Looking to boost your brain power or concerned that you’re losing your mental edge? Well you’re not alone; supplements for brain health are one the most sought after products on the internet. As a major public health concern, our aging population, is at an increasing risk for memory loss also known as dementia. Any means to delay or reverse dementia is obviously very highly sought after. In my years of experience, even more than a diagnosis of cancer, I find people are more fearful of dementia more than any other disease. I hope with the following information, you will be armed with the most up to date research on which are the best supplements for brain health.
Ginko biloba is probably the best known supplement for brain health and there is substantial research to support it’s benefits. Ginko is an ancient, large tree originating in China, Japan and Korea and has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2000 years. Other than memory loss, it has been shown to be effective for anxiety, glaucoma and arterial disease.
A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that a Ginko biloba extract was safe and appeared capable of stabilizing and, in many cases, improving the mental performance and the social functioning of demented patients for up to 1 year. Some studies have even shown that Ginko is equally as effective as some prescription medications used for Alzheimer’s disease.
Another article found in the journal Neurology, suggested that there is a protective effect of Ginko on the progression of memory decline. Although Ginko biloba is thought to be safe, the researchers in this study did notice a small increase in stroke risk which requires further investigation. Still there are other studies that refute the effectiveness of Ginko on memory loss.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) was originally manufactured from the brains of cows, and all the studies described here used this form. However, because of concerns that animal brain cells can harbor viruses, most PS today is made from soybeans or other plant sources.
Phosphatidylserine makes up an important component of the cell membrane which works as the “skin” of all living cells. Besides keeping cells intact, this membrane performs vital functions such as moving nutrients into cells and pumping waste products out of them. PS plays an important role in many of these functions. It is also found in high concentrations in the brain.
In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, research has shown significant benefits with use of PS. A double-blinded study published in the journal Aging demonstrated that taking PS orally can increase cognitive function, global improvement rating scales, and improve behavioral rating scales over 6-12 weeks of treatment. PS can lose it’s effectiveness with extended use and seems to be most effective in patients with less severe symptoms.
There is some evidence that PS can also help people with ordinary age-related memory issues. In an article published in Neurology a double-blinded study enrolled 149 people with memory loss but not dementia. It showed that PS provided significant benefits as compared with placebo. People with the most severe memory loss showed the most improvement. In another study, 131 elderly people with memory problems but no dementia were randomized to receive a combination of PS and omega 3 fatty acids or placebo. Those in the treatment group had significant improvements in their cognitive abilities compared to those in the placebo group.
Huperzine A is a medicinal product derived from a specific species of moss developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. For thousands of years, teas brewed from this plant have been used for treatment of fever, inflammation, and swelling, as well as for a variety of psychological conditions, including mental illness, and as a memory aid.
The evidence for memory improvement with use of Huperzine A is most convincing for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. In a double-blinded placebo study, 103 individuals with Alzheimer’s received either huperzine A or placebo twice daily for 8 weeks. There was a significant improvement seen in memory, thinking and behavioral function with the treated participants as compared to to the placebo group. In another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease , a supplement containing Huperzine A with curcumin was tested in dementia patients and individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in an open label study. Most patients with Alzheimer’s disease and MCI individuals exhibited improvements in cognitive functions. The scores were significantly improved at 6-12 weeks compared with baseline scores and at 22-28 weeks.
There is also some research that supports use of Huperzine A for improving memory. In a small-scale, placebo controlled trial, Chinese middle school children who complained of poor memory had significant improvement in memory quotient scores after taking huperzine A for 4 weeks compared to placebo.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a derivative of L-carnitine, a non-essential amino acid that assists in moving fat into the mitochondria of cells in order to make energy. It is structually very similar to acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain which is why it is thought to have benefits in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Taking acetyl-L-carnitine orally seems to improve some measures of cognitive function and memory in elderly people with age-related mental impairment. One controlled double-blind study tested 2 groups of randomized patients with mild mental impairment. The group given 2 gm/daily of acetyl-L-carnitine for 3 months showed statistical improvement in behavior scales, memory tests and verbal fluency tests.
Acetyl-L-carnitine seems to also slow the rate of Alzheimer’s disease progression and improve memory. In a one year placebo controlled study published in Neurology , the group treated with acetyl-L-carnitine who had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and were less than 66 years of age showed a slowing trend of memory loss compared to placebo.
Although there is a great deal of research available to support the use of supplements for brain health, much more is needed. Available prescription medications, just as supplements, can slow the process of memory loss in dementia patients, but there no products that can significantly reverse the process. As our population ages, there will be an increasing need for products that combat memory loss.