Are sesame seeds a super secret memory super food?
Sesame seeds are a memory super food? How can one little seed contain so much?
Minerals in sesame seeds benefit memory formation, memory enhancement, memory maintenance and prevention of free radicals and amyloid plaques like those present in Alzheimer’s. For centuries middle eastern cultures have taken sesame seeds and ground up them up, added some water, lemon and garlic and eaten this mineral dense food as a sauce. While “open sesame” is a key fabled phrase for treasures beyond imagination, opening a bottle of tahini paste, techina or sesame paste is the key for the densest concentration of minerals important for brain processes related to memory.
In this article, we will focus on 7 of these minerals: calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium and their memory related functions in the brain and explain how sesame seeds are a memory super food.
- Calcium is by far the most critical mineral for memory. It is instrumental in forming neurotransmitter-containing vesicles like glutamate. Glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, will be released in the synapse when a neuron is activated. It will then activate the next neuron to fire an action potential. If two neurons are consistently active together, which means firing an action potential together, then learning will occur when both sodium and calcium enter the post-synaptic cell (or neuron #2) at the same time and cause the neuron to fire. The entrance of calcium into the post-synaptic cells causes short-term changes and long-term changes. Immediately, more receptors are produced to deal with the influx of glutamate. In the long-term, calcium initiates the formation of proteins and receptors that maintain connections between cells like those involved in synapse formation and synapse maintenance.
- Magnesium initially blocks glutamate receptors. However when two neurons are active together forming a new memory, the magnesium floats out and lets copious amounts of calcium into the post-synaptic neuron.
- Zinc is present inside glutamate containing vesicles and is released into the synapse. Zinc then enters back into the pre-synaptic cell and enhances calcium’s release. As a result, it enables calcium’ s long-term effects on memory including making more receptors, and making more neurotransmitters like glutamate. All theses step together cement the bond between cells, which are important of making new memories and maintaining old ones.
- Copper helps facilitate the influx of calcium into the post-synaptic cell, when it is released like zinc into the synapse (1). It also activates neuronal growth factors like BDNF, which are important for synapse forming activity. However, copper unlike zinc also has a very important role when it sends messages from other a different type of neuron in the brain, those using GABA containing vesicles (2). Copper from GABA neurons help turn off the effect of calcium, putting the brakes on the effects. Just like a good car needs gas and brakes so does the brain. Proper balance between glutamate, which drives plasticity and GABA, which winds down the effect keeps the brain properly functioning without burnout. Imbalances in glutamate and GABA impair cognitive functioning and often occur in alcoholism.
- Iron is important for mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the energy producing part of a single cell. Part of the energy produced by neurons is used to activate neuronal growth factors, which promote new synapse formation. Iron deficiency has been shown to effect learning and memory throughout the lifetime but especially in young children and those who had mother deficient of iron during pregnancy. It affects the hippocampus, the learning and memory area of the brain.
- Manganese is known as an important antioxidant. Animal studies show that large amounts of manganese reduced the buildup of amyloid plaques in an animal model of Alzheimer’s (2)
- Potassium is crucial for turning off an active cell that has just fired an action potential. A neuron cannot consistently fire or it will get fatigued. It needs a refractory period for recovery. Therefore after sodium has entered the cell in response to a neurotransmitter like glutamate, and calcium has entered enhancing the firing of the cell, the neuron lets in potassium, which has a negative charge. Potassium’s presence with its negative charge stops the cell from continuing to fire. The neuron will then be quiet for a minimum amount of time. Even when learning occurs and the firing rate of a neuron increases there are still pauses in between maintained by potassium.
The bottom line to remember: Sesame seeds are a memory super food int hat they contain essential minerals for memory
1 Tablespoon alone of tahini contains the following daily recommended value of minerals (we have not even discussed the vitamins, will appear in a later post):
Last note: Always buy whole sesame seed tahini (organic recommended) and open that jar to the secret super food for your memory!
(1) Dumont M et al,
Reduction of oxidative stress, amyloid deposition, and memory deficit by manganese superoxide dismutase overexpression in a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease; FASEB 2009
(2) D’Ambrosi N et al Copper at synapse: Release, binding and modulation of neurotransmission Neurochemistry International 2015