The Christmas and New Year period are for most of us, an opportunity to overindulge on food, like Pandoro and Panettone, accompanied by some bubbles, if you are Italian. With the festive season over for another year, the New Year comes with the usual ritual of putting together a list of many promises we make to better ourselves. Shedding some pounds, saving money, drinking less coffee and alcohol, exercising more, and reading more are the usual suspects.
However, what about focussing on upgrading our most valuable asset, our brain? Studies on rodents that evaluated the effects of ‘junk food’, characterized by high contents of saturated fat and sucrose, have shown a decline in cognitive performance after only three weeks of dietary treatment.
On top of been slower in comprehension, response and perception, the rodents were also fatter. What we eat has consequences on our belt as well as on our brain. In fact, some particular micronutrients are crucial for the molecular processes in our body, including our brain and its cognitive functions such as problem solving, attention and memory, speech and language.
If you like garlic like myself, there is good news for you and your brain. Micronutrients in garlic can not only protect your brain against midlife cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, hypertension, which are also linked to brain decline, but they can also improve your memory. As we age, our cognitive abilities may decline. There are a lot of reasons for why this could happen: our brain cells may die and not get replaced quickly enough, the blood flow to the brain may drop, free radicals may damage our neurons and cause inflammation to our brain.
An article published in “The American Society for Nutritional Science” noted that a compound derived from garlic, called diallyl sulfide, can play a strong part against neurodegenerative and inflammatory agents we are exposed to as we age. Garlic according to a study conducted by Haider et al. in 2008, can enhance cognitive functions. The mechanics are explained by a boost of the serotonin concentration in the brain with administration of garlic extract. High level of this neurotransmitter in the brain is generally speaking associated with better memory, mood and learning abilities.
Nonetheless, while modern research is confirming the medicinal value of garlic (which herbalists have known for thousands of years), we won’t hear much about it from the pharmaceutical companies for the simple reasons that garlic cannot be patented and exploited as such. They will rather use diallyl sulfide as the ‘active ingredient’ and derive a drug from it. Yet it will not be nearly as effective as raw garlic which contains hundreds of minerals and nutrients. It is very likely that garlic’s healing power comes from all these ingredients working together. And if any particular ingredient is found more potent than the others, and that ingredient is isolated and made into a medicine, it will probably have negative side effects like virtually every other drug in use today. As always, the best source of nutrition and health comes from food itself.