Lately, there has been a surge of brain health supplements on the market. And a lot of people are taking them. AARP conducted a survey which showed that 25% of Americans over 50 years of age are taking brain health supplements. People take these in order to boost their memory, cognitive function, alertness, creativity, and motivation. But how effective are brain health supplements really? Since they are supplements, they do not fall under FDA standards, which means that there is not a lot of interest for producers to prove the effectiveness of their supplements. All they need is to provide a good marketing strategy and supply the product. However, some research has been done. In this article, I will review the top 6 brain health supplements and provide a more factual look on the brain boosters world.
Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil)
Fish oil is rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). They have a connection with many health benefits. DHA is an important constituent of the cell membranes of the brain cells. In fact, of all the fatty acids in your brain, 25% is DHA. EPA, on the other hand, has an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect, which protects the brain from aging and damage. When it comes to hard evidence, the data is mixed.
Many studies suggest that brain health supplements rich in DHA improve memory and cognitive function in healthy individuals on a low DHA intake. On the other hand, some studies suggest that fish oil, on itself, has no significant protective effect on the brain. All taken into account, my advice would be to include fatty fish like salmon and mackerel in your regular diet. If however, that is no option for you, you might find fish oil-based supplements beneficial (make sure they are rich in DHA ).
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a compound found in membranes of brain cells. The amount of Phosphatidylserine naturally reduces as we age, making our brain cells more susceptible to damage. Some studies claim that phosphatidylserine may reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly. Another study suggests that PS improves cognitive function in healthy young individuals without having any adverse effects.
Creatine and Brain Health
Creatine is a substance found naturally in your body, mostly in muscles, but also in the brain. It plays an important role in energy metabolism. Creatine is a popular supplement for bodybuilders since it provides more energy when lifting weights thus making them grow muscles faster.
Naturally, you can find creatine in animal-based foods, like eggs, milk, and meat. And since it is also important for brain function, no wonder that taking creatine as a brain health supplement can improve memory and cognitive function in vegans and vegetarians. However, meat-eaters don’t seem to benefit from creatine supplementation. Therefore, I would recommend creatine as a brain health supplement if you don’t eat meat or animal-based products.
Bacopa Monnieri is a supplement made from the plant of the same name. It is used in many traditional practices like Ayurveda as a brain function enhancer. Some research suggests that it improves memory by stimulating dendrite growth and branching in neurons. Many studies have shown that it has a protective effect on memory in both the healthy, of all ages, as well as people suffering from some sort of memory decline.
It is also good for increasing cognitive function, decreasing anxiety, etc. but those effects are not proven. The effect of bacopa on memory, however, has been proven. The only thing is you have to be a little patient since it takes four to six weeks of regular intake for it to kick in.
Rhodiola Rosea is another plant that is used in Chinese medicine as a brain health supplement. Experts consider it to be an effective adaptogen. That means it helps the body and the brain handle stress while maintaining peak performance. Rhodiola supposedly reduces brain fatigue and increases brain function.
Rhodiola can be helpful especially for people in periods of stress, like lack of sleep, physical or mental exhaustion. Some studies suggest that Rhodiola truly is effective in increasing brain function and endurance while some claim that is not the case. Either way, it requires more research to inquire into the effects and optimal dosage of Rhodiola.
CBD (cannabidiol) is arguably the supplement getting the largest chunk of attention these days. Being an active ingredient of cannabis surely has something to do with it. But its medical potential should is enormous. Considering its safety and lack of psychoactive effects, scientists all around the world conducted studies on CBD benefits. Some of those studies, as well as personal testimonies, have shown that CBD effectively reduces inflammation, helps with pain management, helps people with anxiety and depression. When it comes to the effects of CBD on the brain, here is what it has to offer.
– Neuroprotective effect – One study states that CBD “ decreases the production of inflammatory cytokines, influences microglial cells to return to a ramified state, preserves cerebral circulation during ischemic events, and reduces vascular changes and neuroinflammation”. All of these effects optimize the functioning of neural as well as supportive tissue in the brain.
– Antioxidative effect – Every cell has its own metabolism, and one of the byproducts of cell metabolism is free radicals which are extremely potent in doing oxidative damage to cells. CBD successfully reduces the concentration of free radicals in brain cells and thus saves the cells from damage.
– Antiexcitative effect – Excitotoxicity, a state of the brain when it becomes overactive, common in many neurodegenerative diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. CBD is found to modulate brain excitation and inhibition by optimizing the level of its activity.
CBD and Brain Health Supplements
The effects of CBD on the brain are proving to be many and deep. Nonetheless, at the moment we do not have enough clinical trials to have a clear idea of the precise effects it has on the human brain. If you would like to experiment with it, considering all the possible benefits you could get, do go and talk to your physician about it. Especially if you are taking some meds since CBD does interact with certain drugs.
Also, considering all the possible ways to take CBD (oil drops, vape oil, capsules, patches, and even tea and coffee) it is worth to clarify a couple of things. Pure CBD oil is the most natural way to take CBD. But, pure oil does have a rather unpleasant taste, which is a problem for many people. The second great option is CBD capsules. They are tasteless, very easy to take and come in many different concentrations of CBD.
Even though the research on brain health supplements is not as broad and as strict as on FDA approved drugs, you still can find some relevant information on them. Some of them actually do help your brain function better and you can benefit from using them. If you are a healthy young individual, however, you can obtain the effects you look for by other and more natural means. Try things like making your diet more healthy and balanced, working out regularly, practicing meditation or yoga. If, on the other hand, you are suffering from some sort of brain function impairment and have made appropriate lifestyle changes, checking one or some of these brain health supplements might just give you an improvement you were looking for.