brain.

This article was put together in partnership with Kaleigraphy, Andy De Santis RD. Young or old, nourishing your brain optimally is a priority. We will discuss that further in my next article.

Stay tuned !

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Marie-Maxime Bergeron RD
Registered Dietitian

Tel: 514-824-1100

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