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The “new year, new me” mentality typically means gluten-free diets, marathon training, and strict juicing detoxes for many people. However, maintaining healthy brain functioning is equally essential for our overall health and well-being. That’s where supplements that boost your brain functioning can come in.
Think about all the different things our brains help us do, from communicating and solving problems to remembering, learning and decision-making.
While past studies have indicated that cognitive decline begins during middle age, recent research has found that women as early as their 20s could start seeing a decrease in brain function.
In addition to positive lifestyle changes, such as eating a well-balanced diet and exercising, many people have turned to supplements to boost their cognitive health. Here are seven different supplements that can help enhance and improve brain function.
Did you know that, on average, Americans consume 653 million cups of coffee per day? That equates to three cups per coffee drinker daily. The number may seem like a lot, but it makes sense when you consider caffeine’s effects on our brains.
For example, if drinking coffee has ever felt like a necessity for waking yourself up in the morning, it could be because it’s a natural stimulant. Caffeine supercharges your brain and central nervous system while energizing your body and allowing you to process information faster.
However, a fresh brew first thing when you wake up isn’t your only source of this brain-boosting stimulant. You can find caffeine in other places, too, such as tea, espresso and chocolate (cacao). Of course, you may want to stay away from soda and energy drinks which tend to be higher in sugar.
Caffeine supplements are widely available in stores and online if your brain needs a pick-me-up. Just be aware that too much caffeine can lead to nausea, jitters, trouble sleeping and anxiety.
2. Fish Oil
Fish oil—or omega-3 fatty acids—has long been a vital supplement for promoting brain health.
With most diets lacking an intake of omega-3 fatty acids, people may find themselves at an increased risk for mental health conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, depression, etc.
Researchers also recommend that pregnant women take an omega-3 supplement. Their findings have uncovered that consuming fish or fish oil supplements can improve their baby’s brain development. Additionally, fish oil has correlated with higher intelligence and cognitive abilities tests throughout early childhood.
Creatine is a substance that’s found naturally in the body. Athletes may take a creatine supplement to enhance energy supply to muscle tissues since creatine is associated with energy metabolism.
Creatine helps improve cognitive functions in the brain by preventing short-term memory loss and increasing energy supply.
Research has also demonstrated that creatine supplements can help the brain recover from mild traumatic brain injuries, prevent Alzheimer’s disease and improve functioning from high stress and a lack of sleep.
Another brain-boosting supplement is Acetyl-L-carnitine, an amino acid that the body produces naturally. When taking acetyl-L-carnitine, you may feel more awake and benefit from a sharper memory and increased nerve growth.
Studies have shown that Acetyl-L-carnitine can slow down age-related memory loss and declining brain function. For example, studies suggest that creatine taken by mild dementia patients may help repair cell membranes, boost energy metabolism, provide neuroprotection from toxins and employ neurotrophic effects.
5. B-12 Vitamins
Although more research is needed to understand how vitamin B-12 boosts brain health, it is thought to positively affect memory loss in older adults by preventing brain atrophy. Brain atrophy is the loss or shrinkage of neurons often associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It isn’t uncommon for B-12 deficiencies to lead to mental fog, fatigue, weakness, poor coordination and balance, constipation and mental health decline. As such, studies suggest that by taking vitamin B12 supplements, you can improve or prevent feelings of depression and insomnia.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, it’s estimated that vitamin B-12 deficiencies affect 3% to 43% of the adult population. Your doctor may ask you to do bloodwork at your next appointment to determine if you are struggling with a vitamin B-12 deficiency. If so, you may require supplements.
6. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba comes from the Chinese ginkgo biloba tree and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, including treating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. A popular supplement for brain health, you can purchase it easily in stores and online.
While studies lack a consensus on the actual brain-boosting powers of ginkgo biloba, there is some indication that it can improve focus and memory in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by enhancing blood flow to the brain.
Other potential benefits of taking ginkgo biloba supplements include:
- Enhanced thinking and sharper memory
- Improved social behavior
- Better focus and ability to perform tasks
Ginkgo biloba has also been known to have an antioxidant role in reducing anxiety. One study that examined stress, fatigue, and mental impairments in refugees and war survivors determined that ginkgo biloba supplements improved mood and anxiety levels.
Curcumin is usually considered the rock star of supplements for optimal brain functioning and contains several medicinal and health benefits for brain function.
This supplement is found in turmeric and gives the curry spice its bright yellow coloring. With high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it’s believed that curcumin prevents Alzheimer’s disease and improves cognitive health in older adults in India.
The same study also found that people taking curcumin also had enhanced moods, emotional functioning and improved memory by 28% over the course of 18 months.
Many brain conditions are linked to brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a reduction in the protein that stimulates nerve growth. Recent research on curcumin and BDNF has highlighted curcumin’s effects on neural cell growth, leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study where curcumin was given to mice, scientists discovered an increase in learning and memory and a significant boost in new and repaired neural stem cells and neurons.
Patients with major depressive disorder have also seen improvements in their condition after taking curcumin supplements. Researchers suggest that a treatment regimen of both curcumin supplements and psychiatric medications may effectively treat mental health disorders. This research is ongoing, however.
You can find curcumin and turmeric supplements in stores and online.
Supplements Benefit a Healthy Brain
Although there isn’t much consensus on whether supplements help fight against cognitive decline, they may still offer several significant benefits for improving your brain health. There is so much potential in taking these brain-boosting supplements, from depression and memory loss to fatigue and brain fog.
Of course, you can improve deficiencies in many of these compounds by eating a well-rounded diet, as well. For example, consuming more fish is one way to help your body and brain absorb extra omega-3 fatty acids.
Likewise, eggs, low-fat dairy products, seafood like salmon and trout and fortified cereals are excellent sources of vitamin B-12. Of course, you can also cook with turmeric more to reap the benefits of curcumin’s brain-boosting superpowers.
Before taking supplements to boost your cognitive function, you should reach out to your doctor, especially if you are on other medications or supplements. Lab work can also help you understand your body’s deficiencies and which supplements will improve your health best.
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