Brain health is important for everything we do, from memory recall in students writing exams to mental balance for office workers coping with stress and cognitive health for seniors facing challenges associated with aging. The fact is that during all stages of our lives, brain health plays a crucial role. It’s common sense— we need to not only nurture and exercise our bodies but also extend the same level of care to our brains.
So, what can we do to keep our brains healthy? Try to stimulate your brain regularly (socializing, reading, and learning all help), exercise often, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep. Select supplements, under your health care practitioner’s supervision, may also help.
Dietary supplements for cognitive performance
A review from February 2020, published in the journal Nutrients, sought to determine whether certain dietary supplements could boost cognition in healthy young adults. Some of the supplements examined included Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, flavonoids, omega-3s, prebiotics, and tyrosine.
The results were mixed, and the researchers called for further research in their conclusions, as many of the studies reviewed were small and inconsistent. However, certain supplements did show promise, such as tyrosine—an amino acid. According to the researchers, “tyrosine could be used to mitigate the impact of physiological stress (particularly sleep deprivation) on psychomotor and memory performance.”
Nutrients for older adults
In a recent randomized, semi-blind, placebo-controlled study, older women participated in a program that included exercise and a multinutrient supplement. The supplement was high in the healthy omega-3 fat DHA, and also included EPA, Ginkgo biloba, phosphatidylserine, vitamin E, folic acid, and B12.
Interestingly, the results of the study suggest the supplement may produce similar improvements in cognitive function to aerobic exercise. The idea that supplementation may help mitigate the effects of lack of exercise is a very helpful prospect for the elderly, who may be functionally restricted from exercising.
A second recent study also examined nutrients for cognition in older adults. Study participants included 2,332 adults aged 60 years or older. They were examined for their dietary and/or supplemental intake of zinc, iron, copper, and selenium. The researchers found a connection between low levels of these nutrients and low cognitive performance. While more research is needed to determine whether these supplements can therefore boost cognitive performance, it’s important to get levels tested and work toward reversing potential deficiencies.
L-theanine for stress and anxiety
L-theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea, and it’s often used for stress, anxiety, and sleep. In a 2019 study, researchers once again called for further studies, but also highlighted the strong potential for L-theanine supplements for reducing stress and anxiety in those exposed to stressful conditions.
A combination supplement for memory
A 2019 double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Nutritional Neuroscience evaluated a supplement containing Bacopa monniera, Panax quinquefolius ginseng, and whole coffee fruit extract on working memory and attention. Compared to placebo, those who took the supplement experienced improved working memory task performance.