Scitech | Food for thought

Why your brain needs nutrients

When it comes to prioritizing our busy student lifestyle, eating a healthy and balanced diet usually falls on the bottom of the list. However, research in the field of nutrition has found that what we eat could directly relate to the way we think and feel. On January 8, John Hoffer, professor of medicine at the Lady Davis Research Institute, gave a presentation for the Cutting Edge lecture series entitled “Nutrients and the Brain.” During the session, he explored the complex interactions between nutrients and cognition, including his current research on vitamin C.

In an interview with The Daily, Hoffer emphasized certain major nutrients that, when lacking, may lead to a person feeling tired and depressed – nutrients such as iron, vitamin C, and specific B vitamins.

The patients who received vitamin C supplements had a prompt and dramatic improvement in psychological distress and mood disturbance, whereas those who received the alternative treatment experienced no significant improvement.

“High quality nutrition is important. Mood shifts can occur with poorly planned and consumed foods, more in some people than others. These mood shifts are not diseases. They are just the body complaining about being treated so inconsiderately by a student who isn’t paying attention to adequate, healthy, regular nutrition and rest,” said Hoffer.

Hoffer has studied the impact of vitamin C supplementation on mood amongst patients admitted to the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Hoffer and his team conducted a double-blind randomized clinical trial in which one group of patients received vitamin C supplements and the other group received an alternative vitamin therapy. The patients who received vitamin C supplements had a prompt and dramatic improvement in psychological distress and mood disturbance, whereas those who received the alternative treatment experienced no significant improvement. Vitamin C may also help in other ways such as wound healing, cardiac status, and immunity, but the necessary clinical trials to prove correlation are yet to be completed.

Eating nutritious food comes with a price tag and when it’s not available or too expensive, keeping adequate levels of vitamins becomes difficult. As Hoffer notes, when serious nutritional deficiencies occur, “it is almost always in the context of some medical, psychological, or social condition that is preventing the person from eating or absorbing nutrients properly.”

While vitamin supplements won’t replace a healthy and balanced diet rich in coloured vegetables and fruit, but Hoffer says that, “taking a simple one-a-day vitamin supplement is not irrational.” For example, menstruating women with a heavy flow must be mindful of their iron consumption, because when blood is lost, iron is also lost. Hoffer emphasized that iron deficiency is not uncommon in college-age women and can sometimes lead to fatigue and mood disturbance.

While a vitamin C deficiency may lead to impaired cognitive function and moodiness, we must not forget the importance of consuming all the essential vitamins and minerals. “A severe tissue depletion of any [vitamins] will cause serious disease and lead to death,” said Hoffer.

The main take-home message is that while we are busy as students, eating a healthy and nutritious diet should be higher up on our list of priorities, as having high-quality nutrition will give our body the food it requires to fuel our thoughts.


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