News / Ottawa

Eating your greens may be good for your brain

Ottawa researcher investigating the link between a deficiency in folic acid and dementia

Nafisa Jadavji, a neuroscientist and post-doctoral researcher at Carleton University, is investigating how proper nutrition can promote healthy brain aging.

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Nafisa Jadavji, a neuroscientist and post-doctoral researcher at Carleton University, is investigating how proper nutrition can promote healthy brain aging.

There may be yet another reason to always eat your greens, it turns out the vitamins they contain may be important for the health of your brain.

Nafisa Jadavji, a neuroscientist and post-doctoral researcher at Carleton University, is investigating how nutrition can be used to promote healthy brain aging.

Earlier this month, her work was recognized by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as part of their Canada 150 campaign to recognize “life-changing research happening right here in Canada.” She has received funding from the organization in the past.

Jadavji believes that a deficiency of folic acid, an important B vitamin, may be linked to a type neurodegeneration known as vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), which, she says, is the second leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

Folate, a type of folic acid that you can get through your diet, is found in many foods including dark green vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach; corn; legumes like peas and lentils, oranges and some grain products, according to a Health Canada guide.

She said previous research has shown there may be a link between having high levels of an amino acid called a homocysteine in the blood and neurodegeneration, but she said newer research has shown this may not actually be the case.

“What we think is that homocysteine isn’t the thing that’s causing the disease, it is a marker of the disease, and that it’s actually deficiencies in folic acid that are changing the cells in the brain, making them more vulnerable to damage,” she said, adding that folic acid will reduce the levels of homocysteine through a chemical reaction in the cells.

Folic acid is already well-known as an important vitamin for the neurological development of fetuses.

It can help prevent certain malformations of the brain, skull and pine, known as neural tube defects.

In fact, Health Canada’s website recommends women planning to become pregnant start taking folic acid supplements at least three months before pregnancy, and that they continue it throughout the foetus’s early development.

But Jadavji said it research is showing that the vitamin may be important throughout life, as well, but more research is required to understand how nutrition affects the brain.

“Folic acid’s role in the brain is still under investigation,” she said, adding that some studies have shown too much of the vitamin could detrimental to health. “Everything in moderation,” she said.

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