Be Mindful of Your Mind with 8 Brain-Boosting Nutrients

8 Nutrients for Optimal Brain Health

Our brains are unbelievably powerful. In fact, even though our brain only makes up 2% of our body weight, it uses 20% of our total energy. [1] Given that it allows us to think, remember, emote, move, see, breathe and controls and regulates our entire body, maybe we should be giving more thought as to how we can preserve our brain. [2]

The following blog discusses the key nutrients that can increase brain power and care for our cognition.

The Hard Truth of Cognitive Decline

With the increasing aging population across the world, preserving cognitive function is becoming a more relevant and important topic. [3] In the United States, the number of adults older than 65 is expected to increase to 71.5 million—or 20% of the U.S. population—by the year 2030. [4] Unfortunately, with an aging population will come higher rates of dementia. The harsh reality is that, currently, there are approximately 6.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and this number is expected to grow to 12.7 million by 2050. [5]

One in nine people age 65 and older (11.3%) has Alzheimer's dementia [5]

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. [5] We know that these statistics are hard to swallow. However, it’s important to be aware of the problem and to know that there are steps you can take to keep your mind sharp and show the world that age is just a number.

Outsmarting Specific Brain Drains with Nutrients

There are various factors that play a role in impeding peak brain function, including:

  • Oxidative stress [6]
  • Inflammation [4]
  • Poor nutrition [7]
  • Insufficient oxygen to brain [8]
  • Exposure to heavy metals, including cadmium, lead, mercury, and aluminum [9].

The following nutrients can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, increase oxygen to the brain, and detoxify heavy metals.

8 Brain-Boosting Nutrients

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3

The anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are found in high concentrations in the brain. In fact, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) makes up approximately 40% of the total poly-unsaturated fatty acids in the brain. [10, 11]

The most absorbable forms of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA, have been found to potentially reduce the risk of dementia:

  • In a study of 1,188 older Americans (median age was 75) that were analyzed for 10 years, those who had lower levels of DHA at the start of the study had a 67% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. [12]
  • The U.S. Framingham Heart Study followed 899 people (median age 76) for 9.1 years and found that those with higher serum levels of DHA were 50% less likely to develop dementia. [13]

In general, cognitive decline and impairment have been found to be associated with lower levels of DHA and EPA in the blood [13], tissues [10], and brain. [14]

Despite the nutrient’s significance to brain health, we are not getting enough of it. Instead of consuming the 1:1-5 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s that we are meant to, we are currently consuming a 1:20 ratio, leaving our bodies in an inflammatory state. This poorly balanced ratio is a result of our bodies being unable to product EPA and DHA.

Testing your omega-3 fats is now possible through a well-researched at-home blood spot test—the Omega-3 Index .This test not only detects omega-3 fats, but also omega-6 fats and the toxic trans fats.

  1. Magnesium

Magnesium

Without magnesium, a key alkalizing mineral, the body cannot maintain a balanced pH. This can potentially lead to higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, two significant brain drains.

Additionally, because magnesium blocks the calcium channel in the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor in the brain, insufficient amounts of magnesium can greatly impact brain function. If these channels are not appropriately blocked (i.e., if there is not enough magnesium), a response that creates oxidative stress and neuron death can occur. This type of response has been seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. [15]

Research studies show that serum magnesium levels are much lower in those with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to controls. [16] Magnesium deficiency has also been found within the hippocampus (memory control center) [17], cerebrospinal fluid, and in the brain in general in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. [18]

Not many people absorb magnesium from the supplements they use. A bioavailable form of magnesium can be used to amplify absorption.

  1. B Vitamins

B Vitamins

B vitamins are needed for numerous life-sustaining roles in the body. In terms of their purpose in the brain, the B vitamins are involved in energy production, DNA/RNA formation and repair, and synthesizing multiple neurochemicals and signaling molecules. [19] B vitamins also regulate homocysteine levels. High levels of plasma homocysteine are associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease [20], and general cognitive decline. [21]

Two highly important B vitamins for brain function are vitamin B12 and choline.

Vitamin B12:

  • In one study of 107 elderly volunteers, in those with the lowest levels of B12, the odds of experiencing increased brain volume loss was 6.17. [22]
  • Moreover, a different study showed that patients who had lower levels of vitamin B12 had worse learning ability and recognition performance than their counterparts with higher levels of vitamin B12. [23]

Choline (Vitamin B4):

Choline plays a direct part in the synthesis of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter in the brain that communicates to the hippocampus to store a memory. Acetylcholine deficiency has also been found in Alzheimer’s patients. [24] Additionally, choline likely plays a role in maintaining the structure of neurons, therefore indicating its importance in cognitive function. Choline also appears to affect the brain as follows:

  • One study following more than 1,000 people found that higher choline intake is associated with better verbal and visual memory. [25]
  • Another study saw that low plasma levels of choline were associated with inadequate performance in total cognition, sensorimotor speed, perceptual speed, and executive function. [26]
  • A study that followed patients with Alzheimer’s disease for 5 years found lower levels of 8 phospholipid species containing choline in participants who developed Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy controls. [27]

If you take a multivitamin, make sure it has a complete, balanced array of B vitamins. As B12 is found in meat, for those consuming a mostly plant-based diet a more conscientious effort may be needed to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12.

  1. Vitamin K

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a key anti-inflammatory nutrient known for its beneficial effects on inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. However, it also appears to play a direct role in the brain. Vitamin K contributes to the formation of certain lipids that are highly present in the membranes of brain cells. These lipids are used to not only maintain the structure of the cells, but are responsible for cell interactions. Improper metabolism of these lipids is associated with neurodegeneration and Alzheimer's disease. [28]

  • One study conducted on patients in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease and healthy controls found that those with Alzheimer’s consumed significantly less vitamin K than their healthy counterparts. [29]

Overall, vitamin K may be crucial to brain health, especially in its MK-7 form.

  1. Quercetin

Quercetin

Yet another key nutrient that tackles oxidative stress and inflammation is the flavonoid, quercetin. Quercetin has also been found to have neuroprotective properties.

In-vivo studies suggest that quercetin supplementation may protect against damage from heavy metals and other neurotoxins, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive deficits. [30]

Quercetin is also found in coffee and may have more impressive neuroprotective properties than caffeine. [31]

  • In one study of around 1,400 people, people who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day were 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. [32]

The body only assimilates around 1% of most forms of quercetin. However, quercetin-dihydrate formula combined with pomegranate is highly absorbable.

  1. Curcumin

Curcumin

The polyphenol, curcumin, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. [33]

In addition, it appears to have direct effects on cognitive function. For instance:

  • In one study conducted in India, compared to the placebo group, participants taking curcumin supplements had improved performances on memory of 28%. [34]

Moreover, curcumin may inhibit inappropriate protein accumulation associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. [35] Curcumin has also been found to enhance the synthesis of the fatty acid, DHA. [36]

  1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C

The potent antioxidant, vitamin C, is found in high concentrations in the brain in its ascorbate form. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant and neurodegenerative diseases are associated with elevated levels of oxidative stress, it has been suggested that this antioxidant may play a therapeutic role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. [37]

Along with its antioxidant properties, vitamin C is also involved in neurotransmitter formation and release, regulates specific neurotransmission processes, and may reduce unnecessary neuronal death. [38] It also plays a part in the structure of neurons while also potentially reducing unnecessary neuronal death. [39]

Here are some findings of studies on vitamin C and cognitive function:

  • A British study on people 65 and older found that vitamin C intake was the sole dietary contributor to cognition. [40]
  • Another study in Albuquerque also found vitamin C to be a major dietary factor in cognitive function illustrated by the poorest results on verbal memory and recall tests coming from those with the lowest vitamin C intake. [40]

A urine test strip can be used to determine your vitamin C levels. The l-ascorbate form of vitamin C is the most bioavailable form.

  1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D

Lastly, we have yet another well-known nutrient that appears to contribute to brain health — vitamin D. Vitamin D may help the growth of neurons as well as the formation of synapses in the hippocampus, our memory control center. [41]

  • A study found that postmenopausal women who supplemented with 2,000 IU of vitamin D every day did better on learning and memory tests than those taking 600 IU. [42]
  • Another intervention study found that vitamin D supplementation reduces important markers for Alzheimer’s disease. [43]

If you would like to test your vitamin D levels, you can use the convenient, at-home blood spot test, Vitamin D At-Home Test Kit.

 

Think Positively!

While the statistics may be disheartening, the research on tactics to potentially prevent Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration is promising. Each day, we are learning more and more about the pathogenesis of this terrible disease and one day, we may be able to prevent it altogether. And remember, taking care of yourself means taking care of your brain!

 

 

 

 

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