Proper nutrition is a public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control, Environmental Health Division estimates one-third of the world’s population is deficient in micro-nutrients such as iodine, iron, vitamin A, zinc, and folate. The Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals reports that levels of magnesium and zinc were below the recommended daily allowance in the United States. Women were also low in vitamin B6, vitamin E, and calcium. Approximately 40% of elderly Americans and Europeans are vitamin and mineral deficient.
Proper nutrition can affect many cognitive functions. Folic acid is one of the most common nutritional deficits seen in neuropsychological disorders and may be a major factor in depression. Vitamin B12 has a similar role as folate in the metabolism of neurotransmitters. Folate and vitamin B12 may have an effect on the way antidepressants work. It has been found that depressed patients on a fluoxetine regimen who are deficient in these nutrients are less likely to respond to fluoxetine.
Nutrient supplementation when there is a dietary shortage has been shown to help memory and attention performance. Cognitive function improved after one year of taking a modest mixture of vitamins and minerals in otherwise healthy elderly adults. Slowing of cognitive processes is multifactorial. Therefore, a multidimensional approach, including dietary changes and nutritional supplements should be considered when approaching this problem. Reduced dietary fat, cholesterol, and increased servings of antioxidant fruits and vegetables are recommended as part of an overall approach to improving brain function.
Improving the nutritional intake of undernourished children to the recommended daily allowances (RDA), improved performance on non-verbal intelligence tests. Children and adolescents have significantly shown an increased ability to concentrate, focus, comprehend new information, and have improved memory skills following nutrient supplementation with iron, zinc, dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE), and extract of Bacopa monniera.
Phosphatidylserine, acetyl-L-carnitine, vinpocetine, and Gingko biloba extract have shown their worth as cognitive supplements in clinical trials. Combinations of these herbs have also been shown to be effective in improving memory and attention. Gingko and vinpocetine improved memory in terms of neural speed and reaction time which is an indication of increased working memory. Improving nutrition with a combination of herbal supplements decreased need for medication by 50% in individuals with Bipolar Disorder I. Patients had an overall reduction of symptoms of 55 to 65%.