Brain Foods

Brain Foods

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Minerals and mental health

Minerals and mental health


Iron is a trace mineral that is essential for formation of hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. Iron is found in meat, poultry, and fish. Another form of iron that is not as well absorbed as the form in animal foods is found in whole or enriched grains, green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, and dried fruits. Consuming a food rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, at the same time as an iron-containing plant food will enhance iron absorption from the food.

Iron deficiency eventually leads to anemia, with insufficient oxygen reaching the brain. The anemia can cause fatigue and impair mental functioning. Iron deficiency during the first two years of life can lead to permanent brain damage.

The mineral magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and bananas. In areas with hard water, the water may provide a significant amount of magnesium. In addition to its involvement in bone structure, magnesium aids in the transmission of nerve impulses.

Magnesium deficiency can cause restlessness, nervousness, muscular twitching, and unsteadiness. Acute magnesium deficiency can progress to apathy, delirium, convulsions, coma, and death.

Manganese is a trace mineral found in whole grains and nuts, and to a lesser extent, fruits and vegetables. Manganese is involved in carbohydrate metabolism and brain functioning. Although very rare, manganese deficiency can cause abnormalities in brain function. Miners of manganese in South America have developed manganese toxicity called manganese madness, with neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease.

The richest sources of the trace mineral copper in the diet are organ meats, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grain breads and cereals, and chocolate. In addition to other functions, copper is involved in iron metabolism in the body and in brain function. Deficiency of copper causes anemia, with inadequate oxygen delivery to the brain and other organs. Copper deficiency also impairs brain functioning and immune system response, including changes in certain chemical receptors in the brain and lowered levels of neurotransmitters.

The trace mineral zinc is found in red meats, liver, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, and some seafoods. Among other functions, zinc is involved in maintaining cell membranes and protecting cells from damage. Zinc deficiency can cause neurological impairment, influencing appetite, taste, smell, and vision. It has also been associated with apathy, irritability, jitteriness, and fatigue.

Good sources of the trace mineral selenium include seafood, liver, and eggs. Grains and seeds can also be good sources of selenium depending on the selenium content of the soil they are grown in. Selenium is needed for the synthesis of some hormones and helps protect cell membranes from damage.

Although selenium deficiency is very rare, selenium toxicity has occurred in regions of the world with high selenium soil content, such as China. Selenium toxicity causes nervous system changes, fatigue, and irritability.

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