How does diet produce a healthy brain?

16 June 2015

Question

Is a good diet or supplements best for a healthy brain?

Answer

Chris - Okay, so the whole idea about what actually gives you a healthy brain and a healthy body, and healthy mind. The bottom line is that that's what food is for. Everyone goes around saying, "Well, we should be taking vitamin tablets and we should be taking this supplement and that supplement." You have evolved and we've just been talking about evolution. You've evolved over millions of years to obtain everything you need for healthy body from that food that you eat and you have evolved to obtain those nutrients in the context in which they're found in nature. In other words, you didn't evolve to get your vitamin C and vitamin E, and your B12, and your folate from a pill. You evolved to absorb those nutrients in the tiny quantities, in low concentrations that they are present in the foods that naturally contain them. To put them into the body in a pill, we don't really have any evidence except in rare circumstances with rare diseases and rare cases of deficiency states where they really are valuable to give these as supplements. There's not really any evidence that these things make a difference above and beyond if you just eat a healthy diet. In fact, there was a big metaanalysis done a few years ago. Goran Bjelakovic, who's a researcher at Copenhagen University, published a big paper where they looked at thousands of cases of people taking vitamin supplements or not. They asked, were these people taking the supplements healthier or not? They in fact, found evidence for a higher mortality rate in the people who were taking certain antioxidant vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin E, compared with people who weren't taking those supplements. What we can conclude from this is that, as I was saying, food is the best source of micronutrients. As long as you have a healthy balanced diet and you don't have a deficiency state, this is probably the best way to be healthy. Trying to adjust that with special kinds of supplements is probably not useful for the average person. Now, if you are a performance athlete and you have particular demands and you're placing particular demands on your body, or you have a particular disease then this is different. But for the average person, a good healthy diet which means a good balance between proteins, fats and carbohydrates, it means a good source of fibre in the diet and so on, all those things add up to making your body healthy. If your body is healthy, your brain will be healthy because at the end of the day, your brain is your most precious organ. It's also your most metabolically hungry organ. Your brain burns off 20 per cent of the energy that you get through any seconds. The amount of energy being burned off in your brain is equivalent to a 20 watt light bulb running above your head. It's a very metabolically hungry organ. But it's living tissue and it runs on exactly the same cellular mechanisms and biochemistry that the rest of your body does. It needs all the same things that the rest of your body does. So, a healthy body does actually make a healthy brain...

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