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The brain is comprised of billions of neurons connected together to form a complex network across which messages are sent and received. It requires a constant and steady supply of nutrients and energy to support its function. Yet unfortunately, brain support nutrients are commonly nutrients that we don’t get enough of in our diets and this can manifest in many different ways. Memory and cognition problems, fatigue, feeling anxious, sleeping problems, mood swings and the blues are all signs that you might need to support your brain health.

Best supplements for brain health

You are what you eat and the brain is no exception. Every single function of the brain is affected by our nutritional status. The mind and body are completely interconnected. One does not exist without the other. Without the right nutrients, the brain simply cannot function as it should. So making sure you provide your body with a steady supply of the essential nutrients for optimum brain health is important throughout life, and supplements may be a part of this for some people.

Additionally, growing research now links the gut microbiome with the development and functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). The ‘microbiota-gut-brain axis’ is becoming an accepted term so thinking about how we absorb these nutrients and what is happening with our gut microbiome is an important consideration too.

Another consideration is the impact of stress on brain health. Stress both increases your demand for certain nutrients and can lead to making poor dietary choices leading to a deficit of nutrients as your diet fails to meet the demand of your body. Stress also increases oxidative stress and increases the demand for protective antioxidants in the brain which is where some of the research into brain supplements for adults comes from. Stress can also affect your sleep which then has a big impact on your brain’s rest and repair function.

What are the best supplements for the brain?

Taking into consideration the structure and function of the brain, the way that the energy is produced using our mitochondria and the impact factors such as stress and sleep can have, the following nutrients may be a good place to start when supporting brain function. We would always recommend that you combine any supplementation with good dietary nutrition, adequate hydration and activity levels that are right for you.


Magnesium helps the body to maintain a balanced stress response. Multiple studies have now demonstrated improved stress response, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects of magnesium supplementation1,2,3. Magnesium also plays an important role in maintaining energy production in the mitochondria. Additionally, Magnesium has many roles to play in the nervous system and a deficiency can lead to symptoms such as being nervous, irritable or aggressive. Most importantly magnesium can be extremely helpful to support relaxation and sleep; and as such it is often nicknamed nature’s tranquiliser.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The brain is composed of 60% fat, and a large proportion of this is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential for the structure and normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and have now been identified as an important therapeutic tool in the fight against global mental health deterioration. Omega-3s are involved in many important neurological functions including maintenance of neuronal membranes, neurotransmission, maintenance of membrane fluidity and flexibility, modulation of ion channels and cellular receptors and keeping inflammatory processes balanced4 . Omega-3s may also have an important role to play in protecting the brain against oxidative stress. Research also suggests that fish oils may benefit memory, mild cognitive impairment and dementia5.


Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a vitamin-like substance that has been shown to improve energy production within brain cells via its effect on mitochondria. Acetyl-L-Carnitine also plays a functional role in the brain where it is neuroprotective, improves neurological function, supports brain energy metabolism and enhances acetylcholine production. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in cognition and mood6.

Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10 is a lipid-soluble mitochondrial antioxidant that has shown to be neuroprotective. As an antioxidant, it helps to protect the vitally important essential fats in the brain. CoQ10 is also critical for the energy producing function of the mitochondria and since it is the brain that is the most energy hungry organ in the body, CoQ10 is vitally important for optimal brain function. Cellular levels of CoQ10 are known to decrease with age and supplementation is effective in a variety of age-related illnesses.

Vitamin B complex

B vitamins are absolutely vital for optimum brain health. Each of the B complex group of vitamins has many functions in the brain and nervous system, so a deficiency of any one of them can rapidly affect cognitive function; both on a practical and an emotional level. B vitamins are water-soluble and rapidly pass out of the body, so it is important to have a regular intake throughout the day. Also, since the brain uses a very large amount of these nutrients, even a short-term deficiency can affect mental abilities. The B complex vitamins are needed for proper methylation and to keep homocysteine in a normal range. High homocysteine levels have been linked to cognitive decline. Deficiencies of these nutrients may result in forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, depression, dementia, and mood and sensory changes. The authors on one study concluded that “low B-vitamin and high homocysteine concentrations can predict cognitive decline”7. Another study found that supplementing with 800mcg of folic acid for three years significantly improved aspects of cognitive function that tend to decline with age8.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a vital role in neuronal and brain development and function in early life and right through into older age. Way beyond its role in calcium metabolism and bone health; low levels of vitamin D have more recently been linked to cognitive impairment, depression and even autism. Vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue, and the biologically active form of vitamin D has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease9,10.

1. Boyle NB, Lawton C et al. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress – a systematic review. Nutrients 2017 May; 9(5): 429
2. Tarleton EK, Littenberg B, MacLean CD et al. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLOS One June 27 2017. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180067
3. Barragán-Rodríguez L, Rodríguez-Morán M, Guerrero-Romero F. Efficacy and safety of oral magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression in the elderly with type 2 diabetes: a randomised, equivalent trial. Magnes Res 2008; 21: 218–23.
4. MacLean CH, Issa AM, Newberry SJ, et al. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia,and Neurological Diseases. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 114 (Prepared by the Southern California Evidence-based Practice Center, under Contract No. 290-02-0003.) AHRQ Publication No. 05-E011- 2. Rockville, MD. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. February 2005
5. Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior, and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural- Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Sep;12(3):207-27.
6. Acetyl-L-carnitine. Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr; 15(1): 76-83.
7. High homocysteine and low B vitamins predict cognitive decline in aging men: the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study Katherine L.Tucker, Ning Qiao, Tammy Scott et al Amer J Clin Nutr 2005; 82:627-35
8. Effect of 3-year folic acid supplementation on cognitive function in older adults in the FACIT trial: a randomised, double-blind controlled trial Durga J, Van Boxtel MP, Schouten EG et al Lancet 2007 Jan 20; 369 (9557):208-16
9. Boucher BJ. The problems of vitamin d insufficiency in older people. Aging Dis. 2012; 3:313–329.
10. Anjum I, Jaffery SS. The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus 2018 Jul; 10(7): e2960

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