Research has shown that taking the right supplements can keep your brain in top form and help ward off future decline. Here are 10 of the top brain-boosting nutrients that support peak mental performance today, and help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline tomorrow.
The top three on our list — DHA, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 — are definite “no-brainers”! Everyone needs to be sure they have adequate amounts of these vital nutrients. Everyone can also benefit from additional antioxidants to fight off free radical damage to your brain.
After that, the list gets a little more subjective. After all, there are hundreds of nutrients, herbs, and amino acids (and combinations) to choose from! After much consideration, here is my list of the top 10 brain boosting nutrients.
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is the major building block of the brain. It is crucial to brain function and the nervous system. Deficiency has been linked to many brain problems and psychiatric disorders. Some experts believe there is an unrecognized deficiency of DHA of epidemic proportions.
It’s widely agreed that taking an essential fatty acid supplement, specifically the omega-3 fatty acids, is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder have all been found to improve with omega-3 supplementation. You can read more about its importance here.
It’s almost impossible to get enough DHA through diet alone (found mainly in wild salmon and seed oils), so you should definitely consider taking a supplement. If I was going to a desert island and could only take one supplement with me, this would be it!
A Tufts University study showed that elderly people with higher levels of DHA are half as likely to develop dementia and 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s as people with low levels of DHA.
Along with DHA, vitamin D is close to being nature’s cure-all. It can lift your mood, banish depression, improve memory, and increase problem-solving ability. Having adequate levels has been found to be protective against certain kinds of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. It is essential to maintaining bone density and thus preventing osteoporosis and life-threatening hip fractures.
If you think you get enough of this vitamin, don’t be so certain! It is estimated that anywhere from 40% to 90% of adults are vitamin D deficient.
If your memory isn’t what it used to be or you feel like your head is in a fog, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency. This is the most common vitamin deficiency in the US, particularly amongst seniors who often have poor absorption. People who eat little or no meat are particularly at risk, since animal foods are the only dependable sources of B12.
If you suspect you are deficient, have your level checked. If it’s low, vitamin B12 liquid, sublingual tablets, or even shots can be used to bring your levels back to normal quickly. You want to get this under control now. There is a strong correlation between dementia and Alzheimer’s and vitamin B12 deficiency.
A new study released by Oxford University found that a combination of three B vitamins — folic acid, B6 and B12 — when taken together prevent mental decline, dementia, and even be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s by reducing levels of homocysteine.
Antioxidants are critical for your brain. They protect brain cells by neutralizing free radical damage and preventing premature brain cell aging. Antioxidants are most commonly found in plants. The one food group that always rises to the top of antioxidant lists are berries, particularly those that come from tropical regions. Why is that?
One major source of free radicals is UV radiation. Fruits that grow in the tropics contains large amounts of antioxidants to protect their seeds from UV damage. Makes sense! That’s why some of the top antioxidant plants aren’t things you usually find at the grocery store. Some you can find would be blueberries or cranberries. However, fruits that have much higher antioxidant scores are things like chokeberries, raw cocoa beans, wolfberries, and coffeeberries.
Two reasons to choose a good antioxidant supplement instead of relying on your diet alone are that the best antioxidant sources aren’t foods you normally eat and that supplements contain highly concentrated extracts to give you more antioxidants than you could possibly get from your diet.
Vinpocetine is derived from the periwinkle plant and works by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing the brain’s use of oxygen, and protecting the brain from free radical damage. It is these qualities that make vinpocetine promising as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It has been shown to reduce post-stroke dementia.
Vinpocetine has only recently become available in the United States. It is very popular in Europe and Japan where it is considered so effective, it is available only by prescription. Doctors in Europe believe it is far more effective than ginkgo biloba, which is widely used as a brain and memory supplement.
L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, commonly called alpha GPC, is a more bioavailable form of choline, a B complex-related nutrient vital to brain development and necessary for healthy brain cell membranes. One big benefit of alpha GPC over choline is that it more easily crosses the blood–brain barrier.
Alpha GPC shows promise as a potential Alzheimer’s treatment and is used to enhance memory and cognition. It helps form acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter involved with memory and learning.
Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that has been used for thousands of years to enhance memory, learning, and concentration. It also has a calming effect and has been used to treat anxiety, deal with stress, and promote better sleep. It promotes formation of the neurotransmitter GABA.
There haven’t been a lot of studies done on this herb, so many of the purported benefits are more a matter of herbalist tradition than sound science.
Scientists have isolated a compound in Chinese club moss that helps with dementia, depression, memory loss, and anxiety. They have discovered that this alkaloid, huperzine A, works by blocking a brain enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is important for learning, memory and other brain functions.
It contains an active ingredient very similar to the popular Alzheimer’s drug, Aricept.
ALC is an amino acid that acts as another powerful antioxidant. Research has found that it can improve mental clarity, focus, mood, and memory. It also has been shown to boost the brain’s processing speed. This brain boosting supplement has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease by protecting brain cells from toxins and oxygen deprivation.
Ginkgo is one of the most widely used herbals remedies in the world. It is used for a variety of brain-related problems — poor concentration, forgetfulness, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety. It’s believed it works by increasing blood flow to the brain. Many formulated brain enhancement products contain ginkgo biloba.
The reason I saved this supplement for last is because there is now some controversy about its effectiveness. This popular supplement was proven to not help with Alzheimer’s in a large, six year study. So while you can use it for run-of-the mill brain enhancement, don’t count on ginkgo for preventing or aiding this condition.
Your Next Step
Now that you’ve learned about the best supplements for your brain, it’s time to take action. See the list of supplements below. These are products that meet high quality standards.
- DHA (omega-3 EFA) supplement – Prograde EFA Icon
- Vitamin B12 supplement – Native Remedies Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D supplement – Native Remedies Vitamin D
- Antioxidant supplement – Prograde Longevity
- Wellness Resources Super Brain Booster contains alpha GPC, bacopa and vinpocetine.
Gingko Doesn’t Slow Cognitive Decline in Elderlyat ScientificAmerican.com
Bacopa: a Better Memory Booster at DrWeil.com
Chinese Club Moss May Help Alzheimer’s at Reuters.com
Antioxidant in Green Tea May Fight Alzheimer’s at WebMD.com
The 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention at AlzheimersPrevention.org
Senile and a Vitamin B-12 Deficiency at Livestrong.com
DHA Supports Brain Development and Protects Neurological Function at LEF.org
Our Best Recommendations for Brain Health & Fitness
Prograde EFA Icon
Part of the ESSENTIAL BRAIN NUTRITION SYSTEM
Part of the ESSENTIAL BRAIN NUTRITION SYSTEM
Wellness Resources Super Brain Booster
Helps improve your memory and mood by increasing circulation to the brain and brain chemical production. Wellness Resources, owned and operated by nutrition expert and author Byron Richards, offers a number of brain supplements to sharpen memory and improve focus and mood.