Most people believe a progressive decline in overall brain function is a natural process of aging. This degenerative process causes us to lose our short-term memory and abstract reasoning ability. It also may make concentration or learning new information difficult. Many neurological diseases are also directly related to aging such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Many published studies have shown that the decline of brain function can be delayed, or even reversed, by proper diet and/or supplementation.
Omega-3s in Fish Oil
Cold water fish is high on the list of brain foods because EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish, have been linked to enhanced memory and brain function. The fish chosen generally chosen are anchovy, mackerel, and sardine. These fish are small and live only a short time; not long enough to accumulate a buildup of harmful mercury. The fish are also pre-screened for mercury content before processing.
In the United States and Canada, omega-3 intake through diet alone is very low because it is usually limited to canola oil, corn oil, and other cooking oils, as well as walnuts and flaxseed oil. These plant-based sources give us a form of omega-3 which then needs to be converted into DHA by the body. In women, the conversion rate to DHA is about 7%, and in men it is less than 1%. Needless to say, these plant based sources of omega-3 are not the optimal way to feed our brains with plenty of DHA, which is what is needed for best brain, eye, and heart functioning. Since cold-water fish oil is already rich in DHA, adding it to the diet as a supplement is the best way to provide your body with DHA.
Scientists working on a nine-year study completed in 2006 found that patients with dementia have less DHA in their brains than patients of the same age without dementia. There is a 47% reduction in risk for developing dementia when DHA levels in the brain are high. Free radicals do more damage in the aged brain when there is a deficiency of DHA because DHA protects the brain from oxidative stress. Studies are finding that supplementation with fish-based DHA, and another component of fish oil known as EPA, can delay and lessen the impact of age-associated diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Vitamin E and Blueberry Extract
Vitamin E and blueberry extract act as antioxidants. The two of these are together in a single supplement because the synergy between them increases their benefits. Just as we said in our “Antioxidants for Natural Cellular Protection” Research Report, “Many studies have indicated that combinations of antioxidant vitamins, carotenoids and flavonoids are believed to be more effective than supplementation with any of these nutrients alone.”
Vitamin E is purported to be a very important ingredient for optimal brain health. It could possibly halt or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease because it relieves oxidative stress to brain cells. The brain is rich in lipids (fatty compounds) which are susceptible to oxidative damage from free radicals. Oxidative stress can really damage memory function, and brain cells in general. When the damage has been done, older adults start showing symptoms of “age-associated memory impairment.” In the brain, antioxidant molecules like those in vitamin E and blueberries “wage war against molecules known as free radicals, which can harm brain cells and brain function.” Vitamin E has actually been shown to block the death of neurons in the brain. Essentially, a good vitamin E supplement can prevent or slow the rate of cognitive decline as the brain ages.
Blueberries can alleviate inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, according to a study done by Thomas Kuhn, PhD, of the University of Alaska. Two of the most damaging players in brain aging are inflammation and oxidative stress. We learned that vitamin E helps to alleviate the oxidative stress and now we find that blueberries can help to lessen the inflammation of the spinal cord and brain tissue. Blueberry can also strengthen the communication between neural cells and can actually REVERSE damage done to the circuitry in the brain. The neural circuitry in the brain tends to resemble a tree or leaf, with branches and sub-branches feeding off the main stem. In brains of memory impaired rats, some of the branches have withered and become disconnected. Studies that were done on older memory impaired rats that were fed a diet supplemented with blueberries found that blueberry could return brain structure back to normal, as well as prevent the breakdown of neuronal communication. This made headlines for many health news outlets in November 2007
Gingko Biloba properties include the improvement of blood flow and the ability to block the effects of blood clotting. It is added as an ingredient in Unforgettables for these reasons and because of another property it possesses — the protection against oxidative cell damage from free radicals. A recent six-month study on the effects of gingko biloba in the diet of ten patients, with no dementia but mild memory loss, found that after supplementing with at least 120 mg twice daily, verbal recall was improved. PET scans showed better brain function in brain memory centers. A French study found that long-term supplementation of gingko biloba “enables cognitive performance to be maintained for longer, and indicates that the development of Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented or at least delayed.”
In a meta-review of previously published studies on gingko biloba related to memory function, a “small but significant effect” to short-term recall was found when patients were treated with 120 mg to 240 mg over three to six months.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid normally found in nearly every cell in your body. A phospholipid is a type of lipid. Lipids add to cell structure and are a source of fuel. In the brain PS operates in part as a communication facilitator between nerve cells.
Most Phosphatidylserine research has been conducted with PS derived from the brain tissue of cows, and shows a substantial health benefit in age-related cognitive decline, but because of concerns about the possibility of humans contracting infectious diseases such as “mad cow” disease, this form is not available in the US.
More recent data suggests that the complexation of standardized Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) with soy-derived phospholipids, enhances the bio-availability of GBE’s active components.
Results of a recent study utilizing ginkgo biloba extract with soy-derived phospholipids showed that “administration of GBE complexed with Phosphatidylserine resulted both in improved secondary memory performance and significantly increased speed of memory task performance across all of the post-dose testing sessions.”
It appears from this study that Phosphatidylserine acts synergistically to enhance the cognitive effects associated with a low dose of GBE. Further research is required to identify whether this effect is due to the complexation of the extracts, their mere combination, or the separate psychopharmacological actions of the two extracts.
A well-chosen blend of brain health ingredients whose positive synergistic effects can help to maintain cognitive function in older adults. We have seen that two of the most damaging effects of age to the brain are inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radicals. The supplements listed might combat against both of these adverse side-effects of aging.