Over thousands of years, diet, in conjunction with other aspects of daily living, such as exercise, has had a crucial role in shaping cognitive capacity and brain evolution. Advances in molecular biology have revealed the ability of food-derived signals to influence energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity and, thus, mediate the effects of food on cognitive function, which is likely to have been crucial for the evolution of the modern brain. The effects of hunger, malnutrition, and stress on brain development are not only devastating, but can be irreversible.

Hunger and malnutrition delay development on the cognitive, social and emotional level. This includes reading, language, attention, memory, problem-solving capabilities and the  ability to focus and study.

Feeding habits have been intrinsically associated with the development of human civilization, as people’s choice of what to eat is influenced by culture, religion and society. The fact that feeding is an intrinsic human routine emphasizes the power of dietary factors to modulate mental health not only at the individual level, but also at the collective, population-wide level

It has long been suspected that the action of diet on brain health and mental function, as well as the relative abundance of specific nutrients can affect cognitive processes and emotions.

The newly discovered effects of food on cognition are intriguing for the general public, as they might challenge preconceptions, and they attract substantial interest from the media. For instance, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids is garnering appreciation for supporting cognitive processes in humans and upregulating genes . In turn, diets that are high in saturated fat are becoming notorious for reducing molecular substrates that support cognitive processing and increasing the risk of neurological dysfunction in both humans and animals.

Millions of children around the world are impacted by hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia are the most affected regions but incidences of food insecurity are common in industrialized nations too. Hunger affects children’s physical cognitive development prenatally, perinatally, during early years, and some of the effects continue through adolescents and adulthood.

Cognitive effects of hunger include babies who are born with smaller brain size, poor performance on measures of infant cognitive development, lower scores on both IQ and achievement tests, likelihood of impaired mental and intellectual delays, and inability to engage fully in school. From birth, irreversible brain damage can be caused because of iodine deficiency in the mother. Iodine deficiency is easily preventable and affects around 1.9 billion people worldwide.

Hunger results in a lower IQ and less developed brain matter then well-nourished children. In the first two years of life, 70% of the brain develops. If a child experiences significant malnourishment, hunger and stress during that time frame, it’s likely their brain will be permanently damaged.

Understanding the molecular basis of the effects of food and hunger on cognition will help determine how best to manipulate diet in order to increase the resistance of neurons to insults and promote mental fitness.



1)Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function
Fernando Gómez-Pinilla.


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