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Food for Thought: The Neuroscience of Nutrition to Fuel Cognitive Performance

93 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2016 Last revised: 25 Apr 2017

Debra S. Austin

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: July 11, 2016

Abstract

Lawyering is a marathon, not a sprint. Law students and lawyers have the power to improve long-term cognitive performance with neuro-intelligence, the knowledge of how to enhance brain function. Almost nothing is more personal than the decision lawyers make about what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In a two-year study examining the health of lawyers, Sharon McDowell-Larsen Ph.D., discovered that while 92% of the participants understood that eating habits have health impacts, half reported they consumed unhealthy diets. None of these lawyers were vegetarians or vegans, 58% consumed meat on a daily basis, and 64% wanted more health and wellness support from their law firms. Some law firms and law schools are cultivating wellness cultures, but little work has been done in the area of improving lawyer and law student nutrition.

As a lawyer ages, her physical and mental health tend to deteriorate. Researchers use neuroimaging to examine the structural and functional integrity of the brain to identify conditions and practices that help or harm the brain. U.S. Government anti-aging lifestyle research recommends lawyers should: strive to exercise daily; maintain healthy weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels; and adopt a nutritious diet. Research also indicates that the most powerful prescription for improving health, aging well, and reducing the risk of illness is consuming a healthful diet.

This article aims to inspire nutritional choices that fuel the lawyer’s most valuable tool, her brain. Section II of this Article develops the neuro-intelligence of the law student, law professor, lawyer, and judge. It describes lawyer brain structure, and discusses how the emotional and thinking brains work together to facilitate cognition; response to emotions and stress; and motivation, reward, and habit building. Section III explains neuroscience research on aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Mild Cognitive Impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. It examines the brain impact of physical conditions (weight and obesity, blood sugar and glycation, inflammation, and oxidative stress) and emotional conditions (stress and depression). Section IV discusses how the brain and body use energy, and the impact of nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, vitamins, and minerals. Section V addresses the influence of caffeine and alcohol on brain function. Section VI critiques Paleo, Mediterranean, and Whole-Food Plant-Based Diets according to their brain health strengths and weaknesses. The Article concludes with recommendations for optimizing the lawyer brain with neuro-protective nutrition practices that may influence lawyers and motivate them to rethink their food philosophy and redesign their wellbeing plan.

Suggested Citation

Austin, Debra S., Food for Thought: The Neuroscience of Nutrition to Fuel Cognitive Performance (July 11, 2016). 95 Or. L. Rev. 425 (2017); U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-25. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2808100

Debra S. Austin (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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