NeuroTrition focuses on optimizing the link between our brains and our diets
A love of neuroscience and the know-how for helping people lead healthier lives brought Orsha Magyar out of the lab and into the kitchen to found her Calgary-based company, NeuroTrition.
Magyar, who has a bachelor’s degree in behavioural neuroscience and a master’s degree in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia, spent 10 years in academia studying brain function.
While completing her master’s thesis at UBC in 2008, which focused on neural circuits and neurochemicals that underlie brain and mental health, Magyar began asking big questions of her field, separately from her thesis.
She wondered if solutions beyond prescription medicine existed for mental and neurological conditions, such as anxiety, depression and dementia.
“If someone has a brain condition or mental illness, we give them certain meds for it,” says Magyar. “While I’m not against medication, I started wondering, ‘Could there be tools besides medication to help people’s brains?’”
This line of questioning led her to begin researching alternative ways to address mental and neurological issues, and it was then that Magyar discovered holistic nutrition.
After finishing her master’s, Magyar leapt into studying nutrition and became Certified in Holistic Nutrition (CHN) from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She was determined to uncover science-based approaches to making people’s lives better through diet.
“What we eat has an impact on things like cognition and memory and even our mood and mental health,” says Magyar. “The link is real between junk food and poor memory, cognition and poor brain aging.”
In 2010, Magyar founded NeuroTrition with the goal to take complex, research-proven findings and synthesize them into nutritional recommendations for clients to live healthier and longer lives.
“First and foremost, I’m a scientist, and it’s really helped my company compete in a somewhat saturated space,” she says.
Magyar works with a team of nearly 20 people, including science writers, “neuro chefs,” nutritionists and more, to find diet-related solutions fit to individual clients’ needs.
NeuroTrition offers “Brain Food Menus” tailor-made for individuals hoping to optimize their cognitive functions, and a series of targeted “Brain Building Programs” for specific and common problems like insomnia and shift work or stress and emotional eating.
The company also works with clients dealing with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, as well as neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and those living with dementia. It works with clients’ family members who are at risk of developing these conditions, too.
There are several factors tied to aging that can affect brain performance. As we age our metabolism slows down and so does our production of stomach acid, meaning we can’t absorb and assimilate as many vital macronutrients and micronutrients needed to keep the body and brain running smoothly. Most importantly, as we age the flow of blood, including blood that carries glucose to the brain, can decrease. Glucose, or blood sugar, is essential fuel for the brain and glucose levels directly affect learning, thinking and memory.
General aging also leads to a reduction in the diversity of the good bacteria in the gut, which Magyar says can lead to brain inflammation.
A key factor, especially for clients living with dementia, is that as humans age they produce less acetylcholine, a vital memory neurotransmitter that the nervous system uses to activate muscles in addition to memory.
“One of the biggest things I advocate for is early diagnosis [of dementia or cognitive impairment] so that medications, supplements and nutrition can be started to slow down progression,” says Magyar.
For patients with cognitive impairment of any kind, Magyar works to increase brain-boosting nutrients into their everyday diet that they may otherwise lack due to aging and lifestyle factors, such as poor eating habits. Specifically, those nutrients include omega-3, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, healthy fats and pre and probiotics.
Brain health — including improved memory, mood and general alertness, as well as the ability to keep learning — can be maintained, says Magyar, but, in the case of dementia, working preventatively is key. Diet cannot reverse dementia, but it may help stave off the onset of dementia and lessen its symptoms, especially early on.
“We can start reducing the risk [of dementia] right away,” she says.