As the adage says, “With age comes wisdom.” Yet gerontophobia is haunting a lot of people, especially baby boomers reaching middle age, in terms of experiencing the many expected outcomes of getting old. One of these outcomes is forgetfulness. The good news is that sound nutritional research and clinical experience shows that being older and wiser can be achieved as we grow old.
We are introduced to the many products in the market promising to enhance mental function, improve memory, boost intelligence, and stablize mood. With different varieties of products to choose from, we may need more brain power just to help us discern which is best for us.
With this, I started to look for information that could enlighten us in this discussion. I came up with seven top nutrients which have been found to have a positive influence on the mind. They are particularly helpful for those who have difficulty in concentrating, lack of memory energy, and depression.
Brain Builder Basics
Before you start taking these nutrients, please note these four guidelines (from the book Mind Boosters: A Guide to Natural Supplements that Enhance Your Mind, Memory, and Mood):
- Sometimes less is more. Each nutrient has its ideal dosage. Taking more than you need can actually lead to negative reaction.
- Start low.You can’t always predict how your brain and body will react to a supplement. Start with a small dose, and gradually increase it over the next few days.
- Take breaks.The brain can build tolerance to some nutrients if they are used regularly. Take occasional breaks, and stop using a particular supplement for a few weeks.
- Try natural options first. A comprehensive approach to treating cognitive disorders should include foods and supplements that benefit the overall health of the brain cells.
Top Seven Nutrients
The top seven nutrients that can boost brain power are the following:
Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH), the coenzyme form of the B vitamin niacin, often has a more powerful effect than a regular B vitamin. One of the functions of NADH is to help convert the amino acid tyrosine into the important brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is involved in mood, energy and sexual drive. A small number of short-term studies done with NADH have shown NADH to have slight to moderate benefits in regards to depression and Alzheimer’s disease. It is available in 2.5mg – 5mg pills. It is best taken in the morning on an empty stomach. Alertness and mental activity are often noticed within a few hours.
Vinpocetine is an herbal extract synthesized from the periwinkle plant. Experiments with vinpocetine indicate that it can dilate blood vessels, enhance circulation in the brain, make red blood cells more pliable, act as an antioxidant and inhibit aggregation of platelets. Studies with vinpocetine showed statistically significant cognitive improvements in memory and there were no clinically relevant side effects reported. It is available in 5mg – 10mg pills and appears to be beneficial to individuals with atherosclerotic vascular disease, wherein blood flow to the brain is slow resulting in some cognitive dysfunctions.
Acetyl-L-carnetine plays several roles in the human body, particularly in energy metabolism and the production of acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved with memory. In addition to its role in energy production, acetyl-L-carnitine removes toxic accumulations of fatty acids from mitochondria, keeping these organelles healthy and functioning at their best. It also helps to stabilize cell membranes and protect synapses and brain cells against damage from oxidation. Acetyl-L-carnitine can potentially be helpful in those with Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. It is available in 100 and 500mg. The usual dose is 200mg a day. High doses can induce nausea, restlessness and agitation.
Huperzine-A is an extract from club moss (Huperzia serrata) that has been used for centuries in Chinese folk medicine. Its action has been attributed to its ability to strongly inhibit acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is directly involved in memory and learning. By inhibiting the enzyme that breaks it down, more acetylcholine is made available to stimulate neurons. Alzheimer’s disease is a condition in which there is a relative shortage of acetylcholine. It is available in 50mcg, combined with other mind-boosting nutrients.
Fish oils. About 60% of the brain consists of fats, which make up the lining, or cell membrane, of every brain cell. The types of fats present in the brain influence its structure and function. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils that helps brain cells to function better. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial because they provide fluidity to cell membranes and improve communication between brain cells. Consume fish two or three times a week. As a rule, ingesting 0.5 to 2gm daily of a combination of EPA (precursor of DHA) and DHA is sufficient.
Gingko bilobais believed to have active ingredients that act as antioxidants, prevents red blood cells and platelets from aggregating to form clots and improving circulation in tiny blood vessels by inducing relaxation of muscles surrounding blood vessels. A study proved that 120 mg of gingko extract per day for one year improved cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1997). Patients generally take 40mg three to four times a day. Treatment may be needed for a few weeks before positive results can be fully appreciated. It is best taken early in the day, and no later than afternoon.
SAMe (s-Adenosyl-Methionine), a compound made from the amino acid methionine, influences brain chemicals by helping convert norepinephrine to epinephrine and serotonin to melatonin, and by helping to preserve glutathione, an important antioxidant. Futhermore, SAMe is involved in the formation of myelin, the white sheath that surrounds nerve cells, and can improve brain-cell membrane fluidity, thus potentially enhancing the function of receptors. SAMe has been used in Europe as an antidepressant. Suggested dose is from 100mg to 400mg.
There’s more to brain power than nutrition. Supplements can help and even augment the brain’s functions but we need to remember also that exercise for the brain is needed to maintain its vitality. Dendrites are the branches on nerve cells that directly receive and process information. The more dendrites you have, the more pathways your brain has to transfer information, which can greatly improve your mental fitness and memory. Bottom line, do not allow your brain to be stagnant. Get involved.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.
A Placebo-Controlled, Double-blind, Randomized Trial of an Extract of Ginkgo Biloba for Dementia, retrieved from http://jama.ama-assn.org
Index of Herbs, Supplements, and Natural Therapies, retrieved from http://www.raysahelian.com/ ,
Sahelian, Ray. Mind Boosters: A Guide to Natural Supplements that Enhance Your Mind, Memory, and Mood, 1st Ed.