Best Brain Foods After a Concussion

Dietary choices play a role in one’s susceptibility to cognitive decline and dementia later in life. During the natural course of aging, cognitive reserve (the brain’s ability to recover from a neurological insult, like a concussion or drug overdose) is gradually depleted.

Loss of cognitive reserve capacity is particularly insidious because it can only be detected when it is too late for preventive measures to have a meaningful effect. The good news is that cognitive reserve can be maintained through positive lifestyle choices, including regular exercise, a rich and engaging social life and a diet comprised of brain healthy foods. One’s “dose” of education (i.e., educational attainment), is also likely a protective factor. But the causal directionality of this observation is still unclear.  (One possibility  is that people with more resilient brains from the outset are more likely to attain terminal degrees, such as a PhD.)

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So what are the best foods for overall brain health? Many tout nuts, blueberries and salmon as among the best brain superfoods.

We liked the evidence-based approach used in an article published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010)* which compiled the polyphenol and flavonoid content of the hundred richest dietary sources of antioxidants using the Phenol-Explorer database. The Phenol-Explorer database has aggregated results on the polyphenol, flavonoid and antioxidant content of hundreds of foods based on a staggering number of peer-reviewed publications and experiments.

There is much controversy in the scientific community about whether antioxidants are a red herring or legitimately prevent disease. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But we believe that the evidence for the benefits of antioxidants is most robust in the context of cognitive wellbeing. The central nervous system is among the most metabolically active organ systems and is exquisitely sensitive to the oxidative environment in mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cellular energy powerhouses that supply ATP to neurons, the functional unit of the brain.

Because the brain is so energetically demanding, it produces the most unstable free radicals like superoxide. The brain therefore requires an adequate antioxidant defense, which if compromised, confers vulnerability to cognitive impairment. Methylene blue is one nootropic that protects the brain against oxidative stress.

If we omit seasoning like cloves, we obtain the following ranking of the most brain healthy foods:

  1. cocoa powder (7,846 mg/100g antioxidants)
  2. black chokeberry (4,940 mg/100g  antioxidants)
  3. flaxseed meal (2,748 mg/100g antioxidants)
  4. black elderberry (4,113 mg/100g antioxidants)
  5. lowbush blueberry (1,803 mg/100g antioxidants)
  6. blackcurrant (2,043 mg/100g antioxidants)
  7. green olive (740 mg/100g antioxidants)
  8. sweet cherry (563 mg/100g antioxidants)
  9. artichoke hearts (1,010 mg/100g antioxidants)
  10. blackberry (1,010 mg/100g antioxidants)

These experimental results seem to vindicate the ubiquitous claim that blueberries, cocoa powder and artichoke hearts are among the best brain superfoods.

phenol explorerThe raw data pulled from the Phenol Explorer database is shown below (reproduced from European Journal of Clinical Nutrition* (2010) **64, S112–S120; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.221). These data represent a ranking of the 100 most antioxidant rich foods based on a staggering number of independent experiments. Many common spices and ingredients in curry (e.g., tumeric) comprise the top of the list, which may explain why India has one of the lowest rates of neurodegenerative disease.

Food | Polyphenols (mg/100g) | Polyphenols AE (mg/100g) | Antioxidants (mg/100g)
------|------|------|------ Cloves| 15188| 15188| 16047 Peppermint (dried)| 11960| 7920| 980
Star anise| 5460| 5460| 1810
Cocoa powder| 3448| 3294| 1104
Mexican oregano (dried)| 2319| 2137| —
Celery seed| 2094| 1007| —
Black chokeberry| 1756| 1432| 1752
Dark chocolate| 1664| 1618| 1860
Flaxseed meal| 1528c| 1220c| —
Black elderberry| 1359| 804| 1950
Chestnut| 1215| 1215| 2757
Common sage (dried)| 1207| 893| 2920
Rosemary (dried)| 1018| 522| 2519
Spearmint (dried)| 956| 491| 6575
Common thyme (dried)| 878| 464| 1815
Lowbush blueberry| 836| 496| 471
Blackcurrant| 758| 464| 821
Capers| 654| 389| 3600
Black olive| 569| 320| 117
Highbush blueberry| 560| 295| 205
Hazelnut| 495| 493| 687
Pecan nut| 493| 493| 1816
Soy flour| 466| 267| —
Plum| 377| 285| 411
Green olive| 346| 233| 161
Sweet basil (dried)| 322| 166| 4317
Curry (powder)| 285| 285| 1075
Sweet cherry| 274| 145| 144
Globe artichoke heads| 260| 154| 1142
Blackberry| 260| 180| 570
Roasted soybean| 246| 153| —
Milk chocolate| 236| 236| 854
Strawberry| 235| 205| 268
Red chicory| 235| 131| 129
Red raspberry| 215| 107| 980
Coffee (filter)| 214| 110| 267
Ginger (dried)| 202| 202| 473
Whole grain hard wheat flour| 201c| 201c| 186
Prune| 194| 100| 1195
Almond| 187| 185| 191
Black grape| 169| 124| 205
Red onion| 168| 99| 91
Green chicory| 166| 117| —
Common thyme (fresh)| 163| 118| 1173
Refined maize flour| 153c| 153c| 102
Soy (tempeh)| 148| 101| —
Whole grain rye flour| 143c| 143c| 72
Apple| 136| 136| 205
Spinach| 119| 68| 248
Shallot| 113| 67| 115
Lemon verbena (dried)| 106| 106| —
Black tea| 102| 90| 104
Red wine| 101| 91| 215
Green tea| 89| 82| 62
Soy yogurt| 84| 51| —
Yellow onion| 74| 49| 75
Soy meat| 73| 47| —
Whole grain wheat flour| 71c| 71c| 90
Pure apple juice| 68| 61| 34
Pure pomegranate juice| 66| 37| 204
Extra-virgin olive oil| 62| 33| 55
Black bean| 59| 36| 1390
Peach| 59| 54| 107
Pure blood orange juice| 56| 28| 72
Cumin| 55| 55| 2038
Pure grapefruit juice| 53| 23| 54
White bean| 51| 31| 138
Chinese cinnamon| 48| 48| —
Pure blond orange juice| 46| 20| —
Broccoli| 45| 21| 198
Redcurrant| 43| 23| 448
Soy tofu| 42| 25| —
Pure lemon juice| 42| 20| —
Whole grain oat flour| 37c| 37c| 82
Apricot| 34| 15| 133
Caraway| 33| 33| 2913
Refined rye flour| 31c| 31c| 45
Asparagus| 29| 11| 75
Walnut| 28| 28| 1576
Potato| 28| 15| 54
Ceylan cinnamon| 27| 27| 9070
Parsley (dried)| 25| 25| 1584
Nectarine| 25| 20| 55
Curly endive| 24| 15| —
Marjoram (dried)| 23| 22| 3846
Red lettuce| 23| 14| 114
Chocolate beverage with milk| 21| 21| —
Quince| 19| 12| —
Endive (Escarole)| 18| 11| —
Soy milk| 18| 11| —
Pure pummelo juice| 18| 7.9| —
Rapeseed oil| 17| 17| 18
Pear| 17| 11| 108
Soybean sprout| 15| 10| —
Green grape| 15| 7.6| 122
Carrot| 14| 6.6| 58
Vinegar| 13| 11| —
Soy cheese| 12| 7.6| —
White wine| 10| 8.6| 32
Rosé wine| 10| 7.8| 82

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