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Brain Food Facts and Fallacies | Jan. 26, 2011

Many foods and supplements are known for the special effects that they have on the body.  The marketplace surely thrives on claims that various food products increase mental energy.  For those of you who find yourself falling asleep at work or in meetings, the question may be: what foods, beverages or dietary supplements really do influence brain function or mental alertness?

Scientists at the Life Sciences Research Organization (LSRO) recently completed a meta-analysis (a review of the scientific evidence and research studies) for more than 35 food ingredients, dietary supplements, and dietary factors and any measure of mental energy that could support such claims.  According to LSRO, they defined “Mental energy” as consisting of mood (transient feelings about the presence of fatigue or energy), motivation (determination and enthusiasm), and cognition (sustained attention and vigilance).  Based upon the amount of research studies available where a consistent definition of mental energy was used, they narrowed their review down to four dietary components: ginkgo biloba, ginseng, glucose and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Their findings conclude that the strongest evidence, (other than that for caffeine), suggested effects of ginkgo biloba on certain aspects of mood and attention in healthy subjects, as well as associations between omega-3s and reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Ginkgo Biloba:

According to the Mayo Clinic, Ginkgo has been used medicinally for thousands of years.  Today, it is one of the top selling herbs in the United States.  Binkgo seems to improve blood circulation, which might help the aging brain.  It may slow down Alzheimer’s disease and improve dementia.  Extracts are usually taken from the ginkgo leaf and are used to make tablets, capsules or teas.

Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish and fish oils – consisting of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plus eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  The benefits of Omega-3’s for the brain include memory, intelligence and even eye sight.  The best sources are cold water fish (salmon, Pollock, flounder, sole, tuna, and haddock) and seafood.  Non fish sources include walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans or the oils from these foods.  The FDA recommends that we should eat about 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day from food sources and if we are getting it from a supplement, not to exceed 2 grams per day.

Gingko and Omega-3’s thin the blood and decreases its ability to form clots.  So caution should be taken if someone is on anticoagulant therapy.  If you take these products, you should let your physician know prior to surgical or dental procedures.