How Does Hydration & Nutrition Affect Brain Function And Mood?


One of the leading neurologists, Dr David Perlmutter stated in 2015 “ our digestive system is intimately connected to what goes on in the brain”. He is, of course, referring to our gut microbiome and there has since been an enormous body of research confirming and indeed furthering this statement.  We now know, what goes in our mouths will affect our brain function and our moods.  So, how  can we best support this essential mind body connection?  The team at zazen Water discuss the most up to date understanding of the intimate connection between what goes in our mouths and how that affects our moods. 

How Does Nutrition Affect the Brain?

Microbes in the gut manufacture our brains most important chemicals known as neurotransmitters within the gastrointestinal tract – up to 90% of them in fact!

Neurotransmitters that support brain function and mood require adequate amounts of amino acids, minerals and B vitamins which can be found in a wide range of foods including eggs, grains, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, fish, and poultry. Healthy fats and oils including oily fish, organic butter, coconut, olive, avocado and flax seed also support brain function.   All of these are healthy foods for brain health and also feature within the Mediterranean diet. 

Nutrition activates signal pathways in the gut that support brain function which means the quality of the foods and liquids we choose to eat and drink become critical to improved brain function.

All of this regulates our appetite, the energy we use, our ability to focus and think clearly, our moods and also our sleep. With this understanding of proper nutrition for brain function, memory and other areas of our development, paying attention to what we are eating and drinking on a daily basis is very important and can assist in preserving the mind body link for a healthy mind and body.  

Healthy Fats Increases Mental Sharpness and Energy

Research shows increasing healthy fats in the diet helps to reduce inflammation in the body, improve brain function and energy levels.  Udo Erasmus PhD in his book Fats That Heal Fats that Kill, confirms research supporting the use of healthy fats in the diet to improve brain function in particular improved memory acuity, mental sharpness and higher levels of brain neurotransmitters that help regulate our moods.   Healthy fats include omega 3 fats found in fish, seafood, organic butter pastured eggs, organically raised pasture fed animals (grain free), olive oil, coconut, avocado, macadamia oil, unheated flaxseed oil    Conversely, eating unhealthy and damaged fats will have the reverse effect – high inflammation, reduction of memory and focus and low moods.  Damaged fats include margarines, shortenings, deep fried foods, over heated vegetable and seed oils.

The Mediterranean Lifestyle – A Diet Assisting Brain Function

The Mediterranean lifestyle, known for its nutritional balance is a protective factor in the maintenance of brain function and mood.

There has been much research conducted on how nutrition affects the brain, and the Mediterranean diet is said to do so through its emphasis on primarily eating plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, using healthy fats such as oily fish, seafood, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, herbs and spices as well as the positive impact of the ongoing social connections in Mediterranean style communities .  Dr Damian Kristof – Nutritionist, Naturopath, Chiropractor & zazen Water Partner recommends this diet (to read his republished blog on our web site with an introduction by us click here).

The Role of Water in Cognitive Function

So, what is the function of water in the body, particularly in our brain health? Water plays a crucial role in maintaining cognitive function, which includes processes such as perception, memory, learning, attention, and problem-solving. The brain, which is made up of approximately 80% water, is particularly sensitive to changes in hydration levels, particularly in brain development, memory retention, impact on mood and stress levels, and focus.

Brain development

Water is vital for proper brain development, particularly in infants and young children. Adequate hydration during the early stages of life is essential for the growth and development of the brain. But how can this dehydration affect you mentally? 

Well, a lack of water intake can lead to dehydration, which can cause brain tissue to shrink and reduce cognitive abilities. Studies have also shown that a lack of water intake during pregnancy can lead to neurological problems in the developing foetus.

Memory retention

When searching for the best nutrition for memory retention, water is an integral inclusion as it helps to maintain optimal brain function.  The inclusion of omega-3 fats in the diet of young children is vital for their developing brains.  These fats are found in natural, whole foods including organic butter, pasture reared organic eggs, oily fish and cod liver oil.

Studies have found that dehydration can impair short-term memory and the ability to recall information. Even mild dehydration can reduce cognitive performance and increase the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Adequate hydration, on the other hand, can enhance memory and cognitive performance.

Impact on mood and stress levels

Water intake can also impact mood and stress levels. Studies have shown that dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and anxiety. In contrast, staying hydrated can improve mood, decrease anxiety, and increase feelings of alertness and energy.

Increasing Focus

With the direct relation hydration holds with cognitive performance, adequate water intake is essential to maintain proper focus and concentration throughout daily tasks. Studies have found that a minimum of 500ml was enough to improve working memory after a period of 12 hour water restriction. Without it, we can notice a significant decline in our attention spans and reaction times. 

What About Water for Brain Health? Your Body’s Foundation Nutrient

Fuelling our bodies well is important, however what about the water we drink and its purpose as a foundational nutrient in the body?... Our bodies are 75% water and our brains are 80%!

Have you ever found yourself reaching for food, even though it was a short time since you last ate? Are you confusing your thirst for hunger?

Did you know that if the body is dehydrated for extended lengths of time that it will lose its natural thirst mechanism!

- Dr Batmangheldj (Author 'Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, You’re Not Sick You’re Thirsty')

What that means is that if chronic dehydration sets in, we don’t know when we are thirsty. So, we think we are hungry but actually, we are thirsty!

Dehydration leads to headaches, mood swings, problems thinking clearly and more…

Since more than half of the human body is composed from water and 80% of our brain, every cell in our body depends on it, which means dehydration has the ability to rapidly compromise how we think, behave, perform and feel. With just a 1% drop below optimal hydration, this can take a toll on your brain health, affecting your mood, cause headaches and if you already suffer from anxiety and stress, getting even a little dehydrated can cause feelings akin to panic, dry mouth and flushing.

Did you know?

  • The brain when is dehydrated it actually shrinks in volume. (This shrinking is what causes a dehydration headache.)
  • Mild dehydration can occur even during the course of ordinary activities and interfere with daily activities – such as feeling fatigued, foggy thinking and poor concentration.
  • Significant effects of dehydration can impact your mood and alter brain function causing mood swings, increased tension or even anxiety.

The great news -Within minutes of drinking a high quality hydrating water many of these effects are reversed and dehydration induced headaches are rapidly alleviated. 

How to Preserve and Support Your Brain Function For Peak Performance

Eating well to support and fuel your body is imperative, but even more essential is remembering to stay hydrated. Drinking zazen Water ensures that you are being hydrated at a cellular level.

Plan ahead, especially in warmer weather, as temperatures rise this increases sweating and thereby increases the chance of becoming dehydrated.

Click here to learn how drinking zazen Alkaline Water supports healthy brain function and mood function.

Dr David Perlmutter:  Brain Maker,  “The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life” 2015. 2022.

Udo Erasmus Fats that Heal Fats that Kill 1993. 

Current Neuropharmacology  2018 Aug; 16(7): 1059–1085. Impact of Dietary Fats on Brain Functions.

Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421

MacAulay N. Molecular mechanisms of brain water transport. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2021;22(6):326-344. doi:10.1038/s41583-021-00454-8

D'Anci KE, Constant F, Rosenberg IH. Hydration and cognitive function in children. Nutr Rev. 2006;64(10 Pt 1):457-464. doi:10.1301/nr.2006.oct.457-464

Zhang N, Zhang F, Chen S, et al. Associations between hydration state and pregnancy complications, maternal-infant outcomes: protocol of a prospective observational cohort study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2020;20(1):82. Published 2020 Feb 7. doi:10.1186/s12884-020-2765-x

Masento NA, Golightly M, Field DT, Butler LT, van Reekum CM. Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood. Br J Nutr. 2014;111(10):1841-1852. doi:10.1017/S0007114513004455

Adan A. Cognitive performance and dehydration. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012;31(2):71-78. doi:10.1080/07315724.2012.10720011

Pross N, Demazières A, Girard N, et al. Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PLoS One. 2014;9(4):e94754. Published 2014 Apr 11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094754

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