Saturday, March 28, 2009

Diet Matters to the Brain

'Look Dad! It's everywhere' my son said with a smile as he showed me the most recent issue of Wired and the article in it about the brain. Often he sees me reading something in the popular media about the brain and the efforts of our science community to figure out how this organ works. Sometimes those articles are about how to supercharge the brain by doing something like the following simple actions:

Brush your teeth with the opposite hand.
Learn to read upside down.
Learn to play a musical instrument.
Eat an ounce of nuts every other day.

I also frequently reference one of my most battered books: SuperFoods by Stephen Pratt and Kathy Matthews. This book has become my guide book to eating to change my biochemistry and slowing down the aging process. I try to eat healthy food including what might be good for my brain. Considering my interest in the subject, I jumped at the chance to attend the following lecture recently at The Urban Child Institute:

"Food For Thought: What to Eat for a Better Brain"

This presentation sponsored by The Urban Child Institute and the UT Neuroscience Institute consisted of two talks:

"Nutrition and the Developing Brain" by Dr. Patricia Wainwright, Professor Emeriti in the Dept. of Health Studies and Gerontology at the University of Waterloo in Canada

"Eat Smart: Your Brain Reflects What You Eat" by Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, Professor in the Dept. of Neurosurgery and Physiological Science at UCLA

The lesson from these two speakers: Diet matters.

Wainwright stressed that diet really matters during gestation and the first few years of life when the majority of brain development occurs. Seemingly insignificant dietary omissions during pregnancy and early childhood may cause brain malnourishment that may having lasting effects that do not surface for years.

Gomez-Pinilla talked more about the importance of certain micro nutrients and exercise. He believes certain foods lead to a healthier brain. He mentioned several of the superfoods including salmon. He said that he didn't think organic foods were worth the price. He preferred eating the right foods rather than taking supplements.

Hearing these two scientists talk makes me realize that while much is being learned about the science of the brain, even more is unknown. The brain is a vast frontier. It also occurred to me that if I had to rely on what I had learned in school about nutrition, I would be eating a lot of the wrong foods. With regards to diet and nutrition, as with many things where our world's understanding is significantly changing, continuing to learn is paramount. Life-long learning is important.

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