In our fast-paced world, maintaining optimal brain health is crucial for mental agility, focus and overall well-being. Our brain is a remarkable organ that plays a vital role in every aspect of our lives. From cognition and memory to emotions and decision-making, our brain health directly impacts our overall wellness. Given that our bodies require proper nutrition to function optimally, supporting brain health with these seven key nutrients can help to enhance cognitive function.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential for brain health. Found abundantly in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, these healthy fats support brain development, enhance cognitive performance and improve memory.
In a recent British study, omega-3 blood levels were shown to be directly related to improved measures of cognition, performance and behavior among healthy children with below-average reading ability.1 Incorporating a high-quality fish oil supplement can provide the necessary DHA for brain health.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is the predominant phospholipid in all cell membranes and is especially concentrated in the brain, liver and digestive tract. PC provides neuroprotection via many pathways and increases levels of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that influences synaptic transmission and plasticity. Research shows that PC can help protect against age-related memory decline by boosting hippocampal function.2
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid found in high concentrations in brain cell membranes. It plays a crucial role in supporting brain function and has been linked to improved memory, attention and cognitive performance. While our bodies produce PS naturally, supplementation can help maintain optimal levels, especially as we age.
In a 12-week study of 30 elderly volunteers, PS supplementation significantly increased cognitive parameters, including memory recognition, memory recall, executive functions and mental flexibility. Total learning and immediate recall also improved significantly.3
4. Huperzine A
Derived from Chinese club moss, huperzine A is a natural compound that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. As a potent and selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, huperzine A helps to maintain optimal levels of acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter important for memory and learning. Huperzine A supplementation may support cognitive function, particularly in memory-related tasks.
A multicenter, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized study gave 50 patients 0.2 mg of huperzine A and compared them to a group given a placebo for eight weeks. They found that 58% of patients treated with huperzine A showed improvements in their memory, cognitive and behavioral functions.4
5. Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and is the most well-studied botanical for cognitive support. It helps to improve blood flow to the brain and acts as an antioxidant, protecting brain cells from damage.5 Studies suggest that Ginkgo biloba may enhance cognitive function, memory and attention in individuals experiencing age-related cognitive decline.6
Vinpocetine is a compound derived from the periwinkle plant that is known for its neuroprotective and vasodilatory effects. It has been shown to increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, promoting improved cognitive performance.7,8 As chronic cerebral hypoperfusion plays an important role in the development of certain types of dementia, utilizing vinpocetine can play a significant role in the improvement of cerebral hypoperfusion. In fact, one 12-week study demonstrated significant improvements in cognitive function after subjects were given oral vinpocetine therapy.9
Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is known for its calming properties and ability to reduce stress and anxiety, but its benefits extend beyond relaxation. L-theanine promotes alpha brainwave production, which is associated with a state of relaxed alertness and improved focus.10 By incorporating green tea or L-theanine supplements into your routine, you can support mental clarity and enhance cognitive performance.
The Bottom Line
Optimizing your brain health is vital for overall well-being and cognitive function. A combination of a balanced diet, regular exercise, mental stimulation and adequate sleep is foundational to cognitive health. If your goal is optimizing cognitive function, you can leverage brain-boosting essential nutrients and botanical extracts to nourish the mind, enhance cognitive performance and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Kareem Kandil, MD, ND is the Immune Foundations Clinical Brand Manager at Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. Upon graduating from medical school at Ross University School of Medicine, Dr. Kandil went on to do an observership in integrative medicine and then pursued his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL.
- Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Richardson AJ. Low Blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e66697.
- Blusztajn JK, Slack BE, Mellott TJ. Neuroprotective Actions of Dietary Choline. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):815. Published 2017 Jul 28. doi:10.3390/nu9080815
- Richter Y, Herzog Y, Lifshitz Y, Hayun R, Zchut S. The effect of soybean-derived phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance in elderly with subjective memory complaints: a pilot study. Clin Interv Aging. 2013;8:557-63. Epub 2013 May 21
- Xu SS et al. Efficacy of tablet huperzine-A on memory, cognition, and behavior in Alzheimer’s disease. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1995 Sep;16(5):391-5.
- Ahlemeyer B, Krieglstein J. Neuroprotective effects of Ginkgo biloba extract. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2003 Sep;60(9):1779- 92.
- Hashiguchi M, Ohta Y, Shimizu M, et al. Meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba extract for the treatment of dementia. J Pharm Health Care Sci. 2015 Apr 10;1:14. doi: 10.1186/s40780-015-0014-7.
- Vinpocetine monograph. Alternative Medicine Review. 2002 Volume 7, No. 3.
- Zhang YS, Li JD, Yan C. An update on vinpocetine: New discoveries and clinical implications. Eur J Pharmacol. 2018 Jan 15;819:30-34. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2017.11.041.
- Valikovics A. [Investigation of the effect of vinpocetine on cerebral blood flow and cognitive functions]. [Article in Hungarian] Ideggyogy Sz. 2007 Jul 30;60(7-8):301-10.
- Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect of mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008; 17 Suppl 1:167-8.