Supporting Brain Health with Foods, Beverages, and Supplements

    Incorporating plenty of brain-boosting foods and beverages in the diet is a great place to start to protect memory, cognition, and more.

    Brain made out of fruits and vegetables isolated on white background

    Did you know your brain is mostly fat? It is! Consisting of a minimum 60% fat, your brain is the fattiest organ in your body. This is why eating healthy fats like omega-3s are vital for brain health. Healthy fat helps stabilize the cell walls in the brain.

    Another interesting factoid: It is a myth that humans only use about 10% of their brain.  We actually use all of it. We’re even using more than 10% when we sleep.
    Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not firing concurrently, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that most are continually active over a 24-hour period. The human brain is quite amazing and obviously a healthy brain is vital to functioning fully in life.

    According to the National Institutes of Health, parts of the brain physically change over time. They actually shrink. Blood flow to the brain is often reduced due to various health conditions. Inflammation in the brain can build up, due to a food intolerance, lack of sleep, extreme stress, an autoimmune issue or other factors. All of these can result in a decline in cognitive performance.

    In the U.S., more than 1 in 9 people (11.3%) age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. This progressive disease destroys memory and mental function. While mental decline is of concern to seniors, it is not exclusive to them. Cognitive health is a rising concern to everyone from students, athletes and young professionals looking to hack their mental performance to middle-aged folks concerned about slowing down, as well as the aging population.

    People are turning to products that will support their brain health.

    The cognitive health market is up about 50% over the last 5 years, according to NBJ. Certain ingredients, foods and supplements have the potential to promote cognitive performance. The research about ingredients that help the brain develop and improve is growing, and the market is expanding to include even younger customers.

    Incorporating plenty of brain-boosting foods and beverages in the diet is a great place to start.

    Coffee and tea contain caffeine and antioxidants, which can support brain health. Caffeine can sharpen concentration and cause short term improvements in attention and alertness. Antioxidants gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory, where they may slow down age-related mental decline. Dark chocolate with 70% or higher cacao content is packed with brain-boosting flavonoid antioxidants and caffeine too.

    Eggs are a good source of vitamin B6, and B12, folate (B9) and the essential nutrient choline. B vitamins help to lower levels of the amino acid homocysteine which has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Choline is believed to help improve memory and mental function.

    Foods rich in omega-3s play a role in sharpening memory and protecting the brain against cognitive decline. What’s a good source of Omega-3s? Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, herring and sardines. Research suggests that people who eat fish regularly tend to have more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter contains most of the nerve cells that control decision making, memory and emotion.

    Blueberries and other deeply colored berries contain antioxidants that fight inflammation, which can contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative disease. Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help communication between brain cells.

    Green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene.

    What about nootropics?

    Those natural or synthetic substances are used to enhance brain function without adversely impacting the nervous system. Also known as neuro-enhancers, these brain-boosters are the latest health hack helping people improve productivity and mental performance. They have gained popularity in today’s highly competitive society. In fact, the global nootropics market is expected to reach $29 billion by 2028.

    Nootropics have a range of positive effects including:

    • reducing fatigue and other negative states that can impact brain function.
    • helping the brain clear out accumulated toxins and allowing more antioxidants in.
    • dilating blood vessels in the brain to increase blood flow to the brain.
    • increasing the rate at which brain cells work and helping to repair the nervous system’s minor wear and tear.
    • increasing the production of neurotransmitters which can have a huge positive impact on the brain and mood.

    Some of the popular nootropics these days are citicoline, ginkgo, bacopa, gotu kola and lion’s mane. These are available as single ingredient supplements or in supplement blends.

    Citicoline is an essential nutrient involved in the synthesis of acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter that is needed for healthy cognition, attention, and memory. It also helps with brain cell repair and regeneration and boosts brain energy.

    Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living tree species and contains powerful antioxidants that help protect the brain from cell-damaging free radicals. It has been shown to have a positive effect on recall, recognition, memory, reaction time, attention, concentration, mood, and energy levels. Research suggests it may protect nerve cells that are damaged in neurodegenerative diseases.

    Bacopa has been used by Ayurvedic medical practitioners for centuries for a variety of purposes including improving memory, attention, and the ability to process visual information.

    Gotu Kola is an herb in the parsley family and like bacopa, is highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine. It can help enhance memory and nerve function, which gives it potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Gotu kola reduces the stress hormone cortisol while increasing levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, thereby helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

    Lion’s mane mushroom has been shown in research to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor, a protein that promotes the growth and normal function of neurons in the brain. This neuroprotective property is why it’s used for better cognitive function. It also protects brain cells from damage caused by Alzheimer’s​ and relieves mild symptoms of depression & anxiety.

    Omega-3s are available in supplement form for those who don’t like fish or prefer the convenience of supplements. Fish oil is the largest single-ingredient category sold for brain health, accounting for approximately 30% of brain health supplement sales. Algal oil, an oil derived from algae, stands out as one of the few vegan sources of both EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids.

    It benefits consumers and retailers to be aware of the wide variety of brain health products available to help with cognitive support. The demand for products that give a mental edge and reduce the risk of cognitive impairment is likely to continue to grow.

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