Pregnancy brain? “Smart” nutrients to help you stay sharp
In general, I have a pretty good memory and can keep track of multiple things at a time. However, when I got pregnant, I found myself forgetting where I put things (resulting in many “treasure hunts”), missing appointments (forgetting to enter them into my calendar in the first place!), or just downright unable to function and get through my day without a lengthy to-do list (short of putting down “breathe” as a task).
Luckily, I am not getting senile nor is it just “in my head.” Research has shown that a women’s brain shrinks during pregnancy. It seems to be the size of the cells, and not the number, that changes. One possible explanation is that the fetus takes supplies of essential fats and phospholipids from the mother if there are not enough to go around. If this proves to be so, it highlights the importance of getting a sufficient quantity of these essential brain nutrients.
An optimal intake of essential fats, especially omega-3 fats, is crucial to fetal brain development. It forms part of the structure of brain cell membranes and has been shown to improve intelligence, reduce aggression, and enhance mood.
Phosphatidyl choline is probably the most important phospholipid. It supplies the brain with nutrient choline, which is used by the body to make a vital neurotransmitter. Adequate intake helps avoid poor memory and lethargy. Research has shown that providing women with choline during pregnancy creates the equivalent of “superbrain” in the babies.
The combination of choline and vitamin B5 has proved effective in enhancing memory and mental performance. Choline can be found in egg yolk, wheat germ, codfish, chicken, milk, cauliflower, spinach, and tofu. The best supplemental source of choline is lecithin, which also supplies phospholipids. Not all lecithin supplements are the same—look for products that contain at least 30% phosphatidyl choline.
Another nutrient found in fish, particularly anchovies and sardines, is DMEA. Unlike choline supplements, it passes easily into the brain and can be converted into choline. DMEA has been shown to elevate mood, improve memory, increase intelligence, and enhance physical energy.
Another phospholipid to look out for is physphatidyl serine. It has been shown to enhance memory.
It has been found that the effect of enhancing mental performance through supplementation of “smart nutrients” such as omega-3 fats, phosphatidyl choline, physphatidyl serine, vitamin B5, DMEA, and pyroglutamate taken in combination is much more effective than taken individually.
To stay in good mental shape, try to avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola), which seems to impair memory, as well as sugar and refined carbohydrates, which were found to reduce intelligence. In addition, minimize your exposure to pollution and cigarettes.
Holford, P. (2004) the New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Berkley, CA: Crossing Press.