Focus, remaining calm and having a good memory seem to be what most people need to feel good. I have heard people time and time again fearful as to whether they will perhaps be one of the 10 million people who develop Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. Although no one supplement can guarantee total brain health, I have listed some supplements that I have personally found useful in working with clients and my own diet. This list is by no means all inclusive, just some that I have had success with working on the path to feel good.
I put magnesium as #1 because it is part of over 300 biochemical reactions that work to support all organ systems. Magnesium is considered an anti-stress mineral, with relaxing effects on both the body and mind. A gentle yet effective muscle relaxant, magnesium helps to relieve muscle cramping and spasms. It is particularly important for arthritic conditions, because it allows calcium to bond into the bone, preventing arthritic deterioration. Today, it is very difficult to get enough magnesium through our food intake as magnesium is leached from the soil with repeated use of fertilizers and pesticides, and supplementation becomes necessary.
✔ Choose a form of magnesium shown to have high absorption, or as directed by your healthcare provider. If you take too much you will have loose stools.
- B Vitamins
A tie with magnesium in its effectiveness, the B vitamins – particularly B12, B6, and folate – are brain vitamins. The three vitamins all play central roles in molecular reactions, some of which lead to the production of DNA or RNA.
B12 also called Cobalamin, is required for proper functioning and development of the brain and nerve cells. It is also involved in a cell process called methylation, a basic chemical process that all cells, including brain cells, require to thrive. Many important processes in the nervous system require this vitamin as well as the other B’s for the one carbon pathway called methylation. Methylation is involved in cell communication, the production of neurotransmitters that control many aspects of cognition, and the production of myelin, which acts as insulation for neurons to help them fire more efficiently (similar to how plastic coating on a wire improves its ability to transmit an electric signal).
Dr. Smith and his team at the University of Oxford have discovered that vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the brain’s aging process: “B12 helps stop the brain from shrinking. Elderly people with low-normal levels of B12 showed a greater rate of brain shrinkage than those with higher levels.” Keeping healthy B12 levels now may help prevent the cognitive decline that comes with age. For a list of his research studies visit: http://www.pharm.ox.ac.uk/research/associate/david-smith
Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is essential for brain function. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. It is needed for normal brain development and function, and helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate the body clock.
Some researchers also feel that folate deficiency can lead to problems with cognition and even increase the risk for depression. Vitamin B6 and folate work with vitamin B12 by regulating a compound called homocysteine, which inhibits the methylation reaction, mentioned above, which is so important in the nervous system.
✔ Based on all the research which I have not given here, keeping healthy levels of all of the B vitamins is extremely important. If you have any concerns about your B vitamin levels, it is a good idea to get them checked.
- Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, has probably been one of the most intensively studied vitamins of this decade. Data indicate that there is an epidemic of Vitamin D3 deficiency in the U.S., particularly in the Northern states. Recent research shows how important this vitamin is in promoting bone health, modulating cell growth and proliferation, supporting immune and neuromuscular functions, and reducing inflammation. (Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health Web site. – ods.od.nih.gov)
Vitamin D serves important functions in brain health. It is synthesized in the skin when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit skin cells.
There are vitamin D receptors spread throughout many areas in the brain and the rest of the central nervous system (CNS). There is evidence that Vitamin D takes part in important aspects of brain function, like synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, the activity of neurotransmitters, and certain motor processes.
Some researchers feel that vitamin D may play a role in depression by affecting the brain’s inflammatory response. Low vitamin D may also be linked to psychological stress and anxiety, again presumably through its role in reducing inflammation in the brain.
During the short days of winter — and as more people avoid sun exposure — people may become deficient in vitamin D: this is because as mentioned above, it is largely made in the skin when the sun’s rays hit it. The best food source of vitamin D is fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, though it is also present in smaller quantities in beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms.
✔ Take If you are concerned that your vitamin D level might be low, have it tested by your healthcare provider and discuss taking supplements if your levels are found to be low.
- Vitamin A
Retinoic acid, the bioactive metabolite of vitamin A, is a potent signaling molecule in the brains of growing and adult animals, regulates numerous gene products, and modulates neurogenesis, neuronal survival and synaptic plasticity. A study reported in Molecular Nutrition Food Research in 2010 reported that Vitamin A is a potent signaling molecule that modulates neurogenesis, neuronal survival and synaptic plasticity. Their results indicated that vitamin A has a significant role in maintaining neuronal plasticity and cognitive function in adults.
Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Apr;54(4):489-95.
✔ Vitamin A is fat soluble, high quantities can be toxic, so I often suggest taking the mixed carotenoids, which are converted by the body into vitamin A. Check with your healthcare provider.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most well researched nutrients. Its role in nutritional biochemistry is extensive being:
1)a key antioxidant— compound that protects cells throughout the body from free radical damage—
2) a cofactor in the synthesis of important neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, and
3) a supporter in the production of cellular energy.
Since the brain is clearly a highly metabolic functioning organ utilizing 20% of total body energy, it is subject to oxidative damage. Hence, any antioxidant is supportive of brain function. Citrus flavonoids found along with vitamin C in citrus fruits are said to enhance vitamin C’s antioxidant activity.
Flavonoids take part in multiple cellular processes, depending on the type of flavonoid. They are responsible for many aspects our brain function.
Some evidence shows that flavonoids can drive away cognitive decline. This may be due to the compounds that protect against oxidative damage.
Flavonoids boost the brain’s ability to form new neurons, prevent brain cells from dying, and enhance what researchers call “synaptic plasticity”, or the ability of neurons to form and reform connections with each other.
✔ Choose a form of Vitamin C with bioflavonoids or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have been evaluated in symptoms of stress, cognitive disorders, anxiety disorders, as well as other mental health issues. The two chief omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and an essential omega-6 is linoleic acid (LA). Omega fatty acids are essential building blocks for the cell membrane of brain cells. They can affect the the cell membrane at the synapse, the point where neurons communicate to exchange neurotransmitters. The synapse is the heart of neural communication.
Overall, the research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may have a therapeutic benefit in many mood disorders.
✔ Taking a good Omega 3-6-9 oil daily may be beneficial for some. Discuss this with a trusted healthcare provider who is not selling the product.
The bidirectional communication pathway of the brain-gut axis is the topic of research these days. Something Yoga Scientists knew for thousands of years. With this new awareness medical science are able to work with the brain in a more holistic framework. Time and time again, I hear from clients that when they feel depressed or anxious they also have digestive issues. The gut–brain connection is a two-way street as I mentioned in the opening sentence.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that support the gut brain axis by supplying the guts microbiome with friendly bacteria. These friendly bacteria support a healthy digestion as well as brain function, and act to control our immune system. I often suggest that clients get their probiotics from adding fermented foods to their diet. However, there are also supplements available on the market.
✔ For supplemental probiotics choose them wisely. It is usually recommended 5 billion and 50 billion organisms daily for one week, or as directed by your healthcare provider. Keep in mind; once you build your colony back up if you have been under stress or antibiotic therapy, you can maintain it with fermented foods.
If you need support in your diet and nutrition, seek out someone who has thorough knowledge of the subject and is not selling supplements. It is also important that you learn as you go so that you gain the knowledge to walk your own path and not become dependent on outside sources.
Reference: Taylor, Susan. Feeling Good Matters: The Yoga of Mind Medicine and Healing. 2015