Supplements are beneficial, but a healthy and balanced diet is the most important for your brain health
02/26/2020 // Michael Alexander // Views

Seventy-five percent of Americans are turning to supplements to address their health needs, according to data collected by the Council for Responsible Nutrition during their Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements for 2018. Not only that, 87 percent of the surveyed supplement users said they have overall confidence in the safety, quality and effectiveness of the supplements they take.

This is complemented by a recent study by the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), which found that a quarter of Americans aged over 50 take supplements mainly for brain health. According to the AARP study, this translates to a booming business that’s expected to reach $5.8 billion in terms of sales by 2023.

Among the brain health-supporting supplements discussed in the study are those containing:

  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA
  • Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
  • Fish oil
  • Medium-chain triglycerides
  • Nicotinamide riboside
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Apoaequorin

The study also looked at ginkgo biloba and other plant-derived compounds such as curcumin, various flavanols, huperzine-A and caffeine. (Related: Nutrients and brain health: Which ones are great for improving mental health?)

The mentioned supplements have shown health benefits in separate studies -- health benefits that may be linked to the majority of their components’ antioxidant properties.

For example, B vitamins have been shown to support good mental health in individuals, while omega-3 supplementation can be used as adjunctive therapy in the management of treatment-unresponsive depression and schizophrenia.


B vitamins and omega-3s, on separate studies, have been shown to possess antioxidant properties. This means that they can help promote the body’s overall health by fighting the damaging effects of oxidative stress caused by free radicals from the environment.

However, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) -- the group which conducted the study on behalf of the AARP -- said that while supplements offer benefits to those who take them, the best way to get nutrients is through a healthy and balanced diet.

Looking to improve your cognitive function? Here are some foods you can add to your diet:

  • Fatty fish. Eating more fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon can help improve your mental health. This is due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are vital for normal brain function and development. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, low levels of omega-3s may accelerate brain aging and contribute to a decline in one’s cognitive function.
  • Coffee. Aside from caffeine, which helps in improving focus, coffee also contains other potent natural compounds, such as eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide or EHT. In a study published on PLOS One, researchers found that EHT may confer therapeutic benefits in rodent models of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Just be careful not to consume too much though, as excess caffeine may lead to unpleasant side effects and complications such as jitters, restlessness and sleeplessness.
  • Blueberries. An antioxidant-rich fruit, blueberries are full of phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins, catechins, polyphenols and quercetin. These phytochemicals have all been shown to exhibit strong antioxidant properties and may even delay brain aging, as well as improve memory.
  • Broccoli. Those who want to improve their brain health should consume more broccoli. A member of the cabbage family, broccoli is packed with vitamin K -- a vitamin essential to the formation of sphingolipids, a type of fat that's densely packed into brain cells. According to studies, a higher vitamin K intake may lead to better memory in adults.
  • Nuts. When it comes to improving brain health, you can never go wrong with eating more nuts. Not only are they tasty, but they are also rich in essential nutrients such as vitamin E, which is linked to good cognitive health. In a study published in the Archives of Neurology, vitamin E is said to be associated with a reduction in age-related cognitive decline.

It doesn't stop there. Other superfoods that can support healthy cognitive function include eggs, green tea, oranges, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and turmeric.

Sources include:

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