Just by remembering to take one tablet everyday, you can improve your memory, concentration, creative power and overall brain function. The only question is, is it really?
For sure, our brain needs lots of vitamins and minerals to function in its optimal state.
My name is Dr Tun Min, I am a GP working in NorthWest NHS England.
In this article, I will dive into the differences between what the supplement manufacturers claim and the medical evidence which is done by reputable organisations and published in reputable medical journals.
Vitamins & Minerals for Brain Performance
Omega – 3 ( Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA & Docosahexaenoic acid DHA )
Omega 3 is probably the most important and hence most popular ingredient in brain supplements. It helps build brain cell membranes, has antiinflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Risk of Dementia
Alzheimer research UK found higher omega 3 level in adults who do not have dementia. They also found objective evidence that shows higher levels are associated with larger hippocampus which is an area of brain process and store memory.
Supplements in healthy adults
Supplements of omega – 3 for the brain are one of the favourite topics among medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies.
Probably hundreds if not thousands of papers on this topic, results showing waste of money to significant improvement of brain function including prevention of dementia.
Source of Omega – 3
- Cod liver oil
- China Seeds
Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins which can cross the blood-brain barrier (Our brain does not let everything in our blood go into its circulation thus it has a barrier).
One of the most prominent studies called, Rush memory and Aging Project, researchers examined vitamin D level and found that elevated levels of vitamin D in the brain is associated with 25% to 33% lower odds of dementia and mild cognitive impairment.
Another research from NCBI ( National Center for Biotechnology Information) analysed data from a study with 1291 participants showing severe vitamin D deficiency is associated with visual memory decline.
Supplements in healthy adults
NCBI meta-analysis of 5 largest studies conducted for vitamin D and supplements, 3 of them failed to show any significant improvement in many different parameters.
Optimal source for vitamin D
- 30 minutes of sunlight, two to three times a week
- Salmon, Sardines and other fatty fish
- Egg Yolks
- Breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, thus preventing oxidative stress of brian cells but also for the skin. Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin E has been associated with slowing or preventing the progression of dementia.
Optimal source of Vitamin E
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
Vitamin B12, B6, B 9
High level is associated with low level of homocysteine which is known to be toxic to brain cells.
Having adequate amounts of these vitamins helps improve cognitive performance, immediate and delayed memory recall, verbal fluency, processing speed, sustained attention and working memory.
Optimal source of vitamin B12, B6, B9
- Mainly in Meat – pork, beef, chicken, turkey
These are commonly sold as memory enhancers and incredibly popular in the market.
One largest clinical trial called GEM ( Ginkgo evaluation of memory) , studied 3000 older adults, on average 79 with normal or mild cognitive impairment were given gingko.
The studies did not lower the overall rate of progression to dementia.
These are also incredibly popular in Asian countries. Numerous studies have shown no effect on memory performance or reducing risk of dementia.
Best ways to help memory or brain performance
Consistent scientific evidence has shown the best way to protect the brain or boost performance is through exercise and diet.
Doing exercise release brain derived neurotrophic factor ( BDNF ). This promotes formation of new synapses that enhance learning and memory. Prolong sitting for hours everyday is also detrimental to the regeneration of brain cells. You don’t need to do special programs or any crazy schedules, just by walking 30 minutes most days of the week or doing something which increase your heart rate 3-4 times a week has shown great benefits.
You might come across different types of diets with many different names. Some of the most famous ones are mediterranean diet, DASH ( diet to stop hypertension) and MIND ( Mediterranean DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative delay).
Whichever diet you choose to eat, it all ultimately comes down to a few different principles.
- Vegetables and Fruits
- Lean protein – chicken, fish, beans
- Olive oil
- Trans fat
- Refined carbohydrates
- Sugar including artificial sweetener aspartame
Although the vitamins and minerals are important for maintaining brain function, protection from damage, the scientific evidence of the benefits of supplements is still limited in this category.
However, having a good lifestyle with good exercise is ultimately the best way to maintain the optimal state of body and mind.