Few things frighten people more than the thought of cognitive decline due to aging. While physical impairment is disconcerting, the thought of not being in control of your mind is frightful on an existential level. How we work, how we play, how we interact with people, navigate our relationships, and understand our core self are all indicators of brain health.
That’s why so many people look for ways to improve brain health, whether through mental exercise, healthy living habits, supplements, or other avenues. And while not all strategies deliver results, there are evidence-based ways to protect what matters most.
While the best way to protect your cognitive ability is to establish a healthy lifestyle, supplements can augment any regimen. So what are the recommended supplements for brain health? Discovering the answer may help you avoid cognitive decline for as long as possible.
Understanding Why Brain Health Declines With Age
Let’s get a very unpleasant fact out of the way right away: the brain shrinks as you age. In fact, the volume of the brain declines “at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40.” It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but certain neural pathways shut down as you age and different areas of the brain become harder to access. The brain might shrink to accommodate these changes, since many areas no longer “need” to be reached.
Of course, “need” is a matter of perspective. This “need” just comes from an evolutionary basis; once we reach a certain age, we no longer need memories or different functions for procreative purposes. As Thomas Huxley pointed out, the chicken is, from the egg’s perspective, just a way of making another egg.
But, of course, the chicken doesn’t see it that way, and neither do we. These changes in size and vascular composition impact the way you remember and the way you function. The differences may be small at first, but they can become noticeable. And they can be difficult for yourself, your loved ones, and all your relationships.
There are also potential hormonal reasons why your mental facilities seem like they are declining. The hormonal changes that come with age, such as menopause and age-related low testosterone, can lead to an inability to concentrate, memory loss, irritability, mood swings, and more. We often don’t think of these as brain health issues, but they are. The brain is powered by hormones, and as those change, the functions of the brain can as well.
There are a lot of natural reasons why your cognitive capabilities might face some turbulence. That’s why protecting your brain health begins today.
Some Common Ways To Protect Mental Health
As with most other areas of your health, the best defense is a good offense. You don’t want to wait for something to go wrong to fix it. You have the ability to make positive changes to try and protect your brain health starting today.
There is no silver bullet or magic cure for brain health, of course. A number of factors, including genetics, come into play. You could do everything right and be unlucky. But there are preventive measures that aim to improve your overall function. No matter your genetics, it is best to start with healthy habits.
Some of these include:
- A healthy diet (fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, grains, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil)
- Regular exercise
- Moderate alcohol intake
- Mental exercise (games, puzzles, reading)
- Regular stimulation (occupational or otherwise)
Your brain needs to be worked and taken care of. If not, it can break down much quicker than it would naturally. If it is properly nourished, you can typically prevent problems.
But of course, there are ways to increase that preventive power and boost the benefits of a healthy diet. You can supplement your current good habits.
Recommended Supplements for Brain Health
There are a lot of unhelpful or even dangerous supplements on the market that claim to be good for brain health. The most common of these are caffeine pills, sometimes called “energy pills.” While these might give you a jolt for a short period, they don’t actually do anything for your long-term brain health.
So what are the recommended supplements for brain health?
Vitamins B6 and B12
The B family of vitamins is believed to protect brain health by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid thought to make the brain more vulnerable to certain types of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, citing an Oxford study, B6 and B12 supplementation has shown promising results:
[P]articipants age 70 and older, with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, were either given high-doses of folic acid, B6 and B12; or given placebo pills. After two years, the researchers discovered “the rate of brain shrinkage in people receiving the B vitamins was 30% lower than in those taking the placebo and the effect was greatest in those who had the highest levels of homocysteine.”
B12 and B6 supplements can come in many forms, so find one that is right for you.
Fish oil, omega-3, and other fatty acids have long been believed to be great for brain health. However, evidence is mixed and a direct correlation is not certain, as discussed in a 2017 paper:
Prior observational studies suggested that [omega-3 fatty acids] and high fish intake may have a protective effect on cognition in cognitively intact adults; however, this has not been demonstrated consistently. A large prospective cohort study of elderly men in the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study did not find any association between fish or [omega-3 fatty acid] intake and better cognitive function or less cognitive decline in over 6 years of follow-up.
Other studies, though, have shown that specific doses of fish oil may help slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Regardless of the level of help, pure fish oil supplements are good for you, especially when it comes to reducing cholesterol. And as cholesterol levels and Alzheimer’s incidence are correlated, this is a positive step.
Vitamin D is a relative newcomer in the neurology race. It is much better known for healthy bones, skin, energy levels, and more. But a 2014 study published in Neurology revealed that vitamin D may have a profound impact on cognitive health:
The study found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia and those who were severely deficient had a 125 percent increased risk compared to participants with normal levels of vitamin D.
People with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to develop dementia. And while the absolute relationship remains unclear, an increase in VItamin D supplements can be good for the body and the mind.
Balancing Hormonal Reasons for Cognitive Decline
If you want to support long-term cognitive function, supplements may be a great place to start. But they should be only one part of your overall approach to better brain health. This is particularly true when you are experiencing hormone-related symptoms.
As you age, your hormone levels naturally change and can become unbalanced, potentially affecting cognitive function. When this happens, it may be valuable to look into a whole hormone therapy system that uses hormone replacement therapy to restore balance and support physical, emotional, and cognitive health. By working with a trusted practitioner who understands your complex needs, you can work towards setting yourself up for success.
Turning the tide and having your body work for you could be the best way to make sure your mind keeps working for you—keeps working as you—for as long as possible.
If you want more information about the most highly recommended supplements for brain health, BodyLogicMD wants to help. The expert practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network can assess your needs and design a personalized BalancePro plan to help you achieve your health goals—from virtually anywhere. Set up your telemedicine consultation, or take the Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about the programs offered by BodyLogicMD.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.