Brain health is of increasing concern as we're living long and longer longer lives - dementia in particular is an ever more prevalent health issue in the UK. So what supplements could we be taking to boost cognition and help protect the brain from dementia?
Dementia has now surpassed heart disease to become the biggest killer in the UK, with the latest statistics predicting that it'll effect more than a million people by the year 2025. However, this doesn't mean that it has be an inevitable part of aging - diet can play a role in helping to prevent cognitive decline associated with aging.
To help your brain stay healthy you need to ensure you are getting enough of certain nutrients - three supplements that are fantastic for brain health include magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc, here we look at exactly how they can help.
The most widely known health benefit of magnesium is probably it's ability to aid quality of sleep however it also has benefits for your memory. An animal study published in the journal Neuron reported on magnesium's ability to improve working and long-term memory. It's also important for converting B vitamins into their active form and B vitamins are also very important for brain health.
Foods high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach as well as pumpkin seeds, almonds, beans and whole grains such as brown rice.
Omega 3 fatty acids
The brain benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are now well documented and are essential for healthy cognition with research now linking reduced intake of the nutrient to cognitive decline and dementia.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids involved in human physiology. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is plant-based and found in walnuts and plant oils such as flaxseed and hemp oil. ALA is converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) by the body but both can be found directly in animal based foods such as fish oils and krill oils.
It's important to know that the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is very inefficient and even if you consume large amounts of ALA you may not be able to obtain sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA for your body's needs.
This doesn't mean though that you should avoid getting omega-3's in the form of ALA as it's important in helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, so getting more of it is a great step towards keeping your heart healthy. So ideally what you need to do is combine walnuts, flax and hemp in your diet with animal-based omega-3s to cover all bases.
Finally we look at zinc, another mineral that loves the brain - it's not known exactly how it improves cognitive health but scientific research as linked a deficiency in it to diseases of the brain including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Foods high in zinc include spinach, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashew nuts, dark chocolate, red meat such as beef and lamb and beans such as chickpeas.
If you're finding it difficult to adjust your diet to boost intake of these three important brain boosting nutrients then a handy magnesium, omega-3 or zinc supplement provides an easy and convenient solution. If you're a vegetarian then omega-3 supplements need to be consumed as a plant-based oil such as flaxseed oil.
Please note that no magic bullet to significantly lower your risk of dementia however diet and exercise have an important role in decreasing inflammation in the body (dementia is linked to inflammation in the brain). The best insurance is to live a healthy life, eat a good diet, stay cognitively active and engage socially.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.