Brain development is maximum in the first 2 years of life and for adequate functioning-minerals, vitamins, essential amino-acids and essential fatty acids, including omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are important (1). Glucose is the principal substrate used by the brain to provide energy for its functions.
Various vitamins useful for brain activity are:
Vitamin B1 :- It helps to produce energy by aiding in utilization of glucose by nervous tissue. It modulates cognitive function.
Vitamin B9 :- It preserves brain during its development and helps in maintaining memory.
Vitamin B6 :- Involved in synthesis of some neurotransmitters.
Vitamin B12 :- It is involved in synthesis of some neurotransmitters. It improves cognitive function, language function as well as functioning of factors related to the frontal lobe.
Vitamin C :- Nerve endings in the brain contain highest concentration of vitamin C in the body after suprarenal glands.
Vitamin D & its analogues :- Help in prevention of various aspects of neurodegenerative diseases.
Vitamin E :- Alpha tocopherol actively works to protect nervous membranes.
Vitamin A :- It helps to protect functioning of rods and cones of the eye and preservation of vision especially night vision.
Effect of various minerals on the brain
Iron :- Via cytochrome oxidase helps to produce energy in the cerebral parenchyma. It also helps in synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin. Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are found to be iron deficient. Iron deficiency is also considered as one of the cause of stroke in children and for poorly developed cognitive function.
Magnesium :- Helps to maintain oxidation-reduction metabolism in brain.
Zinc :- Helps in perception of taste. It protects against free radicals.
Copper :- Inherited copper deficiency has been linked to Menke's kinky hair syndrome. Excess copper as in Wilson's disease is deposited in basal ganglia and can lead to neurodegeneration and tremors.
Iodine :- Iodine incorporated in thyroid hormone maintains basic metabolism of all cells of body. Iodine deficiency can infact lead to cretinism.
Manganese :- It acts as an antioxidant.
Effect of essential fatty acids on the brain:- The polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids are major building structures of membrane phospholipids of brain and are important for visual and intellectual capabilities in infants and preschoolers.
Effect of essential amino acids on brain:- The nature of amino acid composition of dietary proteins contributes to the cerebral function of which tryptophan has a special role. Other essential amino acids are important for formation of neurotransmitters (2).
In children with poor nutritional status, the full genetic potential for mental development may be compromised due to Micronutrient deficiency. The first 3 years of life are most crucial and vulnerable to the hazards of Undernutrition (3). Children have food preferences and are quite fussy eaters missing out on a balanced diet in the bargain. Thus it may become essential to administer nutritional supplements to optimize their genetic potential for mental development (3).
1. Bourre JM. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1 : micronutrients. Nutr Health Aging. 2006;10:377-385
2. Bourre JM. Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Ppart 2 : Macronutrients. J Nutr Health Aging. 2006;10:386-399.
3. Singh M. Role of micronutrients for physical growth and mental development. Indian J Pediatr. 2004;71:59-62.