Can nutrient supplements modify brain function?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jun;71(6 Suppl):1669S-75S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.6.1669S.


Over the past 40 y, several lines of investigation have shown that the chemistry and function of both the developing and the mature brain are influenced by diet. Examples are the effect of folate deficiency on neural tube development during early gestation, the influence of essential fatty acid deficiency during gestation and postnatal life on the development of visual function in infants, and the effects of tryptophan or tyrosine intake (alone or as a constituent of dietary protein) on the production of the brain neurotransmitters derived from them (serotonin and the catecholamines, respectively). Sometimes the functional effects are clear and the underlying biochemical mechanisms are not (as with folate and essential fatty acids); in other cases (such as the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan), the biochemical effects are well understood, whereas the effect on brain function is not. Despite the incomplete knowledge base on the effects of such nutrients, investigators, physicians, and regulatory bodies have promoted the use of these nutrients in the treatment of disease. Typically, these nutrients have been given in doses above those believed to be required for normal health; after they have been given in pure form, unanticipated adverse effects have occasionally occurred. If this pharmacologic practice is to continue, it is important from a public safety standpoint that each nutrient be examined for potential toxicities so that appropriate purity standards can be developed and the risks weighed against the benefits when considering their use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / physiology*
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / pharmacology
  • Folic Acid / physiology*
  • Hematinics / administration & dosage
  • Hematinics / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Tryptophan / pharmacology
  • Tryptophan / physiology*
  • Tyrosine / pharmacology
  • Tyrosine / physiology*


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Hematinics
  • Tyrosine
  • Tryptophan
  • Folic Acid