Throughout the world, it is a common knowledge of the significance of a healthy diet. Not only does it effect body image and physical health, but mental health as well. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid, and choline increase synaptic plasticity. In order to show that healthy foods are better for the mind, this study collected qualitative data on brain function after receiving healthy food and unhealthy food. The purpose of this study was to find out do healthy foods increase brain activity? It is hypothesized that if mice are given healthy and unhealthy meals, and instructed to run a maze, the mice given the healthy meals will complete the maze at a faster rate. The null hypothesis is that there will be no difference between mice given healthy and unhealthy meals. This, in turn, promotes the creation of new membranes, which allow new memories to be formed. When performing this study, mice were instructed to run a maze and the times of completion were recorded. Depending on the group they were placed in, they were given either a healthy or unhealthy meal instructed to run the maze once more. Again, the times of completion were recorded. After completing the study, data collection showed that the mice in the group receiving healthy food had a greater change in time from the race without food to the race with food. To insure that there were no unfair advantages, nutritional values, such as carbohydrates and proteins.
Foods high in omega-3, such as walnuts, kiwi, and salmon, support the elasticity of the synapses within the brain (Good diet, 2008). Neurologist Fernando Gómez-Pinilla showed that a healthy diet could not only increase mental function, but protect against aging and damage to the brain (Wolpert, 2008).
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to brain health (Wolpert, 2008). Psychology Professor Gómez-Pinilla found that foods rich in omega- 3, such as flaxseed, walnuts, kiwi, and salmon, aid in the production of the brain cell membranes that nerve signals pass through. As humans learn and create new memories, new membranes must be developed in order to hold that information. Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, researched the idea that there are outside factors that affect brain activity. His study gives way to the question, “Do healthy foods increase brain activity?” Previous researchers showed that factors such as diet, exercise, and sleep patterns can noticeably impede the function of the mind (Wolpert, 2008). To support this theory, approximately 200 students were used as test subjects in a research study. In conclusion, researchers stated, “Several gut hormones that can enter the brain, or that are produced in the brain itself, influence cognitive ability” (Gómez-Pinilla, 2008). Researchers detailed how foods such as salmon contain nutrients beneficial to the brain. One of the nutrients found in salmon is omega-3. “Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses,” Gómez-Pinilla said. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function. Gómez-Pinilla conducted a study in Indonesia and Australia in which he gave a drink high in nutrients to children. After receiving the drink, the children were given performance tests focused on verbal skills and memory. The children’s test scores improved greatly after consuming the drink (Wolpert, 2008). Another study, performed by Oxford University students, compared two groups of students on math and spelling tests. One group of students received omega-3 and the other group received a placebo (Henry, 2002). The students receiving the placebo had drastically lower test scores.
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Docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, is another nutrient beneficial to the to the mind. Docosahexaenoic acid is shown to reduce oxidative stress and promote synaptic plasticity by preventing the establishment of free radicals. By doing so, learning and memory are also enhanced. Oxidative stress can cause damage to cellular proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. Berries have been observed to counteract oxidative stress and have been shown to improve coordination and memory as well (Henry, 2005).
Synaptic plasticity is the term used for the ability for change during synapses. This means that the reaction of the synapses to the release of neurotransmitters is not constant. The reaction can be stronger or weaker and the time of the reaction may vary. The strength of the reaction becomes greater or weaker in response to the reaction of receptors to their stimuli. As the length of time the receptor to stimuli reaction occurs or the amount of receptors present changes the synaptic strength fluctuates. The increase of synaptic strength that lasts is referred to as long term potentiation. Long term potentiation is known to play a role in neuron communication, which in turn plays a role in the creation of new memories. Opposite long term potentiation is long term depression. Long term depression is the phrase used to describe a lasting weakness in synaptic strength. Low frequency stimuli create long term depression, while long term potentiation is caused by high frequency stimuli.
To learn new things and create new memories the neurons within the brain must communicate in different ways. This also is synaptic plasticity. Neurons in the perirhinial cortex respond to things we see and then tell the brain if it is new to us or if we have seen it before. The greater the response of the neurons, the less we recognize whatever we are seeing. As we continue to see that object, the neuron response decreases. This is how memories are processed.
Omega-3 and Synaptic Plasticity
Omega-3 fatty acid can act as an inhibitor for the activity of protein kinase C in cells. The in vitro activities of protein kinase C was inhibited by omega-3 as well as the mitogen-activated protein kinase. This implies that the double bond in omega-3 is neccesary for quality inhibitions. Omega-3 could prevent serotonin receptor-induced mitogen-activated protein kinase activation in hippocampal slice preparations. In hippocampal long term potentiation, omega-3 showed to blocked the force of it, without inhibiting basal synaptic transmission.
Fats and Calories
Many assume that all fats are bad, and should be avoided. Research stated that many of the foods with a bad reputation actually can be helpful when eaten correctly. Marano shows that nutrients in different forms can cause different results in the body. “The right food can enhance mental capabilities-help you concentrate, tune sensorimotor skills, keep you motivated, magnify memory, speed reaction times, defuse stress, perhaps even prevent brain aging”, (Marano, 2007).
Fats have been shown to not only benefit the mind, but can be detrimental to it as well. Omega-3 fatty acids make up the brain cells that the nerve signals must travel through. The human diet must be rich in omega-3 so as to continue to produce cell membranes.
Many dietitians and nutritionists promote the use of oils such corn, safflower and sunflower. These are better for the heart, but not so good for the mind. Instead of being rich in omega-3, they are rich in omega-6. Canola oils and walnut oils are better for the brain usage. Choline has been shown to increase memory and reaction time. Sugar is known to keep the mind sharp, though the right amount is yet to be found. Carbohydrates are known to soothe the mind (Marano, 2007). An over-abundance of calories counteract omega-3 by reducing the flexibility of synapses. Trans fats and saturated fats have been studied to have a similar affect. Regulating calorie consumption can help the brain by blocking potential damage to vital cells, proteins, and chemicals (Wolpert, 2008).
In a study, statistics were calculated concerning the link between obesity and brain function (Volkow, Wang, Telang, Fowler, Goldstein, Alia- Klein, Logan, Wong, Thanos, Ma, Pradhan, 2008). Brain metabolism during cognitive stimulation was measured to determine whether body mass index (BMI) affected brain glucose utilization during cognitive performance. Verbal memory was tested as well. Twenty students participated in the study. They measured the association between BMI and regional brain glucose metabolism in healthy individuals at baseline and during cognitive stimulation. Baseline regional brain metabolic measures have been shown to be a sensitive indicator of brain function/dysfunction that is associated with neurocognitive performance. These results relate to my research in that it details how food intake relates to brain function. In obesity, both preclinical and clinical studies have documented impairments in brain DHA activity. Observations in obese subjects have reported an inverse relationship between BMI and D2 receptors (Haltia,m Viljanen, Parkkola, Kemppainen, Rinne, Nuutila, Kaasinen, 2007). They found that BMI is not what is detrimental for prefrontal activity, but that decreased prefrontal activity and reduced executive function may increase the risk to overeat. The prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating impulse control, self-monitoring, and goal-directed behaviors.
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In order to show that healthy foods are better for the mind, this study collected qualitative data on brain function after receiving healthy food and unhealthy food. The purpose of this study was to find out do healthy foods increase brain activity? It is hypothesized that if mice are given healthy and unhealthy meals, and instructed to run a maze, the mice given the healthy meals will complete the maze at a faster rate. The null hypothesis is that there will be no difference between mice given healthy and unhealthy meals.
In order to show that healthy foods are better for the mind, this study investigated brain function after receiving a meal of either healthy or unhealthy food. Six mice were used as test subjects. Three mice were given healthy food while the other three received unhealthy food. The food were the independent variable, the mice were the dependent variable, and the maze was the constant. The mice were grouped randomly. The healthy meal consisted of walnuts and spinach. These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids. The unhealthy mice were given guinea pig food. After eating, each mouse ran a maze with cheese as the reinforcement at the end of the maze. The time of completion was recorded. Caution was taken to ensure that the events before testing were similar, so that stress didn’t play a factor. Also, the nutritional value was matched in the healthy and unhealthy meals to prevent any unfair advantages. These value include carbohydrate and proteins, which are known to provide energy. The nutritional values were the controls.
Results and Discussion
During the experiment, the mice averaged 10.33 seconds change in time, from before the meal and after the meal, for the mice given healthy food, and 18.67 seconds
for the mice given unhealthy food.
The results of this data display that the meals high in nutrients are better for the brain. It was hypothesized that if mice were given healthy and unhealthy meals, the mice given healthy meals would complete a maze in shorter time. As expected, the mice in the healthy group moved at a significantly quicker pace through the maze. The hypothesis was accepted.
Previous study showed that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids increased brain productivity. Brain productivity is enhanced because of the synaptic plasticity that goes on in the membranes (Wolpert, 2008). The data found in this study compares to that of neurologist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla. Both studies support healthy eating for optimal performance.
Although the hypothesis in this study was supported, there are aspects not taken into account that could affect data accuracy. Though the ages of the mice are unknown, this plays a role in how the food may affect the brain. In younger mice, when the brain is still in the developmental stage, short term effects on the brain may occur. A brain that is more mature may take several meals to react to the nutrients (Bozarth, 2009).
To further this study, it would be efficient to increase the length of exposure to the change in diet. This would allow a greater amount of change for mice that are older. Also, other foods could be used. Fish and fish oils are known to carry a significant amount of DHA and EPA (Kindblade, 2009). If possible, the same foods could be used with a nutrient supplement added into one of the diets.
- (2008, July 9). Good diet, exercise keep brain healthy. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from Live Science Web site: http://www.livescience.com/health/080709-food-brain.html
- Bozarth, M. (2009, Nov) Re: Michael Bozarth [Electronic mailing message].
- Gómez-Pinilla, F (2008, July 1). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Retrieved September 26, 2009, from Nature Reviews Web site: http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v9/n7/full/nrn2421.html
- Haltia, LT. Viljanen, A. Parkkola, R. Kemppainen, N. Rinne, JO. Nuutila, P. Kaasinen, V.(2007). Brain white matter expansion in human obesity and the recovering effect of dieting. Retrieved September 22, 2009, from Endojournals Web site: http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/content/full/92/8/3278
- Henry, J. (2005, May 22). Here’s food for thought. Retrieved September 22, 2009, from Telegraph.co.uk Web site: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1490492/Heres-food-for-thought.html
- Kindblade, B. (2009, Nov) Re: [Beve Kindblade, Nutritionist] Contact from Kiana Spencer [Electronic mailing message].
- Marano, HE (2007, Feb 7). What is good brain food? Retrieved August 20, 2009, from Psychology Today Web site: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/what-is-good-brain-food
- Volkow, ND. Wang, GJ. Telang, F. Fowler, JS. Goldstein, RZ. Alia- Klein, N. Logan, J. Wong, C. Thanos, PK. Ma, Y. Pradhan, K. (2008, Oct). Inverse association between BMI and prefrontal metabolic activity in healthy adults Retrieved September 22, 2009, from Obesity Web site: http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v17/n1/full/oby2008469a.html
- Wolpert, S (2008, July, 9). Scientists learn how what you eat affects your brain- and those oyour kids. UCLA Newsroom, Retrieved August 18, 2009, from http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/scientists-learn-how-food-affects-52668.aspx
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