TL;DR Article Summary
Protein is an essential micronutrient. When most people think of protein, they think about chiseled bodybuilders and gym enthusiasts. However, protein intake is crucial for not just physical health, but it’s also key for your brain and memory function. Optimal protein intake is linked to less cognitive decline as you age. The best way to get more protein is to focus on whole foods like eggs, meat, and walnuts.
Protein and Brain Function
In today’s article, we’ll look at whether protein can improve your memory, how it works in the brain, and the optimal dosage of protein for supporting your cognition.
Protein’s Role in the Body
What is Protein?
- Proteins are large molecules made up of amino acids. You may have heard protein being called the building block of life. The is because it’s involved in almost every bodily function you can think of. From repairing tissues and fighting infections, to transporting oxygen in our blood, protein is something we can’t live without.
How Protein Functions in the Body
Once you consume protein – be it through food or supplements – your body breaks it down into its smaller components, which, as we’ve learned, are called amino acids. These amino acids then do different jobs in the body, such as supporting your immune system, building muscles, and producing brain chemicals. Among these brain chemicals we have, yes, the ones that govern memory.
Protein and Brain Health
Protein is vital for brain health, and health in general. Some amino acids are essential to make neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which regulate your mood and cognitive function. But too much of a good thing – protein included – can be bad, too. [1, 2]
How are Protein and Memory Function Connected?
The brain needs protein for daily functioning just like any other part of your body. Inside your brain cells you have “machinery” which is actually made up of protein. Protein molecules also build connections between your brain cells, these connections are essential for proper communication within the brain. It’s, therefore, no surprise that adequate protein intake is shown to support our memory function among many other crucial aspects of brain health.
What We Currently Know About Protein and Memory Function
How Protein Might Help Memory
Specifically, protein helps build your memory by first building neurotransmitters that govern your memory. Remember amino acids, the smaller components of protein? Well, these amino aicds are essential to build neurotransmitters which influence your memory and learning.
This idea isn’t just a guess, it’s been checked out in real-life settings. There’s evidence that shows protein intake can improve your memory, specifically in highly demanding situations.
- Needless to say, protein isn’t the only thing your brain needs. A wholesome nutrient-dense diet is the best way you can ensure sufficient intake of the key compounds needed for your brain to perform well at all levels – memory function included.
What About Protein Supplements?
Many people take protein, mostly because they want to build muscle and get leaner. However, in the context of brain health, it works in just the same way as we discussed today. If you’re not getting enough protein and you add a supplement, you may notice an improvement in your memory function in the long run. However, we’re not the biggest fans of protein supplements—preferring getting this vital macronutrient from whole food alone.
While protein supplements are considered safe for most people. High amounts of protein taken from supplements can cause kidney strain in some cases, and it may not be the healthiest thing in the long run.
Summing up, protein might improve your memory, especially if you’re not getting enough protein through your diet and you start increasing your intake. But protein alone is not a magic bullet. A healthy diet and lifestyle paried with some proven nootropic supplements is the best way to improve your memory naturally.
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- Zajac IT, Herreen D, Bastiaans K, Dhillon VS, Fenech M. The Effect of Whey and Soy Protein Isolates on Cognitive Function in Older Australians with Low Vitamin B12: A Randomised Controlled Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 21;11(1):19. doi: 10.3390/nu11010019. PMID: 30577611; PMCID: PMC6357102.
- Wolfe AR, Arroyo C, Tedders SH, Li Y, Dai Q, Zhang J. Dietary protein and protein-rich food in relation to severely depressed mood: A 10 year follow-up of a national cohort. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Jan 15;35(1):232-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.11.011. Epub 2010 Nov 23. PMID: 21108982.