Brain health is on the minds (pun intended!) of many of us. (Makes me think of a famous scarecrow that was worried about his brain!) This is especially true if you’re getting up there in years. Is there anything we can do nutritionally to give ourselves the best chance of aging gracefully from a brain standpoint? If this is a concern that’s been plaguing you, you’ll be happy to know that there is a lot that we can do to give our brains an advantage as we move through life and eventually closer to our golden years. The reality is that this is something for all ages to consider. Long-term health results are nearly always better when good habits are started early.
Ginkgo Biloba, native to China, is one of the oldest known trees. Its leaves and seeds are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Ginkgo Biloba supplements are made from the leaves of the tree. The leaves are high in antioxidants which fight free radical damage and counter the effects of aging. Ginkgo also helps combat inflammation and the conditions that come from it. You’ve read about ginkgo in previous blog posts because it carries a lot of health benefits. Having brain-boosting benefits is another one of ginkgo’s many brags. Gingko Biloba supports the brain by enhancing nutrient and oxygen delivery to the brain. It works by increasing blood flow to the brain which allows oxygen and nutrients to get there more readily. Not only do nutrients get to the brain more quickly, but also more make it to the brain if blood flow is optimal. And, of course, part of brain health is the absence of dementia-related disorders. What’s really exciting is that research is starting to show that ginkgo can help arrest dementia symptoms from certain causes. 
This word is certainly a mouthful! In fact, in studies, it is often referred to as “PS”. But what is it? Phosphatidylserineis a chemical found in and made by the human body and is used by many functions within the body. More specifically, it is a requirement for healthy myelin and nerve cell membranes. The body makes PS and most foods (good sources are egg yolks, organ meats, and white beans) contain some PS. But it still has been found to be beneficial to supplement it to ensure you are getting enough. A study conducted in 2015 to determine the role of supplemental (or exogenous, meaning coming from outside the organism) PS in brain health and function found some exciting results. Supplemental PS is readily absorbed, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and can slow, stop, and even reverse alterations in and deterioration of brain nerve cells. The conclusion of the study says that “It supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information, the ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to reason and solve problems, language skills, and the ability to communicate. It also supports locomotor functions, especially rapid reactions and reflexes”. Look back at that list again. Does that NOT describe several brain-related diseases you can think of right now? And it spans the ages—we are not just talking age-related issues. How exciting! 
Did you know that the human brain is mostly made of fat? That’s right. It’s approximately 60% fat. And one particular type of dietary fat is very beneficial to your brain: omega-3 fatty acids. And some believe that DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), one of the omega-3 fatty acids, is the king of all supplements for brain health. Your body cannot make its own omega-3s, so you have to get them from your diet. That is why you see it touted as an added nutrient in food items ranging from milk to baby formula. Of all the essential fatty acids, omega-3s are the most abundant in the brain and are the preferred fat for building healthy brain and nerve cells. The foods with the highest amounts of naturally occurring DHA are fish and seafood. If fish and/or dairy aren’t your thing, there are plenty of good supplement options. But getting back to why DHA is good for the brain — a 24-week study from 2010 looking to determine the effects of DHA on age-related cognitive decline concluded that DHA supplementation does improve memory function and learning in otherwise healthy older adults experiencing decline in these areas. 
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
You might remember Lion’s Mane mushroom from our discussion on mushrooms a while back. They are a pretty impressive plant! They’ve been used for thousands of years as part of Chinese medicine. And this is for good reason! In fact, it is said that these mushrooms “bestow nerves of steel and the memory of a lion to those who consume it”. (Try as I might, I was not able to find any documentation on lions having good memories! Elephants, on the other hand… those rumors are true!) Lion’s mane mushrooms boast more than 70 bioactive compounds, some of which stimulate the production of necessary brain chemicals. For example, lion’s mane has been found helpful in mood disorders as these disorders stem from brain chemical (neurotransmitter) imbalance. There is an interesting study that shows that some mood disorders come from chronic brain inflammation rather than neurotransmitter imbalance. Lion’s mane is anti-inflammatory and works especially well for brain inflammation.  Brain inflammation has been linked to other health issues, too, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Amycenone, one of the anti-inflammatory compounds found in lion’s mane, has even shown promise in sleep disorders along with cognitive function.
These are just a few of a long list of supplements that can be beneficial to obtaining and maintaining brain health. A few others worth a quick mention are curcumin and antioxidants, in general (such as vitamins C and E). If you’d like to get started on a regimen to help improve YOUR brain health, stop by any of our locations for knowledgeable assistance in selecting what’s right for you.
- Treatment effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® on the spectrum of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Phosphatidylserine and the human brain – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Inflammatory Cytokines in Depression: Neurobiological Mechanisms and Therapeutic Implications – PMC (nih.gov)
The information provided here is for educational purposes only. None of the research or evidence presented here is intended as a substitute for consulting an appropriate healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you believe that you may have a disease condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before using this or any other dietary supplement.