Your diet has a significant impact on how healthy your brain remains as you age. Getting the minerals and nutrients your brain requires to continue functioning at its best requires eating a range of meals.
Several nutrients, including flavonoids, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, have been linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of developing dementia, according to a substantial body of research, says Puja Agarwal, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
The greatest way to obtain such nutrients is through entire foods. Although they don’t function as well, supplements for brain health can still be a good choice in some situations (more on that later). The combination of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other elements found in a balanced diet makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrition it requires.
According to functional dietitian Robin Foroutan, M.S., R.D.N., “Food and nutrition can absolutely assist sustain good brain function and may even be able to halt age-related decline in brain function.” This is fantastic news since we all want our brains to avoid aging.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Here’s one explanation for why fatty fish like salmon and tuna are frequently recommended as a component of a balanced diet: They contain significant levels of omega-3 fatty acids, an unsaturated fat with anti-inflammatory properties that protect the brain and is a component of brain cell membranes.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated to lower beta-amyloid levels, a type of protein that is present in the brains of individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease-related damage. According to Dr. Agarwal, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the structure and operation of the brain because they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
After a concussion or other traumatic brain injury, Foroutan adds, high doses of omega-3 fatty acids may have protective effects against long-term damage.
Where to find it
In addition to fatty fish, other foods that have been fortified with omega-3s include nuts, seeds, and some types of eggs and yogurt. If your bloodwork shows that you are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and you don’t eat seafood frequently, Mirella Dáz-Santos, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA’s Department of Neurology and a partner with the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, advises that you talk to your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement.
This vitamin serves as an antioxidant in the body and shields cells from oxidative stress, a type of damage brought on by free radicals (bodily unstable molecules), even in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. The brain is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress, which worsens with age and plays a significant role in cognitive decline.
Foroutan continues, vitamin E has anti-inflammatory properties that support healthy DNA replication and healthy membrane structure in brain cells.
Where to find it: Dark leafy greens, avocado, red bell pepper, asparagus, mango, pumpkin, nuts, and seeds all contain vitamin E.
Concentrate on vitamins B6, B12, and B9 when it comes to maintaining good brain health. According to Dr. Agarwal, these three types of B vitamins are essential for the brain’s healthy operation and a deficiency in them may increase the risk of memory loss and other types of cognitive decline.
The reason for this is that these vitamins work to increase the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that transmit signals between the brain and body.
Because B12 deficiency is very common in older people, increasing your intake or taking a supplement may also help with memory loss as you age, according to Daz-Santos.
where to look for them
All things considered, beans are among the best sources of B vitamins. Bananas, oranges, papaya, cantaloupe, salmon, tuna, poultry, and dark leafy greens all contain B6. Broccoli, greens, whole grains, eggs, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are all sources of folate.
Only meat and fish products contain vitamin B12; for vegans and vegetarians, nutritional yeast is a good source of this vitamin. Consult your doctor or dietitian to determine whether or not a B12 supplement is appropriate for you because those who follow a plant-based diet do have a much higher risk of developing a true B12 deficiency.
The immune-boosting abilities of this antioxidant are well known, but vitamin C and other flavonoids also support the brain, perhaps by controlling inflammation that can damage the brain.
Researchers from Rush University, including Dr. Agarwal, found that over the course of the nearly 20-year study period, people who consumed vitamin C-rich strawberries at least once a week had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Where to locate it
Kiwi, red and green bell peppers, citrus, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Supplements for brain-healthy
Overall, there is a lot of conflicting evidence and opinion among experts regarding the use of supplements to support brain health. There are some exceptions, but most experts concur that it is always preferable to spend your money on wholesome foods.
According to Dáz-Santos, you might want to think about taking a dietary supplement if you have an intolerance or allergy to a significant food group (like dairy or seafood) or if your doctor discovered a deficiency during a blood test. Otherwise, a balanced diet should be sufficient for the average person.
According to Gill Livingston, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at University College London whose research focuses on dementia prevention, intervention, and care, supplements are generally not helpful for brain health unless you have a deficiency in certain nutrients, which happens but is uncommon.
Foroutan advises consulting a medical or nutrition expert who is knowledgeable about supplements if you decide to take a supplement for brain health. Numerous of these products are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and have conflicting research or opulent advertising that makes claims the capsules can’t keep.
There are high-quality options available if your doctor or dietitian determines that a supplement is appropriate for you. Look for a third-party certification program’s seal of approval, such as one from Consumer Lab, NSF International, or the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), which certifies the product’s quality, potency, and that it actually contains the ingredients it says it does.
If you do decide to choose brain-boosting supplements, Foroutan advises that you take a look at a few different categories first.
- Supplements that can improve blood flow (like Gingko Biloba).
- Nutrients that support the building blocks of the brain (like Omega-3 fatty acids).
- Nutrients that help the body build neurotransmitters (like L-theanine).
- Longevity nutrients that help reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline (like B vitamins and vitamin C, D, A, E, and K).
A few typical supplements for brain health include the following in addition to the supplement forms of the nutrients for brain health we’ve already mentioned:
This amino acid improves mood and reduces stress by calming neurotransmitters. According to Foroutan, this can be useful in conjunction with mindfulness practices to reduce stress levels because stress impairs brain function. According to additional research, the supplement may enhance cognitive function.
According to Foroutan, research on the mitochondrial nutrient has been inconsistent, but it is known to enhance cognition and neurotransmitter function.
Foroutan claims that some research points to a relationship between certain mushrooms and brain health, including Lion’s Maine, Reishi, and Chaga. These supplements are believed to protect the brain from neurodegeneration and inflammation and may enhance cognition, focus, mood, and memory.
Foroutan adds that this absurd-sounding supplement supports healthy blood flow to the brain for even more health benefits, and it has been shown to improve memory.
Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs,” are thought to improve mood, creativity, mental acuity, and focus. Foroutan claims that only some types of supplements can be helpful, depending on the ingredients, as there is no single component that defines a supplement as a nootropic other than the benefits it offers to the brain.
This brain health supplement is liked by Foroutan because it promotes focus and attention.
Consider eating nutrient-dense, healthy foods to keep your mind sharp. And keep in mind that diet is only one aspect of health. Maintaining other healthy lifestyle practices like routine exercise, adequate sleep, and social engagement will significantly enhance cognitive function and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Dáz-Santos adds that you should always be aware of your body and speak up for yourself if you suspect anything is wrong by bringing it up to your healthcare provider.