The brain is, without doubt, the most critical organ in the human body. Simply put, without it, you cannot live. Modern medicine has progressed far enough to provide us the technology to complete transplantation of the heart, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs. However, we cannot transplant the brain.
Nourishing your body and keeping your brain healthy should be a priority for everyone. While many people don’t understand how proper nutrition can have a significant impact on brain functions, many show interest in how vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can be beneficial for their overall health.
How Does Brain Nutrition Work?
Vitamins and minerals have been actively connected with better brain health. In proper amounts, minerals can have a considerable impact on your overall brain health.
The human brain is a hungry organ and consumes a lot of your body’s energy. To put it into perspective, it eats up as much as 25% of your blood glucose, while it consists of roughly 3% of your body weight.
Here are the four principal reasons why your brain needs to have its nutrients replenished periodically:
- Your brain transmits the signals to your digestive system to start digesting food and delivering nutrients throughout your body, including the brain. The brain plays a significant role in powering your digestive processes.
- Your neurotransmitters can’t do their job without the proper fuel (nourishment).
- Even when you’re asleep, your brain keeps working. Your neurotransmitters are continuously sending out signals to your central nervous system to do things like keep your lungs filling with air and your heart beating.
- Proper minerals nutrition reduces inflammation throughout your body, including your brain.
What Are Minerals Used For In the Body?
The “People’s Home Medical Book,” a revolutionary work published in 1916, tackled the number one cause of so-called “acquired insanity” – imperfect nutrition.
In 2014, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) published a study showing that almost every American was deficient in at least one, if not several critical nutrients to maintain basic good health. In the same year, the World Health Organization announced that over two billion people – approximately 35% of the world’s population – are anemic. Most notably from an iron deficiency.
A strong link was discovered between mineral deficiency and poor brain health. Health conditions such as a lack of focus, poor memory, or the lack of energy, have been linked to a deficiency of one or more critical minerals.
Dr. Mary Kretsch, a psychologist at the ARS Western Human Nutrition Center in Davis, California, led a 20-week clinical research study to determine the link between mineral deficiency and lower attention span. Dr. Kretsch selected eight healthy men aged 27 – 47 years. The team had the volunteers explore the interaction between mineral zinc and brain power. In this study, the volunteers who slowed the most in word memory and recall also had the most notable decrease in blood levels of zinc.
From this study, Dr. Kretsch concluded the following: “We saw that a low score for volunteers’ attention span corresponded with a subsequent decline in iron levels in the body.”
Separate studies show that low levels of boron result in poor perception and short attention span, impaired short- and long-term memory, and poor hand-eye coordination.
Moreover, with not enough molybdenum you wouldn’t even survive.
9 Essential Minerals for Optimal Brain Health
Calcium is the first of the 9 essential minerals for brain health we reference here. As the most abundant mineral in your body, calcium is involved in neurotransmitter release from neurons and plays a vital role as a secondary messenger in brain cells.
Although adults require quite a large amount of calcium – about 1,000 mg of calcium per day – most people can get the required quantity from foods. Some calcium-rich foods include cheese, kale, milk, yogurt, most grains, broccoli, and salmon. On top of that, calcium is added to many fruit juices, breakfast cereals, rice and soy beverages, and tofu.
DHA regulates calcium oscillations, which are implicated in oxidative stress, mitochondrial function, neurotransmitter release, gene activation, and brain cell development and growth (BDNF).
Vinpocetine inhibits an enzyme called PDE1 (phosphodiesterase type 1) while decreasing calcium levels in brain cells. This action functions as a vasodilator which increases blood flow in your brain.
Nefiracetam increases the amount of time calcium channels remain open, which enhances the glutamate signaling pathway critical for forming long-term memories and long-term potentiation.
Boron is an essential trace mineral and one of the unsung heroes when it comes to proper brain health.
This mineral is essential for bone growth and maintenance, increases the half-life and bioavailability of Vitamin D, testosterone, and estrogen, and improves wound healing.
Boron plays an integral part in the production and use of SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-methionine – a compound produced by the liver and used throughout the body in a chemical process called methylation). Which in turn is required in the synthesis of dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. SAM-e helps normalize mood, elevate emotions, and moderate behavior.
Boron also reduces inflammation, increases magnesium absorption, boosts natural antioxidants, reduces the risk of some cancers, and protects against free radicals.
Low amounts of boron are linked to reduced physical dexterity and speed, impaired short and long-term memory, poor hand-eye coordination, and short attention span or perception.
The average person should get the right amount of this mineral from diet alone. Leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, plant-derived fermented beverages like wine and beer, and fruits are excellent sources of boron.
While formal boron requirements have not been set, the tolerable upper limit is 20 mg per day. All human studies confirm the beneficial effects of boron for cognitive and general health is minimum of 3 mg per day.
Chromium is a trace mineral recognized as vital for human health. Some fruits, vegetables, and spices, as well as meat and whole grains, are relatively good sources of chromium, usually providing about 2 mcg per serving.
Chromium is one of the most widely studied minerals for general health. For example, a study conducted at Duke University noted that chromium picolinate, a supplemental form of chromium, might help reduce atypical depression symptoms. Atypical depression includes carbohydrate cravings, mood swings, weight gain, lethargy, and rejection sensitivity.
The team selected 15 patients with mild or moderate forms of depression. The subjects received 600 mcg of chromium picolinate daily or a placebo for eight weeks. Those who received chromium picolinate experienced significantly fewer mood swings, weight gain, and fatigue.
Chromium is also known to increase insulin sensitivity which promotes the production of serotonin in your brain. Higher levels of serotonin in the brain are usually linked to reduced depression as compared to those with low-grade, persistent depression (dysthymic disorder).
Iodine is an essential trace mineral that links with the amino acid Tyrosine to form thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Thyroid hormone receptors in your brain help improve the production of all essential neurotransmitters. Low levels of this trace mineral can lead to low levels of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 in your body.
Symptoms of low thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) include fatigue, insomnia, depression, diminished focusability, dry skin and hair, joint and muscle pain, cold sensitivity, and frequent and heavy periods for women.
Thyroid hormones affect enzymes responsible for GABA(A) receptor expression and function, synthesis and degradation of GABA, GABA release and reuptake, and levels of glutamate and GABA.
GABA is your brain’s natural Valium. GABA can help reduce stress after you get upset. Alternatively, even prevent a stress response in the first place. Low iodine levels may result in low levels of thyroid hormones affecting GABA, which can lead to anxiety or depression.
The bottom line is not enough iodine in your diet negatively affects neurotransmitters in your brain, and it can result in learning and memory problems, anxiety, depression, and brain fog.
Copper is the 3rd most abundant mineral in your body. It is a needed cofactor in numerous copper-containing enzymes that regulate neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
Without copper, your brain and body could not use antioxidants like ascorbate oxidase, Vitamin C, tyrosinase, and superoxide dismutase. Copper also plays a significant role in preventing free radical damage in your brain.
Despite the abundance of this mineral, Copper deficiency is more common than you’d expect. Low copper levels may be a result of digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, not consuming enough copper-rich foods, and high intakes of zinc and iron supplements. Signs of copper deficiency include poor mood, trouble concentrating, and fatigue.
Magnesium is another essential mineral for optimum brain health and the 4th most abundant mineral in your body.
Magnesium plays a significant role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA. The mineral controls the activity in neuron ion channels – tiny electrical switches governing the movement of neurotransmitters within neuron cells.
Magnesium also regulates brain synaptic plasticity, which is critical for memory and learning. Raising the magnesium levels in the brain have been shown to improve cognitive function and restore neuroplasticity.
As for getting enough magnesium, most of this mineral comes from foods like beans, green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, poultry, beef, whole grains, and salmon.
When it comes to essential minerals for brain health, iron is right there at the top of the list. Iron is essential for proper brain health because it is a cofactor in the synthesis of myelin and neurotransmitters and for its role in oxidative metabolism.
Iron helps the synthesis of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This mineral is also required in the activity of monoamine oxidation which is critical for controlling dopamine levels in the brain.
Research has concluded that low iron levels may result in a decrease of dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, which has a direct adverse effect on memory and learning. A decrease in the iron levels in the brain can also impact the serotonin levels, which can result in depression, poor concentration, and attention.
In adults, symptoms of iron deficiency are brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, restless legs, poor concentration, and insomnia.
Nonheme iron (less absorbable) is found in nuts, beans, and leafy greens.
Seafood and meat are the best sources of heme iron (more absorbable). Meaning the body absorbs iron from animal products easier than it absorbs iron derived from plant foods.
Manganese is an essential trace mineral required for fat and carbohydrate metabolism, bone formation, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation.
Manganese is a required cofactor for enzymes involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism, and several enzymes necessary for astrocytes (glial cells) and neuron function in your brain. These glial cells help form the endothelial cells for your blood-brain barrier, help repair the brain and spinal cord following traumatic brain injury and maintain proper ion balance.
Molybdenum is an essential mineral required as a cofactor in four important enzymes in your brain and body.
- Mitochondrial amidoxime reductase – a critical enzyme believed to be linked in mutations and detoxification on the DNA level.
- Xanthine oxidoreductase – required for purine metabolism. Purines are obtained from various foods and are components of Coenzyme A, RNA, DNA, cAMP, ATP, and NADH.
- Sulfite oxidase – needed for your body to metabolize sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine from foods.
- Aldehyde oxidase – helps the conversion of aldehydes, which are found in everything from alcohol to household toxins to cigarette toxins, into hydrogen peroxide and a harmless acid to be expelled by your kidneys.
You can get your daily dose of molybdenum from foods like meat, grains, legumes, and dairy.
What Foods Do I Need To Eat
When it comes to minerals, you’re probably looking for the bottom line: what foods have them and how much do you need? So let’s get to the point. The mineral list below can help you out.
Calcium-rich foods: Milk, fortified non dairy alternatives like soy milk, hard cheeses, yogurt, kale, and fortified cereals.
Recommended daily dose of calcium:
Adults ages 19-50: 1,000 mg
Women age 51 and older: 1,200 mg
Men age 51 – 70: 1,000 mg
Men 71 and older: 1,200 mg
Maximum daily dose: 2,500 mg for adults age 50 and younger, 2,000 mg for those 51 and older.
Chromium-rich foods: Potatoes, broccoli, poultry, fish, meats, and some cereals.
Recommended daily dose of chromium:
Women ages 19-50: 25 mcg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Men ages 19-50: 35 mcg
Pregnant women: 30 mcg
Breastfeeding women: 45 mcg
Women age 51 and up: 20 mcg
Men age 51 and up: 30 mcg
Maximum daily dose: No upper limit known for adults
Iodine-rich foods: Seafood, seaweed, iodized salt, dairy products, and processed foods.
Recommended daily dose of iodine:
Adults: 150 mcg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Pregnant women: 209 mcg
Breastfeeding women: 290 mcg
Maximum daily dose: 1,100 mcg for adults
Copper-rich foods: Seafood, nuts, seeds, wheat bran cereals, whole grains
Recommended daily dose of copper:
Adults: 900 mcg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Pregnant women: 1,000 mcg
Breastfeeding women: 1,300 mcg
Maximum daily dose: 8,000 mcg for adults.
Magnesium-rich foods: Nuts, potatoes, dairy, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, quinoa, and whole wheat.
Recommended daily dose of magnesium:
Women ages 19-30: 310 mg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Women age 31 and up: 320 mg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Men ages 19-30: 400 mg
Men age 31 and up: 420 mg
Pregnant women: 350-360 mg
Breastfeeding women: 310-320 mg
Maximum daily dose: For magnesium in supplements or fortified foods: 350 mg. For the magnesium that’s naturally in food and water, there is no upper limit.
Iron-rich foods: Beans, turkey (dark meat), lentils, fortified cereals, beef, spinach, and soybeans.
Recommended daily dose of iron:
Men age 19 and up: 8 mg
Pregnant women: 27 mg
Breastfeeding women: 10 mg
Women ages 19-50: 18 mg unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Women age 51 and up: 8 mg
Maximum daily dose: 45 mg for adults.
Manganese-rich foods: Beans and other legumes, nuts, whole grains, and tea.
Recommended daily dose of manganese:
Men: 2.3 mg
Women: 1.8 mg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Pregnant women: 2.0 mg
Breastfeeding women: 2.6 mg
Maximum daily dose: 11 mg for adults.
Molybdenum-rich foods: Leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains.
Recommended daily dose of molybdenum:
Adults: 45 mcg, unless pregnant or breastfeeding
Pregnant or breastfeeding women: 50 mcg
Maximum daily dose: 2,000 mcg for adults.
It’s really simple when it comes to the benefits of vitamins and minerals for brain health. Under ideal circumstances, our brain will get all the vitamins and minerals it needs from food through proper nutrition.
However, if you can’t get the right amount of vitamins and minerals from foods alone, insufficient levels of micronutrients can have a detrimental effect on the blood cell synthesis, cognitive health, gene expression of DNA and RNA, immune system, and bone strength.
There is a long-standing debate around whether multimineral and multivitamin supplements are harmful, helpful, or just a waste of money. As with most things in life, it may be a case of keeping everything in balance; many people have diets containing insufficient levels of some micronutrients so taking a broad-spectrum supplement once a day is unlikely to do you harm.
Your brain requires each of the above nine minerals daily for optimal mood, memory, and cognition. Most people will get what they need from a healthy diet; preferably with grass-fed meat and organic fruit and vegetables. The remainder must be supplied by taking the right multivitamin and multimineral supplement every day.
Looking for reviews of mineral supplements? Browse our reviews below.
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