Take a moment to think about the array of nutrients you consciously consume on a daily basis. From vitamins to minerals to phytonutrients, these healthy additions can help you build an extra dimension of physical wellness that you can carry with you into your advanced years. But as you consider your nutritional efforts and the different parts of your physiology that you’re looking to benefit, what do you find?
Article at a Glance:
Nutrients For Brain Benefits
- Brain nutrients are always important, but get more important as you age
- Certain nutrients benefit your brain’s physical composition, as well as the complicated collection of neurotransmitters that do much of the mental work
- These nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, creatine, astaxanthin, and resveratrol
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Your brain is 60 percent fat and needs healthy fats to function properly
- The fatty acid DHA is especially important in the way your brain cells communicate
- Omega-3 fatty acids also help to maintain your brain’s normal inflammatory response against age-related cognitive decline
- B vitamins perform maintenance and metabolize carbohydrates into fuel for your brain
- Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid are especially helpful to your brain
- These three B vitamins work together to protect the brain from decline
- Magnesium is a natural way for your brain to “chill out”
- The mineral affects the brain’s hypothalamus, the regulator of your pituitary and adrenal glands, which manage your stress
- It is there that magnesium helps reduce stress and anxiety
- A carotene with powerful antioxidant properties, astaxanthin benefits cellular function
- Astaxanthin addresses oxidative stress in your brain
- One of astaxanthin’s unique abilities is breaking through the blood-brain barrier
- Creatine is naturally found in the brain
- It can improve neurological processing and neuropsychological performance
- Since natural creatine is found in meat, vegans and vegetarians should consider supplementation
- Creatine can help your brain maintain ATP, which is a great source of cellular energy
- Resveratrol is found in grape skin, thus, red wine is a great source
- Studies show that red wine can fight cognitive decline, thanks to resveratrol levels
- Resveratrol interferes with the formation of beta-amyloids, proteins that lead to age-related cognitive decline
Your heart, of course, is probably near the top of your list of important recipients of nutrition. Then there’s your bones and joints, as well as your vision, energy levels, skin, and gastrointestinal system. You are also more than likely in tune with how much you exercise in an effort to be physically fit.
If you’re being honest, you’re concerns most likely align with what usually pops up during your regular check-up. You know your doctor will likely check your blood pressure, along with your weight, circulation, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and, if you’re a man, your prostate.
However, there’s one seemingly obvious part of your anatomy that goes unchecked at the typical doctor visit. Unless you are going in for a specific battery of tests measuring your cognitive functions, your brain health rarely comes up in conversation at the doctor’s office. As such, when we talk about nutrition, we too often focus on everything but the brain.
Well, it’s time to spend some time thinking about your brain—that incredibly powerful organ that will ultimately be the barometer of your health as you continue to age.
What Nutrients Boast Brain Benefits?
Science says that it’s best for you to be intimately in tune with the state of your brain, no matter your age. But as time goes by and your body begins to age, a well-functioning brain will be a major asset in the fight for a good quality of life. Luckily, nature delivers many of the ingredients you need to support your brain, while nutritional supplements can help you fill in any gaps that might exist in your regular diet.
For the future of your cognitive health, your brain desires nutrients that support both its physical state as a collection of fat cells, as well as its more subtle composition of neurotransmitters and synapses that govern memory, motor function, and the very thoughts you juggle on a daily basis. Those characteristics, coupled with the nature of your brain’s communication with the rest of your body, require a specialized assortment of nutrients specifically for brain benefits.
We’ve spoken at great length about most of these nutrients, including well-known sources of brain nourishment like omega-3 fatty acids and various B vitamins, along with lesser-known brain boosters like magnesium, creatine, astaxanthin, and resveratrol. But as astute students of the brain, we think it’s a smart move to gather what we know about brain health and unpack it all in one comprehensive article.
Let’s take this nutrient by nutrient.
Brain Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Almost every conversation about the nutritional health of the human brain begins with omega-3 fatty acids. The majority of your brain is made up of fat cells, and omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps the most important type of fat for your brain, as omega-3s make up the part of the outer membrane of your brain cells where nerve signals pass—preserving cell membrane health while facilitating communication between brain cells.
The most popular source of omega-3 fatty acids is found in certain fatty fish, but also in fish oil nutritional supplements. Meanwhile, krill oil also delivers a powerful omega-3 fatty acid punch, with the added benefit of the super antioxidant astaxanthin (more on that later). No matter the source, omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly crucial to brain health, with two forms of the fat—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—praised for impressive upkeep of brain function in adults. And while both are important, studies show that DHA is particularly important to clarity in which your brain cells communicate.
Most critically, omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response against age-related cognitive decline. According to one study, participants who consumed high levels of omega-3 fatty acids were close to 60 percent less likely to suffer age-related cognitive decline, while another study demonstrated that older adults with lower levels of DHA displayed a smaller brain size, which can be a sign of brain aging and cognitive decline.
The Brain Benefits Of B Vitamins
You probably already know this, but your brain requires a hefty dose of energy at every hour of the day and night in order to properly function. And delivering that energy, along with other vital components, are the eight essential water-soluble organic compounds known as the B complex of vitamins.
B vitamins are custodians of the brain, performing maintenance and metabolizing carbohydrates into fuel the brain can use, while also facilitating the production of neurotransmitters—the mood regulators and tireless messengers of the brain. (For a full accounting of each B vitamin and their many benefits, read this.) For this specific brain discussion, let’s focus on a handful of specific members of the family of B vitamins, namely vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid (B9).
For starters, folic acid is specifically important to the nervous system and even more specifically in the realm of mood and cognitive function. Research shows that the highest incidence of folic acid deficiency occurs in older populations, with a close association to depression, lack of motivation, withdrawal, and age-related neurodegenerative conditions. And in studies, folic acid a hand in lowering inflammation, along with levels of homocysteine, a major contributor to a gradual decline of brain health.
As for vitamins B6 and B12, studies demonstrate that these work as a team with folic acid to protect against certain age-related cognitive conditions.
The Magnesium Advantage In Brain Health
Has anyone ever thrown the phrase “take a chill pill” at you during a particularly stressful moment? While that’s a condescending response to your very real stress, science shows that there might be an actual “chill pill”—or at least a “chill mineral.”
Magnesium has found its way into the conversation of brain health via its versatility and possible efficacy in instances of anxiety and stress. More typically associated with digestive issues and cardiovascular concerns, magnesium could be exactly what you’re looking for to help you cope with everyday stressors and anything that might cause your cortisol levels to spike.
It seems that magnesium affects the brain’s hypothalamus, a regulator of the pituitary and adrenal glands. These glands are responsible for your response to stress, and this is precisely what magnesium addresses in anxiety management. A 2017 review of magnesium examined close to 20 studies and concluded that magnesium could potentially reduce anxiety—specifically mild anxiety, premenstrual anxiety, postpartum anxiety, and generalized anxiety. In all instances, the calmness comes from magnesium's proficiency at regulating neurotransmitters.
A 2017 review of magnesium examined close to 20 studies and concluded that magnesium could potentially reduce anxiety—specifically mild anxiety, premenstrual anxiety, postpartum anxiety, and generalized anxiety.
Astaxanthin Benefits For Your Brain
A carotene that gives salmon and krill their distinctive reddish hue, astaxanthin works as a powerful antioxidant and delivers a broad range of beneficial effects on cellular function. Meanwhile, the research shows that astaxanthin’s antioxidant advantage and its overall versatility makes it a smart option in brain health.
As you know, oxidative stress is one of your brain’s natural enemies, and this is exactly where astaxanthin is utilized. But in order for any nutrient to benefit the brain, it needs to cross the blood-brain barrier, a protective gate of sorts that keeps dangerous elements from disrupting neural activity. As it happens, astaxanthin can break through the blood-brain barrier and dole out its benefits as natural brain food. And once in the brain, astaxanthin works to slow brain aging, warding off age-related neurological decline. In studies astaxanthin is demonstrated to defend against oxidative stress that can often lead to the cognitive conditions associated with age.
One study that involved 96 participants who experienced mild forgetfulness found that those who took varying doses of astaxanthin experienced improvements in memory, with no adverse side effects.
Is Creatine A Strong Option For Brain Health?
Creatine is not just an ingredient for bodybuilders. In fact, creatine is naturally stored throughout your body, including your brain, where it works as a neurotransmitter. And as it is a natural resident of your brain, supplementing creatine can potentially provide cognitive benefits. Studies show that supplementing with creatine can improve neurological processing and neuropsychological performance. Overall, the study found that creatine can improve the quality of life in older adults, reducing the burdens associated with cognitive decline.
And since much of your creatine comes from meat products, vegans and vegetarians will naturally have lower levels because of the lack of meat in their diet. One study showed that creatine supplementation nets positive effects on memory and intelligence tests in vegetarian subjects, while another study backed up those results, particularly in female participants.
The power of creatine seems to be its ability to maintain your brain’s levels of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which are the main source of cellular energy in your brain.
How Does Resveratrol Protect The Brain?
You’re almost at the end of the article! Why not celebrate with a glass of red wine? Well, along with tasting great, it could also provide benefits to your brain. A true win-win.
In the fight against age-related cognitive decline, we very well could have an ally in red wine, thanks to the anti-inflammatory activity of resveratrol—which is found in the skin of grapes. Studies have suggested that drinking red wine could help slow these neurological complications, as resveratrol has shown promise in protecting the brain from the ravages of age.
The promise seems to lie in resveratrol’s ability to interfere with beta-amyloids, problematic protein fragments that are the building blocks of certain age-related cognitive issues. Everything in moderation, of course. A few positive studies shouldn’t lead you to believe that it’s healthy to drink an entire bottle of wine every day of the week. Studies emphasis that low levels of alcohol consumption are the key qualifier to how red wine benefits the brain.
Supporting Your Brain Is A Smart Move
Just because your regular check-ups don’t normally involve your brain, that doesn’t mean it’s an organ that you should ignore. Be proactive and take the necessary steps to protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline. Look to nutrients found throughout a regular diet and supplements for a brain boost that is nothing short of genius.