Feature

November 2016 Issue




Supplementing Brain Health

Some dietary supplements may give your brain extra support as you age.

Gingko biloba

Eugene Bochkarev | Dreamstime.com

Gingko biloba supplements are linked with brain health.

Smart lifestyle practices, including healthy eating, exercise, good sleep, and continual learning help keep your brain in top form. Certain supplements also may help bolster brain function. Although more research is needed, the following supplements may help. Consult your doctor prior to use.

Ginkgo Biloba Extract

This supplement has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and improves blood flow to the brain. A meta-analysis of nine well-conducted clinical trials concluded that 240 milligrams (mg) per day of ginkgo is more effective than a placebo in treatment of dementia (Journal of Pharmaceutical Health Care and Sciences, 2015). However, evidence for the role of ginkgo in dementia prevention appears weak.

Supplement with: 120–240 mg ginkgo biloba extract.

Vitamin D

Besides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the brain, vitamin D may help clear it of toxic compounds. A small number of clinical trials suggest daily supplements may help improve dementia, particularly in people with low vitamin D blood levels (below 30 ng/ml). An international summit concluded that managing Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive decline should include screening for vitamin D deficiency and supplementation if needed (Journal of Internal Medicine, 2014).

Supplement with: 600-800 International Units vitamin D3, or as advised based on blood test.

Omega-3 Fats And B Vitamins

EPA and DHA omega-3 fats and B vitamins, particularly folate and vitamins B6 and B12, have shown positive effects on brain health and function in many—but not all—clinical trials when administered individually (see “B Vitamins on the Brain,” EN March 2016). New research suggests pairing them may be more effective for brain health. In VITACOG, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of older adults with mild cognitive impairment, taking a daily high-dose B supplement—800 micrograms (mcg) folate, 500 mcg B12, and 20 mg B6—for two years slowed brain shrinkage and cognitive decline, particularly in those with high levels of homocysteine (a risk factor for Alzheimer’s). A later analysis of VITACOG data showed that people with low omega-3 blood levels at the study start experienced little cognitive benefit from vitamin B supplements, but those with high-normal omega-3 blood levels (suggesting higher omega-3 intake) had significant slowing in brain shrinkage and cognitive decline, including memory loss, when taking B vitamin supplements (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2016).

Supplement with: 1,000–2,000 mg omega-3 EPA and DHA; 400 mcg folate, 500 mcg B12*, and 20 mg B6*. (*Though higher than the RDA, these doses are suggested by research to support cognitive function.)

PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline Quinone)

This supplement, which has powerful antioxidant actions, promotes the growth and protection of nerve cells. PQQ is found in many foods, such as spinach, kiwifruit, green tea, and fermented soybeans, but dietary intake is low (0.1–1.0 mg per day) compared to effective study doses.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 41 healthy adults, those taking 20 mg of PQQ daily for 12 weeks had a significant improvement in focused attention (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2016). Also, those who initially had low memory scores saw significant improvements after taking PQQ.

Supplement with: 20 mg BioPQQ (the only form tested in clinical trials).

Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD