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Scientists learn how food affects the brain
Date:7/9/2008

In addition to helping protect us from heart disease and cancer, a balanced diet and regular exercise can also protect the brain and ward off mental disorders.

"Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain," said Fernando Gmez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science who has spent years studying the effects of food, exercise and sleep on the brain. "Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage and counteracting the effects of aging."

Gmez-Pinilla analyzed more than 160 studies about food's affect on the brain; the results of his analysis appear in the July issue of the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience and are available online at www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v9/n7/abs/nrn2421.html.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, walnuts and kiwi fruit provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia, said Gmez-Pinilla, a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center.

Synapses in the brain connect neurons and provide critical functions; much learning and memory occurs at the synapses, Gmez-Pinilla said.

"Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses," Gmez-Pinilla said. "Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal brain function.

"Dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression,
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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