Maintaining optimal brain health encompasses several areas of self-care, including adhering to a healthy diet and lifestyle, managing stress and socializing regularly. Taking dietary supplements can help promote brain health, but how will consumers know which supplements are worth the investment?
The Best Supplements for Your Brain
Medical experts maintain that several dietary supplements and vitamins are considered an important part of a brain-healthy diet. One such expert, Dr. Richard Isaacson, Harvard-trained neurologist and author of the book, “Alzheimer’s Treatment, Alzheimer’s Prevention,” recommends several supplements for your brain, including:
- B Complex Vitamins
- Fish Oil Supplements
- Vitamin D
1. Fish Oil
There have been many studies on fish oil supplements and their impact on brain health, in particular. According to a recent study, using specific types of fish oils (in specific dosages) may help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Omega 3 fatty acids, primarily docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) are recommended by the experts. Keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal and there are many different grades, doses and sources of fish oil. The right type of fish oil, in the correct dosage, is vital for optimal results.
Here is the breakdown:
- At least 250 mg of DHA in each capsule: daily total of at least 1,000–1,500 mg
- 600 mg per day of EPA
Brands that are recommended include:
- Carlson Super DHA Gems
- Life’s DHA
- Nutri Supreme
Fish oil supplements should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider. They should be taken with a meal and plenty of water. Start with a low dose and gradually build up to the maximum dose (as tolerated) that is recommended by your physician.
Fish oil is safe for most people, but it can have an impact on bleeding, so it must be taken with caution for those on coumadin or other anticoagulants — it’s vital to consult with your healthcare provider to have regular blood work checked.
In addition to promoting brain health, fish oil is also thought to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol, so, this supplement works in more than one way to help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
2. Folic Acid, Vitamin B6 and B12
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). Homocysteine comes from the normal metabolism of protein from meat sources. An abnormally high level of homocysteine, along with low folic acid levels, has been associated with heart disease and possibly lends itself to a higher risk for dementia.
An Oxford University study suggested that lowering homocysteine levels by supplementing with B vitamins may help fight against Alzheimer’s. Study participants age 70 and older, with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, were either given high-doses of folic acid, B6 and B12; or given placebo pills. After two years, the researchers discovered “the rate of brain shrinkage in people receiving the B vitamins was 30% lower than in those taking the placebo and the effect was greatest in those who had the highest levels of homocysteine,” according to the book “Alzheimer’s Treatment, Alzheimer’s Prevention.”
Based on the studies, 800 mcg of folic acid, 20 mg of B6 and 500 mcg of B12 per day are the best supplements for your brain health, but again, be sure to consult with a health care provider before taking any type of supplement.
3. Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D may protect the brain against cognitive decline and dementia. Over half of the people in the U.S. are deficient in Vitamin D, according to recent studies. There are several reasons for this common vitamin deficiency, including the lack of exposure to the sun —which the body requires to produce Vitamin D. As people age, the ability to synthesize (produce) and absorb Vitamin D is reduced. Obesity also lowers a person’s available Vitamin D, because this fat-soluble vitamin gets trapped in fat tissue.
A 2014 study, published in the journal Neurology, indicated that people who were extremely low in Vitamin D had twice the likeliness of developing Alzheimer’s disease. If a person is unable to spend 10-15 minutes in direct sunlight each day between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., Vitamin D supplementation of 1,000–2,000 I.U. per day, or more, may be required. As with all other supplements, Vitamin D must be taken only with the approval and supervision of the treating physician (e.g., blood tests may need to be monitored).
Further studies are required to completely understand the role of Vitamin D in brain health.
Other Dietary Aids
Curcumin/turmeric is no longer recommended in a supplement form, but adding this medicinal spice to food is recommended to promote brain health.
Curcumin (turmeric root)
Curcumin/turmeric, a bright orange-colored spice and variation of ginger root, that is thought to help promote brain health and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. But recent studies have shown that this dietary spice is much more effective when curcumin is added to food, rather than taken as a supplement. In fact, eating turmeric along with some type of medium chained fatty acid (such as that found in coconut oil) is thought to result in a higher level of protection against dementia, than taking turmeric supplements. When piperine (an alkaloid found in black peppercorn) is added to a dish seasoned with turmeric, the absorption rate of turmeric is thought to increase. Eating dishes such as curry, cooked in coconut oil (seasoned with black peppercorn) and spiced with turmeric, is considered an effective way for the body to optimally absorb the brain healthy effects of curcumin.
Tips on Selecting the Best Supplements for Your Brain Health
There are several grades of supplements available, the highest and most recommended is pharmaceutical grade. Getting prescription supplements usually helps to guarantee the highest quality products. If it’s not possible to find pharmaceutical grade products, select the highest possible grade level.
Here are some additional guidelines to ensure that supplements are of the highest quality available:
- Always read labels. Do not purchase products with artificial ingredients such as artificial coloring preservatives or other components that could be harmful, such as corn, dairy, gluten or soybeans.
- Check to see if the product must be refrigerated.
- Ensure products are protected from light with proper packaging (such as amber colored glass).
- Look for a seal of approval from ConsumerLab.com, NSF International or the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) denoting the pureness of products, such as lack of arsenic, lead, mercury or pesticides, (all which have been found in non-certified supplements).
- Make sure the container is vacuum sealed and tamper-proof for maximum freshness and safety of the product.
Unlike medications, supplements are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), therefore, it’s important to do the research to find out which supplements are most effective. Many other factors are involved in the selection of brain healthy supplements such as ensuring certification, dosage and always discussing any supplements and vitamins with your health care provider, before taking them.
Although it may take some legwork, taking the right dietary supplements can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, promote brain health and improve overall health and well-being.
Have you found any other supplements to promote brain health that are not on this list? We’d like to hear about them in the comments below.