The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25% of adult Americans experience a form of mental illness each year. Also, memory loss is a frequent complaint that often seems to accompany aging, just like sagging skin and gray hair. And this rising epidemic isn’t just a problem in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, mental disorders and cognitive difficulties account for four out of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide.

As with any other set of maladies, ecogenetic choices can be a significant complement to a patient’s therapeutic arsenal. My advice ranges from the straightforward to the novel.

  1. Keep stable blood-sugar levels. This is important not only for insulin-receptivity, but also for regulating mood. As we all know, crashing and burning from simple-carb-induced sugar highs is no way to pursue the course of ordinary productivity and happiness. Eat more whole grain foods that are digested slowly.
  1. Your gut feelings start…in your gut! There is, for instance, evidence of a gut-brain connection: Microbes in your digestive tract affect neurochemical activity in the rest of the body. So modifying the gut’s microbial environment through the use of probiotics such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteriacan potentially influence and improve the outlook of the mind. Probiotic supplements and yogurt with probiotic cultures are a great way to assist your gut and brain.
  1. Avoid aspartame, a chemical used in artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is broken down into smaller molecules that decrease serotonin, which has been dubbed the “happiness” hormone and is an important neurochemical messenger that regulates appetite and mood. Honey or Stevia is a better option.
  1. Consume less saturated fat. While omega-3 fats are essential for memory and mood, saturated fat-laden diets are, as we might expect, brain-depleters. Science confirms that diets high in saturated fat are associated with memory loss. Reach, instead, for foods that contain unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocados.
  1. Blueberries to the rescue. At the more rarefied end of the spectrum is a promising resveratrol-like compound called pterostilbene, found in abundant amounts in blueberries. Because of its superior ability to pass the blood-brain barrier, pterostilbene holds promise for treating a variety of diseases of the brain, where its anti-inflammatory properties can be especially helpful. It has also been shown to work on a genetic level by increasing the number of protein transcription factors that contribute to a variety of body-states, including energy homeostasis, nutrient metabolism, immunity, and inflammation.
  1. Eat for ecogenetic brain health. Improve sleep and elevate your mood by consuming foods that assist serotonin, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Eat foods such as chickpeas, which are rich in tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin.
  1. Get more B12 and folate in your diet. They help prevent mood disorders and are critical for memory. Make sure your doctor checks your blood levels for these nutrients. Try eating beetroot, lentils, almonds, spinach, liver (folate); liver, chicken, and fish (B12).
  1. Consume more Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with different mood disorders and problems with cognitive function. Sources: sun exposure, organic whole grain breakfast cereals, whole grain breads, juices, milk, high-quality D3 supplements. Make sure your doctor checks your 25 hydroxy vitamin D level, as this is the metabolite of vitamin D3.
  1. Selenium is critical for good memory and decreases depression. Fill your plate with foods such as cod, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and poultry.
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for cognitive and behavioral function. Low levels of omega-3 fats lead to many health problems including mood swings and depression. At the supermarket, look for cod, haddock, salmon, halibut, nut oils, algae, and high-quality supplements.
  1. Dark chocolate enhances mood by increasing endorphins in the brain that promote a sense of wellbeing.
Burnet PW, Cowen PJ. Psychobiotics highlight the pathways to happiness. Biological Psychiatry. 2013;74(10):708-709.
Logan AC, Katzman M. Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy. Medical Hypotheses.64(3):533-538.
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