Choosing the Best Supplement for Brain Health: What to Look for
Why Take a Brain Health Supplement?
There are plenty of reasons you may be considering a brain health supplement. You may want to improve memory now, or prevent memory loss in the future. Are you experiencing brain fog? Maybe you need help with focus or feeling sharp. Or possibly you’re just looking for general support to keep your brain healthy. Whatever your reason may be, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
When selecting a brain support supplement, be wary of any claims that seem too good to be true. Remember that you can’t out-supplement a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. Following brain healthy lifestyle factors synergistically strengthens your brain today and over time, and the role of a quality supplement can be helpful as added support. So, before we dive into brain supplements, let’s review the elements of a brain healthy lifestyle.
Brain Health Lifestyle (hint: nutrition is a big one)
- Stress management: Stress is a part of daily life, but chronic stress can impact brain health.1 Some great stress relievers include socialization, exercise, mindful movement practices like yoga, and Tai Chi, as well as prayer and meditation.
- Restorative sleep: Six to eight hours of quality sleep per night is essential. It allows clearance of waste products from the brain. It’s also important for avoiding chronic conditions like diabetes and depression, which are risk factors for dementia.2
- Physical activity: Evidence shows that physical activity can increase neuroplasticity, lower brain inflammation, and reduce the risk of dementia.1 Even without formal exercise, moving more in your daily life can have a benefit.
- Mental fitness: Exercising your brain is just as important as exercising your body. It builds your brain’s resilience. Some ways to build mental fitness are education, learning a second language, playing a musical instrument, and solving puzzles.1
- Social interactions: Relationships with family and friends are why we exist. Keep them strong! Strong social connections can improve the immune system and are associated with better cognitive function in late life.1
- Diet and nutrition: Diet can profoundly impact your cognitive performance today and can significantly reduce your risk of cognitive decline. Many studies link the Mediterranean and MIND diets to significantly lower risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. A range of nutrients that are abundant in these dietary patterns have been identified as key to brain health. 3-5
Let’s face it, busy schedules can make it difficult to always bring these brain-health lifestyles into your life. A perfect Mediterranean or MIND diet can be hard to stick to all the time. But don’t give up! Research shows that even if you aren’t adhering to these dietary patterns perfectly you can still see benefits to brain health.5 A quality supplement that accounts for any missing brain health nutrients can help you fill in these nutritional gaps.
Tips for Choosing a Brain Health Supplement
Not all brain health supplements are created equally. If you’re in the market for one, here are some tips to help you make a choice:
1. A quality supplement for brain health should contain a combination of nutrients rather than a single nutrient; this enables them to take advantage of synergies amongst each other. Look for the most bioavailable (easily absorbed and used by the body) forms and diet-informed dosages (doses that are similar to those found in the most brain healthy diets) that are backed with data that supports their role in brain health and function. Some of these may be familiar to you, like vitamin D, Vitamin E, Omega-3 fats, B vitamins, and magnesium. Others may be a little less familiar, but equally important as part of the complex of brain supportive nutrients found in abundance in the Mediterranean and MIND diets.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the active form of vitamin D that’s found in food sources like fish and other animal proteins. It’s thought to have an important role in the growth and survival of neurons.6,7 Choose a supplement that uses the form vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, since it’s the most effective form to raise levels in cases of deficiency. Benefit: Thus vitamin D3 is important to memory and learning.6
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol) refers to a family of 8 different forms of this antioxidant. It’s been shown to reduce neuroinflammation and protect omega-3’s from oxidation. Look for a product that contains both forms alpha- and gamma-tocopherol, as they appear to work together to provide these protective effects. Benefit: Vitamin E protects against damage from brain cells and is correlated to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.8,9
Omega-3 fatty acids refers to a family of fats that are naturally anti-inflammatory. Our brains are composed of an estimated 60% fat, which makes it easy to see why anti-inflammatory fats can be especially beneficial to brain cell health and function. Two types of omega-3 fats that are especially important for brain health are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the phospholipid form of these may better target brain health with age.10 Benefit: EPA and DHA are important structural and anti-inflammatory molecules for the brain and thus are associated with reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.11
Vitamin B12 (hydroxycobalamin) is one of a complex of B vitamins and is important for nerve cell function. Research shows that it helps to reduce neurotoxic proteins (e.g., homocysteine and propionic acid), in turn protecting neurons from oxidative damage. Look for the form hydroxycobalamin (rather than cyanocobalamin) which is the form commonly found in food. Benefit: Supplementation that includes B12 helps to protect against neurotoxin accumulation and also has been associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline.12,13
Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) is found in food like fish and poultry. Your body converts it into its active form called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which is required by around 400 different metabolic reactions throughout the body and in the brain. It’s a powerful antioxidant. Look for B3 in the form nicotinamide to benefit from easy absorption and conversion to NAD. Unlike the standard form of niacin, nicotinamide is also less likely to cause flushing. Benefit:Adequate amounts of B3 may reduce the risk of neuronal degeneration associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.14,15
Magnesium is a mineral found in plant foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and legumes. Many pathways in the brain depend on magnesium to function properly. One example is magnesium’s role in regulating NMDA receptor activity, supporting learning, memory, and mood. Magnesium also plays a role in calming inflammation in the brain.16 Look for the forms magnesium threonate or magnesium bisglycinate chelate, which are more easily absorbed, able to cross the blood brain barrier, and minimize laxative effect compared to other forms. Benefit: Magnesium supports mood and memory and like other nutrients on this list, is associated with reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.17-19
Anthocyanins are pigments found in plant foods, giving them their rich, vibrant red, blue, and violet colors. They are especially abundant in berries, red grapes, and wine. This family of powerful antioxidants provides neuroprotection.20,21 Benefit: Experiments show anthocyanins reduce the negative impact of amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases.22,23
Flavonoids (and flavonols) are a family of anti-inflammatory compounds found in plant foods. Catechins, kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin are all members of this family that have been linked to neuroprotective properties. They are especially abundant in dark leafy greens, tea, and berries. For instance, higher consumption of catechins, like those found in green tea, is correlated with a reduced risk of dementia onset.24,25 Observational studies have significantly linked kaempferol with reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s diagnosis.26 Myricetin intake has been associated with a decrease in neuroinflammatory compounds that damage dopamine-releasing neurons, which may confer protection against Parkinson’s.27 Quercetin has been shown to reduce beta-amyloid build up in the brain, which is linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.28,29 Benefit: Overall, flavonoids and flavonols are potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that bring numerous benefits of reduced risk of cognitive decline, dementia onset, amyloid plaques, and dementia.24-28
L-theanine is an amino acid found abundantly in tea. This nutrient acts to regulate dopamine and serotonin release, which has a calming effect on the brain. Use a supplement that contains the l-theanine form rather than d-theanine. This is the preferred form for use by the body. Benefit: L-theanine is important for the processes of learning and memory.30,31
2. Investigate the manufacturer: Look for a respected team of experts behind the product. Is a single “doctor” behind the formulation of the product? Or did a well-rounded team of neurologists and nutrition experts with published research in the field work together to create the product?
3. Read the small print: It’s critical to look at the other ingredients listed on the label of any supplement. Choose a product that is free of major allergens or diet-restricted ingredients. A quality brain health supplement should not include artificial colors or fillers, and should contain GMO free ingredients.
At NeuroReserve, we’ve developed RELEVATE with these important quality considerations in mind. We have a team that is world class, consisting of neurologists, nutrition experts, clinicians, and pharmaceutical and nutritional R&D experts from leading institutions. We’ve formulated RELEVATE using a broad spectrum of brain-supportive nutrients that synergistically work together and are often lacking in typical daily diets. It’s backed by data from long-term studies of the Mediterranean and MIND diets that are shown to help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and help to maintain cognitive function with age. We use diet-informed, research-driven doses of bioavailable nutrients in our product, to provide nutritional insurance when your diet falls short. RELEVATE is third-party tested for quality and contains nothing artificial.
Here’s how RELEVATE stacks up against other common brain health supplements:
Key Takeaways for Choosing the Best Brain Supplement:
Many nutrients and antioxidants contained in the Mediterranean and MIND diets work together to protect your brain. Choose a broad-spectrum supplement that’s backed by strong research, uses diet-achievable doses, and uses the most bioavailable forms. Don’t expect it to replace the six pillars of brain health, but use it as an adjunct to make up for gaps in your diet. Sticking to these tips can help you choose a well-designed, quality brain supplement.
- Phillips, C. Lifestyle Modulators of Neuroplasticity: How Physical Activity, Mental Engagement, and Diet Promote Cognitive Health during Aging. Neural Plast. 2017, (2017).
- Miller, M. A. The role of sleep and sleep disorders in the development, diagnosis, and management of neurocognitive disorders. Front. Neurol. 6, 224 (2015).
- Agarwal, P. et al. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delayed Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J. Nutr. Heal. Aging 22, 1211–1215 (2018).
- Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M. M. B. & Grodstein, F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann. Neurol. 72, 135–143 (2012).
- Morris, M. C. et al. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Dement. 11, 1007–1014 (2015).
- Banerjee, A. et al. Vitamin D and Alzheimer’s Disease: Neurocognition to Therapeutics. Int. J. Alzheimers. Dis. 2015, (2015).
- Gold, J., Shoaib, A., Gorthy, G. & Grossberg, G. T. The role of vitamin D in cognitive disorders in older adults. Eur. Neurol. Rev. 14, 41–46 (2018).
- Morris, M. C. et al. Brain Tocopherols Related to Alzheimer Disease Neuropathology in Humans. Alzheimers. Dement. 11, 32 (2015).
- Morris, M. C. et al. Relation of the tocopherol forms to incident Alzheimer disease and to cognitive change. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 81, 508–514 (2005).
- Sugasini, D., Yalagala, P. C. R., Goggin, A., Tai, L. M. & Subbaiah, P. V. Enrichment of brain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is highly dependent upon the molecular carrier of dietary DHA: lysophosphatidylcholine is more efficient than either phosphatidylcholine or triacylglycerol. J. Nutr. Biochem. 74, (2019).
- Schaefer, E. J. et al. Plasma phosphatidylcholine docosahexaenoic acid content and risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease: the Framingham Heart Study. Arch. Neurol. 63, 1545–1550 (2006).
- Aisen, P. S. et al. High-dose B vitamin supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 300, 1774–1783 (2008).
- Smith, A. D. et al. Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One 5, 1–10 (2010).
- Verdin, E. NAD+ in aging, metabolism, and neurodegeneration. Science 350, 1208–1213 (2015).
- Hou, Y. et al. NAD+ supplementation normalizes key Alzheimer’s features and DNA damage responses in a new AD mouse model with introduced DNA repair deficiency. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 115, E1876–E1885 (2018).
- Kieboom, B. C. T. et al. Serum magnesium is associated with the risk of dementia. Neurology 89, 1716–1722 (2017).
- Xu, Z. P. et al. Magnesium protects cognitive functions and synaptic plasticity in streptozotocin-induced sporadic Alzheimer’s model. PLoS One 9, (2014).
- Miyake, Y. et al. Dietary intake of metals and risk of Parkinson’s disease: a case-control study in Japan. J. Neurol. Sci. 306, 98–102 (2011).
- Kirkland, A. E., Sarlo, G. L. & Holton, K. F. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients 10, (2018).
- Pojer, E., Mattivi, F., Johnson, D. & Stockley, C. S. The Case for Anthocyanin Consumption to Promote Human Health: A Review. Compr. Rev. food Sci. food Saf. 12, 483–508 (2013).
- Carvalho, F. B. et al. Anthocyanins control neuroinflammation and consequent memory dysfunction in mice exposed to lipopolysaccharide. Mol. Neurobiol. 54, 3350–3367 (2017).
- Thummayot, S., Tocharus, C., Suksamrarn, A. & Tocharus, J. Neuroprotective effects of cyanidin against Aβ-induced oxidative and ER stress in SK-N-SH cells. Neurochem. Int. 101, 15–21 (2016).
- Wang, Y. J. et al. Consumption of grape seed extract prevents amyloid-beta deposition and attenuates inflammation in brain of an Alzheimer’s disease mouse. Neurotox. Res. 15, 3–14 (2009).
- Tomata, Y. et al. Green Tea Consumption and the Risk of Incident Dementia in Elderly Japanese: The Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study. Am. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry 24, 881–889 (2016).
- Kuriyama, S. et al. Green tea consumption and cognitive function: a cross-sectional study from the Tsurugaya Project 1. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83, 355–361 (2006).
- Holland, T. M. et al. Dietary flavonols and risk of Alzheimer dementia. Neurology 94, E1749–E1756 (2020).
- Huang, B. et al. Myricetin prevents dopaminergic neurons from undergoing neuroinflammation-mediated degeneration in a lipopolysaccharide-induced Parkinson’s disease model. J. Funct. Foods 45, 452–461 (2018).
- Costa, L. G., Garrick, J. M., Roquè, P. J. & Pellacani, C. Mechanisms of Neuroprotection by Quercetin: Counteracting Oxidative Stress and More. Oxid. Med. Cell. Longev. 2016, (2016).
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- Nathan, P., Lu, K., Gray, M. & Oliver C. The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent - PubMed. J Herb Pharmacother 6, 21–30 (2006).
- Kakuda, T. Neuroprotective effects of theanine and its preventive effects on cognitive dysfunction. Pharmacol. Res. 64, 162–168 (2011).