Research suggests that using a combination of these supplements may provide enhanced cognitive support
Approximately 1 in 5 patients aged 55 and up will deal with some type of mental health issue according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the most common issues experienced by individuals in this age group is cognitive impairment and a need for supplements they are not receiving in their diet for cognitive support.
Some research suggests that exercise can help improve brain function in both healthy older adults and older adults with reduced cognitive function. But several studies have also found that dietary supplements are another effective option for boosting brain health.
Supplements and cognitive health
Supplements designed to enhance cognition are sometimes referred to as nootropics. The nootropics market includes substances that help improve memory and focus, which is why they may be referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.” Though, some improve cognitive function by boosting mood, contributing to better sleep, or promoting relaxation.
One review of the literature published in Current Aging Science explains that nootropics work, in part, by decreasing brain oxidative stress. Too much oxidative stress in this organ can lead to neuronal injury and cognitive impairment while also altering brain function.
This review adds that both observational and interventional studies have connected three substances that provide cognitive support by either preventing or mitigating cognitive decline. They are:
- omega-3 fatty acids;
- and antioxidants.
Vitamins for improved cognition
A 2020 study in Nutrients looked at various vitamins and their effects on cognitive function and noted that taking B vitamins for more than three months had a positive effect on global cognition in people without dementia. This was based on the results of 23 studies involving participants aged 40 or older.
A 2018 cross-sectional study involved 230 participants between the ages of 60-79. It found that a person’s level of serum beta-gamma tocopherol — also known as vitamin E — was inversely related to cognitive impairment risk.
Another 2018 study assessed the impact of vitamin D on older adults with Alzheimer’s. After supplementing with 800 IUs per day for one year, participants showed improvement in cognitive function. They also had a decrease in Aβ-related biomarkers, which help predict Alzheimer’s development.
Omega-3 fatty acids for brain health and cognitive support
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) shares that some research has connected higher omega-3 intake with cognitive support via a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive function issues.
The three most notable omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Brain cells have high DHA levels according to the NIH, with a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in May 2021 concluding that taking 800 mg of DHA per day for six months improves cognitive function and reduces Aβ production in patients with mild cognitive impairment, especially when combined with 0.8 mg of folic acid.
Antioxidants for better brain function
Antioxidants help prevent or slow free radical damage. Fruits and vegetables tend to be high in antioxidants, with several studies focusing on these food groups.
One review of many of these studies reported that seven studies found significant improvement in all of the cognitive domains assessed. An additional 19 studies found significant improvement in just some of the cognitive areas, though not all. These studies spanned all age groups and all levels of cognition (both impaired and non-impaired).
One study looked specifically at men with a mean age of 51. Those with a higher intake of fruits and vegetables had lower odds of poor subjective cognitive function. Higher consumption of orange juice was also deemed to provide cognitive benefits.
Benefits of a cognitive support combination approach
Some research suggests that using a combination of these supplements may provide enhanced cognitive support. For example, one study involved older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Some were given a mixture containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, along with vitamins A and E. When compared to the group taking a placebo of olive oil, individuals in the intervention group had improved cognitive function.
Another study, this one published in the Journal of Nutrition, indicates that higher consumption of omega-3s may only provide benefits during aging if the individual also has an adequate amount of antioxidants. Thus, the best approach for improving cognitive function in older age may be one that encompasses a variety of these supplements found to boost brain health.
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