The nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of the body.
As much as the brain will require only oxygen and glucose to function, Isaac Bikorimana, a nutritionist at Kibagabaga Hospital in Kigali, says many other nutrients are needed for higher functions such as thought, memory as well as self-control.
For instance, group vitamins are the ones that most influence the healthy function of the brain and nervous system.
“The lack of this vitamin (vitamin B1), for instance, produces irritability and depression and lack of B6 produces nervousness and fatigue. This alone show how important this nutrient is for the well-functioning of the nervous system,” he says.
Bikorimana says minerals are also directly involved in the activity of the neurons, and for that reason, he explains, lack of magnesium produces nervousness and anxiety.
Bikorimana observes that unsaturated fatty acids such as liolenic acid, which is present in nuts are necessary for the development of the nervous system and brain in children.
On the other hand, he points out that excess sugar consumption of certain addictives such as colouring, affect the nervous system and alter behaviour, hence the need to stay away from such foods.
“Some artificial coloring can unleash hyperactive and even aggressive behavior, especially in children,” he warns.
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition Department at University Teaching Hospital, Kigali, (CHUK), says lack of the right diet for the nervous system results into conditions such as nervousness.
“Here, the nervous system reacts disproportionately to what will be considered normal stimuli when in an excited or irritated state. This reaction can also be caused by different types of drugs,” he says.
However, for one to avoid that, Bikorimana advises consuming foods such as sunflower seeds, avocado, passion fruits, lettuce and oats, while on the other hand reducing or eliminating stimulant beverages, alcohol and white sugar.
Healthy habits to combat nervousness
Uwiragiye notes that in addition to such recommended foods, there are healthy habits that aid in combating nervousness.
“For instance, making it a habit to eat a good breakfast, which keeps hypoglycemia (lack of sugar in the blood) at bay, is essential. Maintaining the habit of eating at regular hours is essential in avoiding abrupt drops in the blood glucose levels,” he says.
Further, getting enough sleep on a regular basis, as well as excersing regularly especially walking or hiking is vital, says Uwiragiye.
Insomnia in some people may be a result of poor diet, according to Alice Murerwa, a nutritionist at Ruhengeri Hospital.
“The type of foods one eats influence the ability to sleep well. Heavy meals, for instance, even if they are healthy, can still disturb sleep,” she says.
Murerwa says for the benefit of good sleep and digestion, eating two to three hours before retiring to bed is ideal.
She adds that increasing intake of honey, carbohydrates, lettuce, oats, as well as reducing or eliminating chocolate, spices, meat and soft drinks will see one enjoy their sleep.
Conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety are all linked to the nervous system.
“Depressed individuals in general tend to crave for sweet stuff, which have very little or no nutritional value at all,” says Murerwa.
She says that such people may also have an appetite for saturated fats found in meat products, which may worsen the situation.
Murerwa explains that rather than consume refined sweets, replacing them with sweet, dried fruits and honey is vital since they provide various vitamins and minerals needed specifically to metabolise the sugars.
Also, whole grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables are ideal to prevent depression as they provide a vitality and energy needed, she says.
“For example, whole grains and brown rice contain vitamin B6 which can break down high levels of homocysteines that is responsible for mental deterioration,” says Murerwa.
Bikorimana, on the other hand, says consuming garlic is important in improving the nervous system.
“Garlic is responsible in preventing aging of the mind. It’s also capable of improving the cardio vascular system. Antioxidants that fight infections can also be found in garlic,” he says.
The Omega 3 fatty acids present in nuts also enhance the mind and the antioxidants present in nuts lowers cholesterol, according to Bikorimana.
To avoid the aging of the brain and nervous system, Murerwa advises that spinach can work wonders.
“Spinach is a vegetable with enormous health benefits. Spinach is rich in nutrients and antioxidants that slow down the aging of the brain and nervous system, hence improves cognitive functioning,” she adds.
Murerwa also says bananas, whole grains, nuts, yogurt, magnesium and vitamin B6 are essential in preventing anxiety, as they also provide complex carbohydrates and vitamins that are necessary to the balance of the nervous system.