It was once thought the brain was an independent organ that didn't require specific nutrients or hormones for proper function. Today we know there are a number of nutrients and hormones essential for overall brain health and cognitive function.
One brain essential nutrient is choline, which is part of the B vitamin family. It’s called an essential nutrient because the body can’t make enough of it on its own so we need to get it from our food. Choline is essential because the brain depends on it to make a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is crucial for memory and learning. A dietary insufficiency of choline can cause a deficiency of acetylcholine which then contributes to memory loss. In fact, Donepezil (Aricept), the drug commonly prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease, targets acetylcholine to try to preserve it in the brain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well for very long.
Choline is also important for the structural integrity of cell membranes, a healthy nervous system, fat transport, and metabolism. All of which are also important for a healthy brain. An inadequate amount of choline can result in a buildup of cholesterol and fat in the liver.
Now that you know how important choline is, are you getting enough in your diet? According to the NIH dietary guidelines, women need about 425 mg daily and men need about 550mg daily. The safe upper limit is 3500 mg. To put that into practice you could eat 3-4 eggs every day for the minimum amount. Or you could eat a combination of foods high in choline which include:
Grass-fed beef liver (it's hard to find a truly clean source, be careful with this one)
Food is the best source of nutrition so before you start ordering supplements, take a good look at your diet, and consider adding more choline-rich foods to it each day - along with other brain-healthy foods. While supplements shouldn’t be used as a replacement for the nutrition you need from food, they can provide extra support and boost your intake above the minimum amount. Citicoline and Pure Phosphatidylcholine are two options for supplementation that I’ve used and recommend to my clients.
While choline is an essential nutrient, there are many others. By the time someone is showing signs of cognitive decline, there are multiple contributors to it so please remember there’s no quick fix, no single food, pill, or supplement that will magically improve cognitive function. Your brain health-span requires a multi-faceted lifestyle approach. Your overall diet matters a lot - along with sleep, exercise, stress reduction, positive social interactions, and learning new things. You have a lot of control over your lifestyle, so don’t wait.
To get started now, go ahead and grab my Kitchen Staples and Weekly Grocery List.