Top 10 nutrients your brain needs to age well
If you’re at all concerned about ageing well, the place to start is not with anti-wrinkle treatments but by protecting the organ that pretty much runs the show – the brain.
This master, multi-tasking organ is made of a complex fat-rich structure, fed by blood vessels and interwoven with a network of nerve cells that send messages throughout the brain, and to and from the rest of the body. It is energy hungry and highly vulnerable to damage by inflammation, toxic compounds and harmful free radicals.
Take away message – you need to look after your brain.
A nutrient-packed diet can nourish and protect this complex organ. Sadly, a typical Western diet leaves the brain starved of essential nutrients and running on empty. And it’s not long before the signs of a starving brain start to emerge. Mental fog, low mood, poor memory, tense, agitated, irritable, no motivation, lack of concentration, poor sleep and cognitive decline can all stem from a malnourished brain.
Whether you’ve already noticed some of these signs or want to be one step ahead and protect your future brain health, it’s never too early or late to take action.
Read on to discover the top 10 nutrients your brain needs to age well:
1. Saffron – The world’s most expensive spice has become a hot topic recently, particularly for its beneficial effects on brain health. Saffron extracts have been found to be as effective as anti-depressant and anti-Alzheimer’s medications in recent clinical trials. It is thought that saffron exerts its anti-depressant effects by modulating levels of chemicals in the brain including the happy neurotransmitter serotonin.
2. Curcumin – This powerful plant compound derived from the bright yellow spice turmeric, has been in the spotlight for some time now, and deservedly so. Curcumin has a long list of health benefits, but it’s the significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that make it an absolute must for brain health. There has been much interest recently in curcumin’s ability to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Green tea - Green tea is packed with beneficial polyphenols that are known to have high antioxidant activity. The brain-protective power of green tea has been demonstrated in several studies. Recent research suggests that green tea polyphenols may protect against Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
4. Omega 3 EPA & DHA – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega 3 fatty acids known to be essential for a healthy brain. The brain is a fat-rich organ and omega 3s make up a significant portion of this. They provide neuroprotection due to their anti-inflammatory properties and play important roles in many neurological functions. A number of double-blind, randomized, controlled trials have suggested that omega 3 EPA & DHA may benefit attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, childhood depression, dyspraxia, dyslexia, aggression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Studies in patients with traumatic brain injury have shown that omega 3 fatty acids may help to reduce oxidative stress in the brain following brain injury and could be considered a therapeutic option to reduce neuronal damage.
5. Magnesium – This essential mineral is often lacking in a typical Western diet yet is crucial for arterial blood flow through the brain and serotonin production, an important neurotransmitter involved in mood, appetite, sleep and relaxation. A recent 2017 study found that depression and anxiety scores improved in patients taking magnesium supplements for just 6 weeks. Effects were observed in just 2 weeks and the authors concluded that magnesium is a safe, effective and well-tolerated treatment for mild to moderate depression.
6. Alpha lipoic acid – Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced as a natural by-product of metabolism, however if levels become too high this can be incredibly damaging to the brain. Alpha lipoic acid is both a powerful antioxidant nutrient and protects the brain against the harmful effects of AGEs.
7. Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (vitamin B6) – Studies have shown that pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) helps to protect the brain by preventing the formation of AGEs. P5P is considered a promising treatment of AGE-linked disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases.
8. Folate (as 5-MTHF) & vitamin B12 – Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin essential for the production of neurotransmitters serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine. Folate & vitamin B12 are also crucial for a process called methylation, which helps to protect the brain against homocysteine – a neurotoxic substance that may be linked to depression and dementia. Both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency may cause similar neurological disturbances, including depression and dementia.
9. Citicoline – A brain chemical that occurs naturally in the body, citicoline is considered to be highly neuroprotective and has been shown to improve learning and memory performances in animal models of brain ageing. Citicoline may also help to support neuroplasticity, a crucial process whereby the brain can repair itself following injury or damage.
10. Acetyl-l-carnitine – The brain is an energy hungry organ and relies heavily on cellular energy production. Acetyl-l-carnitine is neuroprotective, improves neurological function, supports brain energy metabolism and also supports the production of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is crucial for memory and mood. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease often have low levels of acetylcholine.
Build a better brain to support healthy ageing…
Protecting your brain is one of the most important things you can do to promote healthy ageing. The brain is a complicated organ requiring complex support and whilst a diet rich in wholefoods and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables will provide a solid foundation, supplementation can be useful as a back up to provide peace of mind and to ensure optimal daily intake.