Cognitive performance and nutrition
Patrick Kamphuis, Associate Professor at Utrecht Institute Pharmacological Sciences, explains what cognitive performance is
What is cognitive performance?
Cognitive performance is our ability to utilize the knowledge acquired by mental processes in our brains. A well-functioning brain controls a range of voluntary and involuntary actions. Examples of these actions are the sleep-wake cycle, attention, perception, mood, emotion, appetite-satiety and memory. The brain is the single organ that controls our body activities. It is a structure with about 100 billion interconnected cells. Studies contradict the popular belief that adults lose an enormous number of neurons (brain cells) every day.
Cognitive performance is linked to nutrition, could you explain why?
The brain is a highly active organ that utilizes a relatively large proportion of our total nutrient and energy intake throughout the lifespan. Essential nutrients allow the brain to function day to day, as well as to develop and repair itself. Therefore, what we eat, or refrain from eating, may have an important impact on our cognitive ability and mental performance. The normal development and maintenance of neural tissue depends on the proper intake of essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins.
Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function. We now know that particular nutrients influence cognition by acting on molecular systems or cellular processes that are vital for maintaining cognitive function. This raises the exciting possibility that dietary manipulations are a viable strategy for supporting cognitive abilities and protecting the brain from damage, promoting normal repair and counteracting effects of ageing. Emerging research indicates that the effects of diet on the brain are integrated with the actions of other lifestyle modalities, such as exercise and sleep.
Which nutrients does the brain need and what is their role?
The normal diet provides the body with various elements: protein, carbohydrate or fat. The nutrients contained in food such as fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants or phospholipids may affect brain function by supporting the connections needed for learning, memory, attention and concentration behavior.