We all know what it’s like to have brain fog. Whether it’s because you didn’t get enough sleep, haven’t eaten or just aren’t feeling yourself. It’s normal. But with finals quickly approaching and scholastic demands as high as ever, the last thing we need is that fog impeding our study time and mental clarity. In an effort to alleviate some of your stresses, I’m going to let you in on some secrets and information that drastically changed my own mental clarity and now allows me to focus better and study longer than ever before.
It’s no secret that food and lifestyle choices impact every aspect of our lives, but what may not be obvious is that what you choose to eat and when you choose to eat drastically affects mental performance. In particular, the quality and quantity of proteins consumed can be the difference between a B and a C on that test you just couldn’t get focused enough to study for. Our central nervous system is the main house for the utilization of amino acids (from proteins) and manufacturing of neurotransmitters which are made in each of our billions of nerve cells. Neurotransmitters are responsible for many things, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on their ability to affect mental clarity, mood, stress tolerance and memory.
For starters, it must be understood that certain amino acids are required for the production of certain neurotransmitters that talk to and affect every cell in the body. Most notable for mental performance and stress tolerance are the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine and glutamic acid. Tryptophan, as we all know as the Thanksgiving coma-inducer as a result of its high concentration in turkey and its calming nature, is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Therefore, if intake of protein containing tryptophan is low, symptoms of fatigue, depression, lack of focus and overall confusion can arise. It’s important to note that stressful situations, including physical and mental stress, quickly depletes tryptophan concentrations. This is why it’s important to monitor stress, take time out of the day for yourself, and consume high quality foods, no matter how quick and convenient McDonalds may seem. Aim for foods like eggs, pumpkin seeds, cheese and salmon and you should stay in the clear!
Next is tyrosine. You may have heard of this amino acid and its importance in thyroid health and the proper utilization of dietary iodine, however, its attributes go far beyond this. Tyrosine has the ability to actually increase the body’s physiological resistance to stress. In other words, the weight of having to study for finals, finish those five projects which are conveniently due on the same day, go to the gym, go to work, eat properly, get gas, feed the fish, wax the floors, and not hit the ground, overall won’t wear you down as much! Something critical about brain health and tyrosine is that the brain actually requires more of it than other organs in the body, which makes sense since deficient symptoms are largely mental in nature and include lower cognitive performance, decreased attention and sleep disturbances. Food sources include eggs, chicken and soy.
Finally, glutamic acid, the amino acid precursor to glutamine and GABA, two neurotransmitters that help detox the body and prevent overstimulation of neurons, respectively. Glutamine detoxes the body of ammonia, a toxin that builds up as a result of the breakdown of proteins, thus leading to extreme brain fog and decreased long and short-term memory efficiency, while GABA is crucial in providing peace of mind and concentration. For adequate levels, aim for foods like beef, avocado and sesame. Without proper concentrations of these stabilizing neurotransmitters, you’d have a better chance of taking a trip down a rabbit hole chasing after a tardy bunny than focusing on biochemistry or molecular physics.
If nothing else in this article is clear, which could be a sign that you’re in desperate need of some amino acids, my hope is that for the rest of your life, you will be mindful that food is medicine. Without sufficient nutrition, you may find yourself, and your grades, slipping. Eating properly allows you to be the best version of yourself that you can be, so put your best foot forward and good luck on finals, everyone!
Alecia Sexton is a third-year student majoring in health and physical education. She can be reached at AS876443@wcupa.edu.