You know the brain is important, right? So it makes sense to look after it as best we can. Using natural supplements for brain health is one way we can do this.
As we get older, the fear of mental degeneration becomes stronger. One American study showed that Alzheimer’s is more feared than any other major life-threatening disease, including cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. There is no scientifically proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, however. The result is that more people are looking to natural supplements to protect their brain health.
This remains a contentious area, as various studies have shown conflicting results. Whilst no absolute empirical evidence exists as to the effectiveness of using these supplements (and vitamins), there have been many studies showing positive results.
Do Natural Supplements Work to Improve Brain Health?
There is evidence that a lack of certain nutrients, such as vitamins B9 and B12 is linked to problems with cognitive function or brain health. In these cases supplements might prove useful. In the UK it appears that as many as 20% of people over the age of 60 are lacking in vitamin B12.
Recent figures suggest that as many as a quarter of adults over the age of 50 in the US regularly take supplements in an attempt to keep their brain in good health.
There’s strong evidence that certain diets — like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet — can help improve cognitive function. These diets contain foods with large amounts of vitamins and minerals that have a positive impact on the brain.
However, as people got older they might not be as able to absorb as many nutrients from food, and other medications could potentially lead to deficiencies. What’s more, plants contain no vitamin B12, so people on a vegan diet for instance should consider fortified foods or supplements.
As is often the case, there is no simple answer. It appears that individual physiology is one of many variables. What works for one person will not necessarily work for others. A certain amount of trial and error is called for. However, the large and growing market for brain health supplements suggests that many people are experiencing positive benefits.
What Natural Supplements Are Used For Brain Health? And What Impacts Do They Have? How Do They Work?
There are many foods and supplements said to improve brain function. Here is our Top Ten selection of the supplements said to be beneficial for brain health.
Most of these can be sources through different foods, but specially formulated supplements will have higher concentrations per dose.
- Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acids)
- B Vitamins
- Phosphatidylserine (PS)
- Gingko Biloba
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Fish oil is the highest rated of all of these. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna or sardines are a good source of fish oil.
The important ingredient is the omega-3 fatty acids. These are polyunsaturated fats that build membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. They can also improve blood flow to the brain.
They have been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline that impacts brain health and quality of life for millions. Research indicates a positive improvement in brain function in people with dementia and other cognitive problems, including depression.
B vitamins (particularly B6 and B12) are essential for healthy brain function. Studies show that deficiencies in these nutrients have a negative impact on cognition, mood, and neuroplasticity.
High levels of an amino acid called homocysteine are thought to make the brain more vulnerable to beta-amyloid (a toxic substance which is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s). One study showed that homocysteine could be lowered through supplements of B Vitamins and Folic Acid, with positive results.
Eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach are rich in B6, as are whole grains. In this age of stress and overload, it may also make sense to take a good quality B complex supplement to avoid fatigue and burnout.
Resveratrol is a natural polyphenolic non-flavonoid agent that has brain protective effects. It seems to act to protect brain cells from damage. This may partly be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of resveratrol.
It protects neurons against oxidative damage and toxicity, and prevents death of neuron by apoptosis. This seems to occur through an interference with protein fragments called beta-amyloids, which are crucial to forming the plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Resveratrol is a compound that occurs naturally in nature, found in a number of foods such as grapes, purple grape juice, red wine, peanuts, and some berries.
Caffeine has many positive actions on the brain. We all know it as our daily stimulant to increase focus and boost energy levels. It can increase wakefulness and well being, helps to focus, improve mood and decrease depression.
Consumption of coffee or caffeine has been shown to prevent cognitive decline, and to reduce the risk of developing stroke and neurodegenerative diseases.
The most common sources of caffeine include coffee and tea. However, you may be surprised to find there are other foods and beverages we encounter in our daily diet that also contain caffeine, such as sodas, chocolate, ice cream and energy drinks.
Phosphatidylserine is an amino-acid derivative, and is the most important anionic phospholipid commonly found in the plasma membrane in neural tissues. It covers and protects the cells in your brain and carries messages between them.
PS enhances memory, slows down mental decline and promotes a positive-minded outlook. It helps elderly people with brain degeneration by slowing the progression of memory loss while enhance mood stability by anxiety, socialization. PS also helps immune system to dispose of worn out, toxic brain cells, and protect neighboring brain cells from collateral damage.
It is a compound derived from a sunflower plant.
Acetylcholine is a key neurotransmitter responsible for forming new connections and strengthening neural pathways in the brain. If levels of this substance decline, as happens with increasing age, the brain can physically shrink, and become difficult to repair.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine helps the body produce energy by increasing choline uptake, acetylcholine (ACh) synthesis and depolarization-evoked ACh release. It has been found to be effective in early stage treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and in combatting depression. This occurs through protection from oxidative damage, which may extend to the brain. Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
Ginkgo Biloba is extracted from dried leaves of the tree Ginkgo biloba. It alleviates symptoms related to age-related cognitive impairment such as age-related amnesic condition, vascular dementia and dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.
Studies have revealed that Gingko Biloba Extract (GBE) slightly increases number of cognitive processes in cognitive impairment associated with age. GBE is also used in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease that results in significant improvements to cognition.
It’s believed that ginkgo works by thinning the blood and thereby improving oxygen flow to the brain. The brain is a glutton for oxygen, so it’s possible that even a slight lack of circulation can affect its performance.
Several studies have shown that it does help these conditions, and it’s routinely prescribed in places like Germany and France.
Rhodiola Rosea is a herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. It is commonly used to stimulate the nervous system, and for a number of mental health conditions.
The roots are considered adaptogens, meaning they help your body adapt to stress when consumed, and have antioxidant properties that help with decline related to age.
For centuries it has been used to treat anxiety, fatigue and depression in Russian and Scandinavian countries.
A highly revered herb in the Ayurvedic tradition (an ancient Indian healing system), Ashwagandha is another adaptogen, which helps the body adapt to stress.
Research has also found that it may help enhance focus, mental stamina and can be useful for people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (hericium erinaceus) is an edible and medicinal mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia. It improves brain health, and has been shown to stimulate nerve growth and neural cell regeneration.
There is evidence of cognitive improvements in adults’ aged 50-80 with mild cognitive impairment.
Why People Use Supplements
We all recognise the benefits of a faster, better brain, which stays in top shape for longer. We use supplements for brain health to achieve just that. Natural supplements provide fuel for the body though additional nutrients to maintain its optimal function for as long as possible. They help to produce energy to maintain a proper activity level.
We start noticing little slips sometimes after our mid-Forties, and laughingly pass them off as ‘seniors moments’ but deep down we are worried about loss of cognitive capacity. So we also turn to supplements.
Vitamins, minerals, and a range of other nutrients have significant anti-aging effects. The best Natural supplements can alleviate or decrease both the physical and mental signs of aging. They can also boost the immune system – protecting the body against infections and minimizing the risk of age-related diseases by improving your health at a cellular level.
There is an ample body of research which shows an intake of supplements can help balance your body’s nutrients and operational capacity to maintain your health. You can try individual supplements, or go to a combination product which has been tested for effectiveness.
There are no official recommendations by drug regulatory authorities such as FDA and EMA regarding dose of natural supplements for brain health.
In general, natural supplements for brain health are considered safe to use but you should consult your physician before starting natural supplements for your brain health. If you are currently taking other medications, be aware of potential interaction effects.