We all have those moments when we can’t find our keys or remember a PIN. A certain amount of memory loss is completely normal and part of the natural aging process.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a more serious condition affecting memory. According to the National Institute on Aging, about eight of every 10 people with amnestic MCI (the type of MCI associated with memory loss) go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease within seven years.
Nutrition plays a significant role in protecting brain health. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, grains, nuts, olive oil and fish has been linked to a lower risk for memory problems in older adults.
A number of supplements are also known for their ability to give the brain a healthy boost. Here are a few of our favorites with science-backed results.
See also Top Supplements for Seniors.
You may have heard of fish such as salmon and sardines referred to as “brain food.” That’s because fatty fish is such a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to omega-3s being a great heart health supplement, researchers have found that an omega-3 supplement containing both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) benefits cognition.
“DHA is an essential nutrient for brain health,” says Kenneth R. Shields II, a national key account manager at California-based Nordic Naturals. “Original research on DHA has shown that it supports a healthy mood, structural integrity of the central nervous system and cognitive function.”
DOSE: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults get at least 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA daily.
B vitamins are vital for a healthy brain and nervous system. Studies have found that B-vitamin supplementation can ease symptoms of stress and depression, as well as improve mental performance.
A 2013 study found that consuming vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid can reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been linked to brain shrinkage in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Thiamine (also known as B1) deficiency has also been connected with brain disorders, including dementia.
DOSE: Although consuming a healthy, balanced diet can fulfill B vitamin requirements for some, experts recommend taking a good B-complex vitamin to fill in any dietary gaps.
A powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin has been studied extensively in both Indian and Western medicine.
“Curcumin has quickly elevated itself as a potent supplement for brain health,” Shields says. Study findings suggest that curcumin potentially helps prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease and preserve brain health in general.
One of the major challenges with curcumin supplementation has been that the body doesn’t absorb it well. New breakthrough formulas using free-form Longvida Optimized Curcumin are up to 70 percent more absorbable than other forms of curcumin, according to Shields.
DOSE: Although an effective dose of curcumin has not been established, a study from The Ohio State University found a dose of 80 milligrams per day produced a number of health benefits in adults between the ages of 40 and 60.
A powerful antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes, as well as peanuts and berries, resveratrol has been studied extensively and is found to have numerous health benefits, including protecting the brain. Scientists believe that the plant-based compound may activate the SIRT1 gene, which is thought to ward off age-related diseases.
A United Kingdom study on healthy adults published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that after resveratrol consumption, blood flow to the brain increased while people performed cognitive tasks that activated the frontal cortex.
DOSE: Another study of 46 older adults found that those who took 200 milligrams of resveratrol daily for 26 weeks had improved memory performance when tested on word recall than subjects who received a placebo.
A type of Chinese moss that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, Huperzia serrata is another supplement with brain-boosting benefits.
The plant, called Hup A for short, has been used in Asia to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Researchers have shown that Hup A is able to preserve acetylcholine levels in the brain—higher levels of acetylcholine are believed to result in less-severe cognitive impairment.
DOSE: In a 2012 Chinese study on vascular dementia patients, Hup A was found to significantly improve cognitive function. Study subjects were given 100 micrograms of Hup A twice daily.
Other Ways to Stay Sharp
Cognitive health is an important part of overall brain health. The National Institute on Aging offers a cognitive health–focused guide, which includes these recommendations:
- Take care of your health: Manage chronic health issues; get regular screenings and enough quality sleep; limit alcohol use.
- Eat healthy foods: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish and poultry. Limit solid fats, sugar and salt intake.
- Be physically active: Aim to move 30 minutes per day on most days. Walking is a great option.
- Keep your mind active: Volunteer; read books or magazines; play games; learn a new skill or hobby.
- Stay connected: Visit with family and friends; participate in social activities in your community.