London, July 10 : A professor at the University of California, Los Angeles says that a balanced diet and regular exercise not only protects from heart disease and cancer, but also from brain damage and mental disorders.
"Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain," Nature magazine quoted Prof. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a neurosurgery and physiological science expert who has spent years studying the effects of food, exercise and sleep on the brain, as saying.
"Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging," he added.
Analysing over 160 studies about food's affect on the brain, he found that omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, walnuts and kiwi fruit might help improve learning and memory.
He said that omega-3 fatty acids might also help fight against mental disorders like depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.
Gomez-Pinilla highlighted the fact that synapses in the brain connect neurons and provide critical functions, and that much learning and memory occurs at the synapses.
"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. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function," he said.
"Dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in rodents results in impaired learning and memory," he added.
According to him, studies conducted in England, Australia, and Indonesia suggested that omega-3 fatty acids might improve school children's performance in reading and in spelling, and reduce behavioural problems among them.
Gomez-Pinilla also said that recent research showed that a healthy diet and exercise could reduce the effect of brain injury, and lead to a better recovery.
Blueberries are known to have a strong antioxidant capacity, he said, which can prevent the brain from oxidative damage.
The researcher warned that diets high in trans fats and saturated fats adversely affect cognition, and that junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain's synapses.
He said that people could obtain cognitive benefits through a combination of a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a good night's sleep.
Folic acid is found in foods like spinach, orange juice and yeast is essential for brain function, and folate deficiency can lead to neurological disorders such as depression and cognitive impairment.
Folate supplementation prevents cognitive decline and dementia during aging, and enhances the effects of antidepressants.
The researcher also said that the high consumption of curcumin, found in the India curry spice turmeric, might help prevent Alzheimer's disease and brain trauma.
Gomez-Pinilla says that all persons do not have extremely good genes, and that many require a balanced diet, regular exercise and a good night's sleep.