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22 brain boosters — roll back your mental clock

For many people, advancing age corresponds with reduced mental functioning, including memory loss. Can we slow this inevitable decline? Simple dietary changes and supplements may provide long-term benefits. Here are some of the most researched brain boosters and how they affect brain health.

Fish Oil (Omega-3s) 

Benefits for brain health and aging

Although normally associated with heart health, omega-3s are critically important to brain health and cognition. In one study, doctors measured the cognitive performance of 1,475 adults, at least 55 years old, who did not have dementia. They tested the group again 1.5 years later. Subjects who took omega-3 fish oil supplements were 63% less likely to show signs of cognitive decline.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the main omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and heart, plays an important role in neural and cardiac function. Decreases in plasma DHA levels are associated with cognitive decline in both healthy older adults.*

A recent meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials showed that DHA supplementation, alone or combined with EPA, at a dose above 580 mg/day significantly improved episodic memory in adults with mild memory complaints. This demonstrates that DHA has a significant impact on age-associated memory loss which is a major health concern of older adults.* 

Phosphatidylserine

Improve memory function

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an important phospholipid in cell membranes that can be synthesized in the body from phosphatidylcholine or phosphatidylethanolamine. PS has been shown to improve memory, concentration, word recall, and mood in middle-aged and elderly people.

PhosphatidylserineA 6-month, double-blind, randomized, controlled study of 78 elderly people with mild cognitive impairment taking a placebo or 100 mg or 300 mg of phosphatidyserine (PS) per day found that the memory scores in the PS group were significantly increased against the baseline, while those of the placebo group remained unchanged. The memory-improving effect of PS was equally observed in both the low and high dose of PS. The study concluded that 6 months of supplementation with PS is safe and could improve the memory functions of the elderly with memory complaints.*

Ginkgo Biloba

Supports blood flow to the brain

Studies have shown that Ginkgo biloba extract may have various health benefits, including support for failing memory and poor blood circulation. It helps maintain healthy blood vessel tone and helps reduce blood viscosity, allowing more blood to flow to the brain.*

In 2017, an overview of 12 systematic reviews assessed the cumulative evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba extract. The results indicated that it has potentially beneficial effects for people with memory issues when it is administered at doses greater than 200 mg per day for at least 5 months. 

Curcumin (Turmeric) 

Works on beta-amyloid protein

Curcumin is isolated from the curry spice turmeric. Interestingly, it has been purported that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in India among the elderly between 70 and 79 years of age is four-fold less than those in the United States. Some believe that the curry in Indian food may account for this difference.*

A study performed at Ohio State University found that healthy middle-aged men and women consuming curcumin for four weeks significantly impacted beta-amyloid protein, a marker of brain aging. Epidemiological research shows beta-amyloid begins accumulating during middle age. The results of this study, as well as other early-stage research data, point to curcumin’s potential beneficial effect on cognitive function.*

Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Supports memory and cognition

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) is an amino acid which participates in cellular energy production, a process especially important in neurons. Studies of those with memory problems have reported modest advantages over a range of memory tests for ALC supplement groups compared to placebo.*

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, people with memory problems received ALC in doses from 2,250 to 3,000 mg per day or placebo for 12 weeks. Each person’s state was assessed with a battery of neuropsychological tests. The positive treatment effects of ALC were 2.8 times higher than in placebo-treated individuals.*

B-Vitamins & Multi-Vitamins  

Helps short term memory 

Folic acid, a B-vitamin, when combined with vitamins B6 and B12, helps to lower homocysteine levels associated with the onset of memory issues. These B-vitamins are commonly included in multi-vitamin formulas. In one study, healthy older adults received either a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement (100% Daily Value) or a placebo for 56 days. After 8 weeks, those taking the multi-vitamin had significantly lower homocysteine levels than the placebo group.

In another study, researchers had 266 participants with mild cognitive issues who were 70 or older take B vitamins (folic acid, B6 and B12) or a placebo and perform cognitive performance tests. After two years they found that when people had low omega-3 fatty acid concentrations, the B vitamin treatment did not change cognitive decline rates. However, when a person’s omega-3 levels were in the upper normal range (especially DHA), the B vitamins interacted to slow cognitive decline.

A meta-analysis of 10 clinical trials involving 3,200 participants found that multi-vitamins, when taken for at least one month, were effective in improving short-term memory. 

Lecithin (Choline source)

Contains neurotransmitter precursor

Lecithin contains phosphatidylcholine, a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which has a positive effect on the brain and memory functions. It also allows nerve cells to send impulses properly. Recognizing the emerging importance of choline, the FDA recently set a Daily Value requirement for choline at 550 mg per day. 

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Faster and more efficient processing 

In a large study, doctors measured cognitive function in 4,076 adults who were 50 and older. Those with higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin had better scores on overall cognition, memory, and executive function— the ability to focus attention, control impulses, and remain mentally flexible. Zeaxanthin in particular improved processing speed.

Lower levels of lutein and zeaxanthin may cause the brain to use more energy to function during normal tasks. In one study, researchers asked 40 older adults to recall pairs of words they had learned earlier. Doctors analyzed brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging and found that those with higher levels of lutein and zeaxanthin needed less brain activity to complete the word-recall task compared to those whose lutein and zeaxanthin levels were lower. These carotenoids may play an important role in normal cognitive function. 

Blueberries

Improve executive function

Berries can be expensive, but they may be worth the price. A recent study had 37 participants between the ages of 60 and 75 consume either 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberry (the equivalent to a cup of blueberries) or a placebo daily for 90 days. Participants in the blueberry group had significantly fewer errors and performed better on two tests of executive function. This shows that eating reasonable amounts of blueberries each day can help improve some aspects of cognition. 

Vitamin D

Reduces cognitive impairment

Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with a host of adverse brain outcomes, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and cognitive decline.

Population-based studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin D to cognitive dysfunction in older adults. In one study, 3,325 adults aged 65 years or older who were deficient in vitamin D (<20 ng/mL) had increased cognitive impairment compared to those with sufficient vitamin D levels (30 ng/mL or above). 


More Brain Boosters

New research for other ingredients are encouraging.

Astaxanthin, the red carotenoid that makes salmon pink, may mitigate the build-up of oxidative stress that accumulates in those with memory issues at a dose of 12 mg a day.

Alpha Glycerol Phosphoryl Choline (Alpha-GPC) is a source of choline, just like lecithin. Clinical studies showed it improved memory in those with memory issues. Research suggests taking 1,200 mg a day.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid may be a neuroprotective therapy option at a dose of 600 mg daily due to its antioxidant power.

Coconut Oil provides MCTs, a type of fat your body can break down into ketone bodies to use as fuel. A cognitively impaired brain may have trouble using the normal fuel, glucose.

Coffee, similar to berries, has a complex mixture of phytochemicals that provides protective health benefits. Moderate coffee consumption (three to four cups a day) is associated with a significant decrease in the risk of developing certain complications.

DMAE may increase levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.

Green Tea and L-Theanine have been shown to boost brain function.

Huperzine A, an alkaloid isolated from a club moss, helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.

Magnesium Threonate can increase brain magnesium levels and boost the number of connections between brain cells involved in memory functions.

Pycnogenol, from French Maritime pine bark, improved memory and inhibited nerve membrane oxidation in elderly participants who took 150 mg per day for 3 months.

PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone) supplementation, at 20 mg per day, resulted in improved performance on tests of cognitive function in a randomized, double-blind study of 71 middle-aged adults.

Vitamin E, including mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, were associated with lower risk of mild cognitive impairment when blood levels were higher, according to a study in Sweden.

 

My Tips

Many of these nutrients work together to support the different aspects of brain health. Consider adding a few to your daily regimen for natural brain health support. Besides these ingredients, current science strongly suggests that daily exercise is neuroprotective. I recommend a combination of supplements, exercise and playing mentally challenging games like crossword puzzles to help keep your brain sharp and promote healthy aging. 

Be sure to read future editions where we’ll update you with the results of new research on brain aging and how you can roll back your mental clock.