Medscape: The Best Foods for the Brain

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Go With the Salmon

Oily, cold-water fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel are especially good sources of PUFAs, namely omega-3 fatty acids. According to a 2012 study, 2 servings a week are associated with a modest but clinically significant reduction in stroke risk. Of note, omega-3 supplementation was not associated with a risk reduction, a finding that study author Oscar H. Franco, MD, PhD, Professor of Preventive Medicine at Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands, attributes to “the interplay of a wide range of nutrients abundant in fish.” A 2010 study suggested that consuming a moderate amount of oily fish was protective against the risk for psychotic symptoms; however, greater intakes were associated with an increased risk. This J-shaped relationship between fish or PUFA intake and mental health problems has also been suggested by other studies and is consistent with the importance of a balanced diet. However, concurrent work from randomized controlled trials has suggested that fish oil may help prevent psychosis in high-risk individuals. A multicenter, randomized double-blind study is under way to determine whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can help prevent the onset of psychosis and improve symptoms and outcomes in those at high risk for schizophrenia.

Cut the Soda, Keep Up the Coffee

2012 saw more evidence that coffee might be the original wonder drug. A new observational study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in March shows that people who drink 4 cups of coffee a day are 10% less likely to develop depression. Those who opted for 4 or more servings a day of diet soda or fruit punch were 30% and 38% more likely, respectively, to develop depression. Past work also suggests that the world’s most widely used stimulant cuts depression risk, possibly by altering serotonin and dopamine activity and through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

What Not to Eat: Cut the Carbs

Various 2012 studies further clarified how overly sweet, unhealthy foods affect the brain. An animal study out of UCLA found that diets high in fructose can impair cognitive function, which is reversible with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Coauthor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, told Medscape Medical News, “High fructose consumption can induce some signs of metabolic syndrome in the brain and can disrupt the signalling of the insulin receptors and reduce the action of insulin in the brain.” Other work published in JAMA suggests that fructose consumption modulates the neurophysiologic pathways involved in appetite regulation and encourages overeating. An October 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar raises the risk for mild cognitive impairment in the elderly, while a diet high in fat and protein may reduce this riskLead author Rosebud O. Roberts, MD, an epidemiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, commented to Medscape Medical News that an “optimal balance” of carbohydrates, fat, and protein may help “maintain neuronal integrity and optimal cognitive function in the elderly.”

by Bret S. Stetka, MD

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