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Modern life is very demanding of our brain function. We’re constantly required to multitask, remember, concentrate, and articulate. We are submitted to a barrage of stimulation from lots of sources, especially now TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones. So it’s even more important that we keep our brains in top condition.
The brain is the operating system of the human body, and is responsible for receiving complex inputs from the environment, organising thoughts, memory and planning, understanding and using language,and controlling our motor actions (our ‘cognitive’ functions).
Normal brain function is dependent on multiple interlinking factors, many of which may be influenced by nutritional factors. Neurotransmitters such acetylcholine, glutamate and dopamine are required for memory, stimulation and motivation respectively, and require raw materials including choline, amino acids and B vitamins for synthesis. Healthy nerve cell structure is critical and relies on essential fats and phospholipids for membrane function. Good circulation to delicate neural and vascular tissues, along with good antioxidant status, are essential to reduce oxidative damage.[i]
Lifestyle factors are often overlooked, but play a key role in cognitive function. Stress has been identified as a factor in cognitive decline,[ii] while anxiety levels have been linked to the progression of mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.[iii] Maintaining a social life and staying physically active is associated with continued cognitive health,[iv] whereas social isolation and loneliness have been identified as risk factors for decline in cognitive function.[v][vi]
Ginkgo Biloba supports circulation to the brain and cognitive function. It has been shown to enhance memory in the elderly [vii] and in Alzheimer’s,[viii] [ix] [x] as effectively as prescription drugs.[xi]
Blackcurrant - Berry fruits can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions.[xii] Blackcurrant increases cognitive performance (attention, response time, memory, cognitive flexibility, mood and mental fatigue).[xiii] These effects may be due to the antioxidant ‘anthocyanin’ content supporting circulation and vascular integrity. However, reductions in MAO enzyme, which breaks down monoamine neurotransmitters may also positively impact cognition and mood.[xiv] Blackcurrant anthocyanadins have been shown to reduce the formation of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. [xv]
Herbs like Rosemary have a significant benefit on cognitive function, showing a reduction in cognitive decline.[xvi] Sage improves performance, memory, reduced mental fatigue and increases alertness[xvii] and recall[xviii].
Choline - When used in combination with ginkgo had a moderate effect on improving cognition and immune function after 3 months, and significant improvement after 6 months[xix].
Phosphatidyl Serine is a major phospholipid in nerve cell membranes[xx] and can improve cognitive decline,[xxi] Increased memory recognition, memory recall, executive functions, mental flexibility[xxii] and verbal recall.[xxiii] Administration of phosphatidyl serine improves memory in Alzheimer’s Disease.[xxiv]
Levels of zinc have been found to be lower in patients with Alzheimer's disease[xxv]. Low levels of B vitamins have also been associated with incidence of cognitive impairment[xxvi], particularly folate[xxvii] and vitamin B12[xxviii]. These help to support a process called methylation which is essential for making neurotransmitters. Vitamin B5 may be helpful as a precursor for the memory neurotransmitter acetylcholine[xxix]. Choline is also central to acetylcholine production and essential phospholipids that help nerve cells function more effectively.
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[i] Greig. New therapeutic strategies and drug candidates for neurodegenerative diseases: p53 and TNF-alpha inhibitors, and GLP-1 receptor agonists. Ann NY Acad Sci..2004; 1035: 290-315.
[ii] Peters JL et al. Interaction of stress, lead burden, and age on cognition in older men: the VA Normative Aging Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr;118(4):505-10.
[iii] Gallagher D et al. Anxiety and behavioural disturbance as markers of prodromal Alzheimer's disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Feb;26(2):166-72.
[iv] Crooks VC et al. Social network, cognitive function, and dementia incidence among elderly women. Am J Public Health. 2008 Jul;98(7):1221-7
[v] Bassuk SS et al. Social disengagement and incident cognitive decline in community-dwelling elderly persons. Ann Intern Med. 1999 Aug 3;131(3):165-73
[vi] Fratiglioni L, Paillard-Borg S,Winblad B. An active and socially integrated lifestyle in late life might protect against dementia. Lancet Neurol 2004;3:343–353.
[vii] Birks. Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002; (4).
[viii] Le Bars PL, Katz MM, Berman N, et al. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group. JAMA 1997;278:1327-32
[ix] Oken BS, Storzbach DM, Kaye JA. The efficacy of Ginkgo biloba on cognitive function in Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol 1998;55:1409-15
[x] Hopfenmuller W. [Evidence for a therapeutic effect of Ginkgo biloba special extract. Meta-analysis of 11 clinical studies in patients with cerebrovascular insufficiency in old age]. Arzneimittelforschung 1994;44:1005-13.
[xi] Wettstein. Cholinesterase inhibitors and Gingko extracts--are they comparable in the treatment of dementia? Comparison of published placebo-controlled efficacy studies of at least six months' duration. Phytomedicine. 2000; 6 (6): 393-401.
[xii] Subash S, Essa MM, Al-Adawi S, et al. (2014) Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regen Res 9, 1557–1566.
[xiii] Watson. Acute supplementation with blackcurrant extracts modulates cognitive functioning and inhibits monoamine oxidase-B in healthy young adults. Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 17, August 2015, Pages 524-539
[xiv] Diaconeasa Z, Leopold L, Rugină D, Ayvaz H, Socaciu C. Antiproliferative and antioxidant properties of anthocyanin rich extracts from blueberry and blackcurrant juice. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Jan 22;16(2):2352-65.
[xv] Ghosh et al., (2006) Effects of anthocyanins and other phenolics of boysenberry and blackcurrant as inhibitors of oxidative stress and damage to cellular DNA in SH-SY5Y and HL-60 cells. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 86, 678-686.
[xvii] Kennedy DO, Dodd FL, Robertson BC, Okello EJ, Reay JL, Scholey AB, Haskell CF. Monoterpenoid extract of sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) with cholinesterase inhibiting properties improves cognitive performance and mood in healthy adults. J Psychopharmacol. 2011 Aug;25(8):1088-100.
[xviii] Tildesley NT et al Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 Jun;75(3):669-74.
[xx] Zhang, Y.Y., Yang, L.Q., Guo, L.M., Effect of phosphatidyl serine on memory in patients and rats with Alzheimer’s disease. Genet. Mol. Res. 2015; 14 (3): 9325-33
[xxi] Crook. Phosphatidyl Serine in Alzheimers Disease. Psychopharmacol Bull. 1992; 28: 61-66.
[xxii] Richter Y, et al. The effect of soybean-derived phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance in elderly with subjective memory complaints: a pilot study. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2013;8:557-563.
[xxiii] Kato-Kataoka A, et al. Soybean-Derived Phosphatidylserine Improves Memory Function of the Elderly Japanese Subjects with Memory Complaints. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2010;47(3):246-255.
[xxiv] Zhang, Y.Y., Yang, L.Q., Guo, L.M., Effect of phosphatidyl serine on memory in patients and rats with Alzheimer’s disease. Genet. Mol. Res. 2015; 14 (3): 9325-33
[xxv] Brewer GJ et al. Subclinical zinc deficiency in alzheimer's disease and parkinson's disease. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2010 Nov;25(7):572-5.
[xxvi] Haan MN et al. Homocysteine, B vitamins, and the incidence of dementia and cognitive impairment: results from the Sacramento Area Latino Study on Aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;85(2):511-7.
[xxvii] Araujo et al. Folates and aging: Role in mild cognitive impairment, dementia and depression.Ageing Res Rev. 2015; 22: 9-19.
[xxviii] Malaguarnera M., Ferri R., Bella R., Alagona G., Carnemolla A., Pennisi G. (2004). Homocysteine, vitamin B12 and folate in vascular dementia and in Alzheimer disease. Clin. Chem. Lab. Med. 42 1032–1035.
[xxix] Rivera-Calimlim L Effects of ethanol and pantothenic acid on brain acetylcholine synthesis.Br J Pharmacol.1988 Sep;95(1):77-82.