Tag Archives: brain health


National Brain Health Week: Smart Foods and Supplements

This week is Global Brain Awareness Week, a campaign which promotes awareness of brain health and research.

While many of us know about the link between fish oil and brain health, there are a number of other nutrients which have been shown to support the brain, improving memory and focus, and protecting against age-related cognitive decline.

Read on for some valuable ‘brain boosting’ foods to add to your weekly shopping list, and some useful ideas to incorporate them simply and easily into your everyday meals and snacks.

1. Breakfast Brain Booster: Supergreens

A recent study on brain health and nutrition conducted at Rushmore University Medical Center found a ‘protective benefit from just one serving per day of green leafy vegetables’ (1). Leafy greens such as kale, romaine lettuce and spinach are a rich source of vitamin K, believed to slow brain ageing and improve memory and cognitive abilities.

Add a handful of kale into your fruit smoothie each morning, or stir spinach into your scrambled eggs. Supergreens powders – leafy greens in concentrated form – are also easy to add to smoothies or stir into porridge.

2. Smart Snacking: Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate boosts mood, focus and alertness, making it a guilt-free snack. Just a couple of squares of dark chocolate supplies enough potent flavonols to boost the brain’s supply of oxygen, enhancing brain function for around two hours (2).

Try a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate, a cup of cocoa or a handful of raw cacao nibs mid-morning, to keep you alert until lunchtime.

3. Lunchtime: Brain Boosting Beetroot

Dietary nitrates, such as those naturally present in beetroot, boost blood flow to the brain. An optimum supply of blood and oxygen to the brain is essential for mental alertness and cognitive function. A recent study confirmed these benefits, showing that older adults displayed brain patterns and activity similar to much younger adults after a daily shot of Beet-It beetroot juice and a brisk walk (3).

Try a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad for lunch, or add nitrate-rich rocket and raw grated carrot to sandwiches and wraps. A shot of beetroot juice is another great way to boost your dietary nitrates after lunch. Follow with a brisk walk to boost the flow of oxygen to the brain and keep your brain sharp throughout the afternoon.

4. Dinner: Black and Blue Brain Boosters

Anthocyanins – touted as being the most valuable plant pigment for brain health – help to repair and protect brain cells. These powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients are found in very dark coloured plant foods such as black beans, black rice, aubergines, blueberries and blackberries.

Studies have found that these blue-black foods rich in anthocyanins improve brain signalling, which has a positive effect on learning and short-term memory (4).

Try a bean chilli for dinner, using brain-boosting kidney beans and black beans. Use anthocyanin-rich black rice instead of white or brown rice. Tart and juicy blackberries work well with evening meals too, mixed with fresh side salads or paired with rich meats such as duck or venison.

1. Morris MC et al (2017) Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline. Neurology. December 20.
2. University of Nottingham. “Boosting Brain Power — With Chocolate.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070221101326.htm (accessed March 4, 2018).
3. Meredith Petrie W. et al (2017) Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 72, Issue 9, 1 September 2017, Pages 1284–1289
4. Krikorian R et al (2010) Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3996–4000.

Mind and Mood Matters

Health Information Week: Mind and Mood Matters

Mind & Mood Matters

The brain is a vital, fascinating organ which has immense requirements to keep it functioning healthily. Mental health often alters when the brain lacks the adequate support it needs, meaning memory and mood may be affected. Certain circumstances may also leave the brain with additional needs, so what can be done to support your mental health?

Blood Flow

The brain is one blood-thirsty organ, with over 20% of blood leaving the heart going straight to the brain alone! Blood supplied to the brain carries vital oxygen, glucose and other important nutrients, so supporting circulation can be key to getting these nutrients to the brain. Compounds such as arginine pyroglutamate, gingko and periwinkle may aid healthy circulation.


Acetylcholine is a brain chemical that is linked to many brain processes, including memory. There are many nutrients that are used in the manufacture and release of acetylcholine including: choline, phosphatidyl serine, DMAE and vitamin B1. It is thought that memory issues may be related to high levels of inflammation, so taking a natural approach to reducing inflammation could prove wise. The omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish are linked with regulating inflammation. Low levels of omega 3 may lead to an impaired ability to think effectively.


Protecting the brain is essential for preserving its ability to function healthily. Certain antioxidant nutrients not only offer protection, but may also play a role in keeping inflammation in check.

A good variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables are important. Some of the most beneficial antioxidants for protection of brain tissue include the fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid. Extra vitamin C may also be beneficial as it could support the regeneration of vitamin E. Zinc helps our body to produce antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), and a low level of zinc has been linked to memory loss. Supplemental zinc may contribute to good memory retention.

Stress and Anxiety

Psychological stress is often down to how each individual perceives an event or consequence. The way in which a person responds or reacts can be a result of alterations in brain chemicals or co-factors.

Supplying what is needed to balance the brain and body can be essential for stress relief. Vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins are all readily used during stressful times. Vitamin B5 in particular is required for the production of anti-stress hormones.

Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, which offers support during times of stress and may help to relieve symptoms such as fatigue and mild anxiety. As stress may often be associated with anxiety, nutrients such as magnesium and theanine could be of use in reducing or controlling anxiety.

There are other herbs which may also be of use. Passionflower is often thought to be as effective as some anti-anxiety medication. More recent research has shown that magnolia may also be of use, with recent studies finding it contains specific compounds that could help to aid in the reduction of anxiety.


Mood pattern alteration may be down to several factors including imbalanced neurotransmitter levels. The neurotransmitter serotonin may be altered during times of low mood and supporting this pathway may be beneficial. The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and low levels are thought to affect one’s mood.

Supplementing with tryptophan may raise the levels of serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is first converted to 5HTP and then to serotonin. Supplements of 5HTP are thought to be effective in improving symptoms of low mood. The herb St John’s Wort also demonstrates an action on serotonin levels and has been found to assist in cases of mild to moderate depression.

An area that is gaining a lot of attention recently is that of the link between mood and inflammation. It has been found that levels of inflammatory markers are high in cases of low mood. Curcumin, from the spice turmeric, has long been known to have an effect on inflammation and recent studies show it may be of use for mood patterns.

The omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are incorporated into brain tissue and are known to influence mood. Several studies have backed up their use in cases of low mood.


Sleep issues may occur while stressed or dealing with low mood. Whatever the cause, sleep deprivation can be debilitating. Natural support for restoring healthy sleep patterns includes 5HTP. Once 5HTP is converted to serotonin it can then be converted to melatonin during the hours of darkness. Herbal support includes valerian, which may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, as well as improving sleep quality and reducing the number of wakenings. Hops have also been found to have qualities that assist with sleep and a combination of valerian and hops may be effective.

Whatever the problem, rest assured there are natural ways to offer support for the mind and help with mood issues. After all, your mind and mood really do matter.


Age-Proof Your Brain: Three key brain nutrients

March 16th sees the beginning of Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase awareness of the benefits of brain research. In the UK, we are living longer. This means that more and more people will be affected by diminished brain function and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Taking measures to age-proof your brain has never been more important. Read on to discover the 3 most important brain nutrients.


More than half of your brain is made of fat. The most important fat to ‘feed’ your brain is DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. DHA helps to keep the membrane of each brain cell flexible, so that it can function and communicate quickly and efficiently (1).

If your diet is heavy in saturated fats and trans fats from processed foods, on the other hand, then these types of fats will be used in your brain cells, making then rigid and slow to communicate.

Good sources of DHA include low-mercury oily fish such as wild-caught Atlantic salmon, fresh water trout, herring, anchovies and sardines. If you don’t eat these foods regularly then you may benefit from a regular fish oil supplement, or a vegan omega-3 supplement containing DHA.


Every time a cell makes energy, it produces damaging waste substances called free radicals. These substances have a tendency to bind with other healthy cells, causing damage called oxidation. In this way, our organs and tissues, including the brain, are constantly under attack.

When free radicals attack your brain, they can prevent the brain from producing energy, which in turn causes fatigue, and can even affect memory, mood and coordination (2).

A systematic review published just last year found evidence for the benefit of antioxidant nutrients in the prevention of cognitive decline. The strongest evidence was in support of the antioxidant mineral selenium as well as vitamins C, E and carotenes (3). These antioxidants were found to slow age-related decline in cognition, attention and psychomotor speed (the ability to coordinate fast thinking with doing something quickly, for example in driving a car
or following a conversation).

B Vitamins

There is growing evidence that B Vitamins – in particular folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 – play a critical role in protecting the brain from the effects of ageing. B vitamins help to protect the brain by lowering levels of homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid that is ‘neurotoxic, and therefore linked to damage in the brain. In studies, levels of homocysteine in the blood have been linked with memory problems and difficulty processing information, as well as age-related cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s (4).

A recent randomised controlled trial of 260 elderly people found that a daily B-vitamin supplement reduced levels of homocysteine by 30%, and improved test scores in both cognition and memory (5).

Folic acid and vitamin B6 are present in leafy green, beans, nuts and seeds, while B12 is present in fish, milk, eggs and meat. Unfortunately our
absorption of Vitamin B12 becomes less efficient as we age, and so for some people a supplement may be a sensible measure.

Brain function can in fact start declining as early as age 45, a condition labelled ‘age related cognitive decline.’ (6). By looking after our health and nutrient status in middle age, we can ‘age-proof’ our brain to help ensure a sharp mind and independent lifestyle in later years.

  1. Cole GM, Frautschy SA. DHA may prevent age-related dementia. J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):869-74.
  2. Poon HF et al (2004) Free radicals and brain aging. Clin Geriatr Med. 20(2):329-59
  3. Rafnsson SB et al (2013) Antioxidant nutrients and age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review of population-based cohort studies. Eur J Nutr 52(6): 1553-67
  4. Sachdev (2005) Homocysteine and brain atrophy. 29(7):1152-61
  5. de Jager et al (2011) Cognitive and clinical outcomes of homocysteine-lowering B-vitamin treatment in milkd cognitice impairment: a randomised controlled trial. Int J Geriat Psych. 26(6):592-600
  6. Singh-Manous A et al (2012) Timing of onset of cognitive decline: results from Whitehall II prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal. 344:d7622

Nutrient levels linked to brain health

I recently wrote about the reported benefits of the nutrient choline for improved memory and brain health. A new study, soon to be published in the journal Neurology, has now investigated the link between brain health and other nutrients in the diet, including Vitamins B, C, D and E, omega 3 and trans fats.

The study measured indicators of Alzheimer’s such as cognitive difficulties, brain shrinkage and memory problems. It found that nutrition could play nearly as strong a role as other factors such as age and high blood pressure.

A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life
A healthy diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3 may help reduce brain shrinkage in older life

The researchers tested a group of 104 elderly people with average age of 87. They then tested the blood of each participant for levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, saturated fats, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol and trans fats. Each participant also undertook mental function tests including tests of memory, language skills and spatial skills. Finally each participant underwent an MRI scan to look at the size of certain brain structures related to Alzheimer’s.

The team found that those who had higher blood levels of vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids scored higher on the mental-function tests than those with lower levels of these nutrients. In contrast, those with higher levels of trans fats in their blood scored lower on these tests; they had more trouble with memory and language skills and were slower in completing the tests.

Brain scans were then carried out on 42 of the participants, and found that those with nutrient-rich diets had larger brains as well as higher test scores. Again, the scans of those with high levels of trans fats in their blood also showed more brain shrinkage.

A huge benefit of this study is that it used measurements of nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on individual’s food diaries and recall. As all nutritionists know, even with the best of intentions, food diaries and questionnaires can be inaccurate and misleading.

The researchers, however, didn’t distinguish between nutrient levels raised due to foods rather than supplements. It’s therefore difficult to say whether taking supplements can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s as effectively as a nutrient-rich diet.

Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and oily fish provide good levels of vitamins and omega-3 fats. Trans fats are unhealthy ‘damaged’ fats found in margarine, some packaged food, fast food and baked goods.

“These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, a professor of public health at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The study team concluded that the findings suggest that nutrients work “in synergy” with one another to be protective of brain health.  Bowman concluded that “the combination of the B vitamins, the antioxidants C and E, plus vitamin D was the most favorable combination of nutrients in the blood for healthy brain aging in our population.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

G.L. Bowman, L.C. Silbert, D. Howieson, H.H. Dodge, M.G. Traber, B. Frei, J.A. Kaye, J. Shannon, J.F. Quinn. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging. Neurology E-published ahead of print December 28, 2011.