What Are Some Foods That Support the Brain's Myelin Sheath?
You probably know a few important facts about your brain, including that it's one of the most important organs in your body, that it controls nearly every other function in your body, and that it's vital to your overarching wellness. As far as the latter goes, one of the very best ways you can keep your brain (and therefore, the rest of your body) healthy is to fuel it with nutrient-rich, brain-boosting foods. "The food we eat provides our organs with nutrients to function properly and our brain is no exception," says Rima Kleiner, M.S., R.D., a blogger at Dish on Fish. "The brain functions best when we fuel it with premium quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids."
One area of the brain, in particular, relies immensely on food to keep it strong, healthy, and protected, and that's the myelin sheath, which is sometimes referred to as "white matter." This "white fatty insulating substance wraps around the end of nerve cells (neurons) and helps them communicate quickly and efficiently with one another in the brain and spinal cord," explains Margie Saidel, M.P.H., R.D., who is also the Vice President of Nutrition & Sustainability at Chartwells K12. "When the myelin sheath deteriorates or is weak, it can result in disorders of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, ADHD, and autism," she says. "It may also play a role in mental health conditions such as depression."
While there's no cure for many of these conditions, you can help protect your myelin sheath by eating foods that promote brain health and avoiding ones that don't, notes Kleiner. Ahead, some of the best foods to help strengthen your myelin sheath.
This fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins that keep the brain and myelin sheath healthy. "Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, specifically in the brain, and have been shown to help resist breakdown of the myelin sheath, as well as help repair it when deterioration has already occurred," says Dr. Uma Naidoo, M.D., a nutritional psychiatrist. She recommends eating at least two four- to six-ounce servings of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and trout each week for optimal health.
This breakfast staple is great for your brain, thanks to its ample amount of protein, iron, B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin D. "Vitamin D, in particular, is linked to helping restore and repair the myelin sheath by reducing inflammation," says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N. She recommends consuming about three to four whole eggs per week—that means the yellow part too, which is where all the brain-supporting nutrients are located.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are rich in a myriad of nutrients, including vitamin C and vitamin K, both of which support myelin sheath production and regeneration, notes Moskovitz. "You can enjoy broccoli roasted, steamed, or raw and it's a great addition to complement any protein and carb-rich meal," she adds.
Blueberries are jam-packed with antioxidants, which go a long way for brain health. They can prevent age-related memory loss, says Moskovitz, noting that, like eggs, they also lower inflammation in the brain (which could impact the myelin sheath). She recommends consuming around one cup of fresh or frozen berries per day—adding them to your cereal, oatmeal, a smoothie, or even as a topping on baked goods.
Lean beef is high in vitamin B12, a nutrient that has been shown to support the myelin sheath. "Because vitamin B12 is not naturally found in plant foods, those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet are recommended to supplement, while those who follow a more omnivore diet tend to get enough of this nutrient," adds Dr. Naidoo.