Studies completed in the field of healthcare have indicated that using appropriate supplements can help virtually anyone enjoy enhanced brain function, as well as protect against future cognitive decline. Nevertheless, due to the broad range of supplements available, choosing the best one can be a daunting endeavor. There are hundreds of individual formulas from which to choose, featuring a variety of nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, nootropic substances, amino acids, and herbs. There are also thousands of products that feature multiple ingredients. For this reason, finding the best formula essentially depends on the exact benefits for which one is looking. Below are some of the top supplements for brain health, and each one serves a specific purpose:
Citicoline works as a potent brain protector, and the substance itself occurs naturally in every cell of the body. It is one of the best brain boosters on today’s market, although it is not as well-known as many other cognitive enhancers.
Supports and Builds Healthy Brain Cell Membranes
The primary role of citicoline is to help support and build the healthy membranes that serve as a covering for each brain cell. Additionally, it enhances brain plasticity and blood flow to this vital organ. It also supports the changes that occur in the human brain throughout life.
Boosting the Powerhouse of Brain Cells
Those who use citicoline should also experience an increase in what is often referred to as “mental energy.” This is because the powerhouse of each brain cell is something called the mitochondria. Mitochondria play an essential role in brain energy, and citicoline fires up mitochondria and boost its natural power.
Eliminating Inflammation and Reducing Free Radical Damage
Two primary causes of premature brain aging are inflammation and free radical damage.
Citicoline reduces these harmful effects and also raises dopamine and acetylcholine levels, which are two essential neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine is the main brain chemical involved with learning and memory, and when levels of this chemical plummet, serious neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease may occur.
Low levels of dopamine can lead to depression or dementia and Parkinson’s disease. For this reason, European doctors often prescribe citicoline for Parkinson’s patients and even those who have suffered brain injuries or stroke. It is also used in many countries for old-age dementia.
In one clinical trial, citicoline was shown to improve cognition and memory as well as a synthetic Parkinson’s drug being studied simultaneously, called piracetam.
Acetyl-l-carnitine–ALCAR–is an amino acid that boosts both physical and mental energy. This helps to improve memory, the ability to focus, and the speed at which one can learn. This is likely due to the fact that ALCAR is a precursor of acetylcholine, the latter of which is the primary neurotransmitter of learning and memory. It also enhances memory and helps individuals to maintain a positive mood. Ultimately, it improves mental clarity in a wide variety of ways.
A Powerful Antioxidant
ALCAR is also a potent antioxidant that helps to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. This may ward off a host of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety attacks and even certain brain cancers. It even helps to break apart the neuro-tangles, also called plaques, that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
A Substance That May Fight Depression
ALCAR also boosts norepinephrine and serotonin. If either of these brain chemicals is imbalanced, the result can be depression. ALCAR is a fast-acting antidepressant that typically offers relief within seven to 10 days for moderately depressed patients.
Better Use of Glucose
ALCAR also increases the brain sensitivity to insulin, thus helping it to utilize blood glucose in a more efficient way. Glucose is the brain’s main source of fuel, and anytime this fuel can be used more efficiently, it leads to better mental performance.
Often referred to as “nutritional gold” for the brain, curcumin is the primary ingredient in turmeric, the latter of which is an Indian spice. Curcumin’s ability to protect the brain is quite impressive. Initially, it boosts levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are considered the brain’s happiness chemicals. In fact, it boosts blood flow to the brain as efficiently as physical exercise.
Reduces Negative Behavioral Patterns in OCD Patients
Curcumin is also believed to reduce the negative behaviors associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder–OCD–and the early memory loss that OCD sufferers often experience later in life.
Improves Attention Span and Memory in Seniors
In healthy seniors who are experiencing natural, age-related memory loss and inability to focus, curcumin was found to improve symptoms after only 30 days.
Destroys Brain Plaques Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease
The potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin have been proven to break up the brain plaques mentioned earlier, that are the primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, seniors who live in India–where turmeric is consumed by most people on a daily basis–have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s in the world.
Balances Brain Chemicals for Higher Cognitive Function
Bacopa, short for Bacopa monnieri, is used for balancing brain chemistry and is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy. Considered a brain and nerve tonic for three centuries, it is believed to increase concentration and the ability to learn, as well as improve memory. It was often used in ancient times by scholars to help them memorize lengthy Scriptures and hymns.
Increases Cerebral Blood Flow
When tested against the popular modafinil, which is considered a “smart drug, and the ancient herb, ginseng, evidence showed that it delivered more oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to the brain than either of these remedies. In addition, it surpassed them with regard to increase cerebral blood flow as well.
Keeps the Human Brain in a “Comfort Zone”
Bacopa is among the mysterious handful of herbs regarded as adaptogenic, which are believed to increase energy and calm a stressed mind without being either stimulating or sedating. As their name infers, adaptogens are believed to function like thermostats that keep a person’s body in a physically comfortable zone, only they keep the person’s mind in an emotional comfort zone.
Balances an Impressive Number of Brain Chemicals
In certain ways, Bacopa is also a balancing formula, as it is capable of reducing cortisol levels, while at the same time balancing neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. For this reason, this product is perfect for those searching for a natural cognitive enhancer that can also alleviate depression, anxiety or stress.
5. Alpha GPC
Alpha-glycerophosphocholine–Alpha GPC–is a synthetic form of choline and is an essential nutrient for the development of healthy brain cells and the formation of properly functioning neurotransmitters. A precursor of acetylcholine, Alpha GPC is considered a memory and learning chemical. Unfortunately, the brain benefits little from choline supplements, as they do not efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier. However, Alpha GPC supplements are able to breach this divide and offer positive results from the choline they contain.
Alpha GPC’s Positive Effect on GABA Levels
Because Alpha GPC boosts levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid–GABA–it aids in mental relaxation and calms focus. When GABA levels plummet, a person often lives in a stressed, overwhelmed, overstimulated state of mind. Research conducted on Alpha GPC indicates that it has a positive effect on GABA levels, and therefore improves nervous conditions, forgetfulness due to stress, and even wards off age-related mental decline.
European studies have discovered that Alpha GPC may also help the brain recover after a transient systemic attack–mini-stroke–brain trauma or injury, or a major stroke affecting one side of the body.
Tryptophan is a much-studied amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin. It is a proven mood enhancer and plays a vital role in appetite control, learning, healthy sleep cycles and mood. This is because it is the synthesis pathway for serotonin.
Why Tryptophan is Now Regarded as a Possible Cure for Depression
Low serotonin levels are believed to be the culprit in certain forms of mental depression. Popular drugs for depression, such as Zoloft and Prozac, are regarded as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors–SSRIs. Although their exact mechanism is not known, it is believed that they make more serotonin available to the brain. However, unlike SSRIs, it is a proven fact that tryptophan completes this very action and ensures that the brain gets adequate doses of serotonin.
Dissimilar to synthetic drugs, the action of tryptophan will cease when the brain signals it has received enough serotonin. For this reason, it is a great choice for those who have depression but want to try natural remedies without taking the plunge with medications that may or may not be prescribed in a dose that is truly effective. Too low or too high of the dose of such medicines will have little or no benefit and may even make the problem worse.
Tryptophan for Other Emotional and Mental Disorders
In addition to its ability to positively affect those suffering from depression, Tryptophan has been found useful in treating a variety of mental and emotional disorders, including the following:
• Seasonal affective disorder
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder
• Panic attacks
• Social anxiety
• General anxiety disorder
ADHD Linked To Low Tryptophan Levels
Low levels of tryptophan are also linked to ADHD. This was proven in one study where children with ADHD were found to have 50 percent less tryptophan than the amount considered average for youngsters up to 18 years of age.
Tryptophan Deficiency May Lead to Memory Loss and Impaired Cognitive Function
It has also been proven that tryptophan deficiency can result in both short-term and long-term memory loss, as well as decreased cognitive function in both young and old individuals.
7. Magnesium Threonate
Magnesium Threonate is a vitally important brain mineral that is required in over 600 metabolic functions. Nevertheless, magnesium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the developed world. Signs of such a deficiency include the following:
• A general feeling of being tired and wired at the same time
• Caffeine addiction
• Inability to cope with stress
• Inability to focus
• Brain fog
Because of the hundreds of metabolic functions it enhances, it is possible for individuals to feel relief from any or all of the symptoms and problems listed above by adding this supplement to their diet.
Proven Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation
Supplementing with magnesium has proven beneficial for those with certain mental health disorders, such as:
• Bipolar disorder
• Nervous tension
Important Information About Magnesium and the Blood-Brain Barrier
Many magnesium supplements are available on today’s market, but only magnesium threonate is accessible by the brain, as it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, unlike other forms of the supplement. Its unusual ability to permeate the membrane of each brain cell and boost magnesium concentrations in each cell makes it a great choice for improving attention and memory, as well as decreasing anxiety and depression.
Regarded as a natural “smart drug,” Vinpocetine is relatively new on the holistic market and is often considered a supplement as opposed to a smart drug. In a way, this particular substance has somewhat blurred the line between the two categories. Its primary ingredient is vincamine, which is a chemical found in the periwinkle plant.
A General Cognitive Enhancer
Vinpocetine supplements are typically used to promote overall mental well-being by protecting the brain against aging, increasing mental clarity, helping individuals to overcome brain fog and improving memory. It enters the brain at a rapid pace, decreases inflammation, balances neurotransmitter levels and protects against free radical damage.
Why Vinpocetine Maybe a New Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease
Because Vinpocetine has the ability to protect the brain from cognitive decline and degeneration, it is a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and old-age dementia.
Regarding this function, Vinpocetine is so potent that it also prevents the temporary memory loss that frequently accompanies anti-anxiety drugs, such as Xanax and lorazepam, regardless of the age of the patient.
Helps the Brain to Effectively Use Glucose
Another proven benefit of Vinpocetine is its ability to help the brain to use glucose in a more efficient manner. Because glucose is the main source of fuel for the brain, this is particularly important for those who have experienced brain injury or a stroke. More studies are underway to pinpoint exactly how Vinpocetine helps with glucose absorption in the brain.
9. Huperzine A
Those who suffer from problems with memory should consider Huperzine A as a primary addition to their vitamin and supplement regimen. Derived from a plant called Huperzia serrata–also called Chinese club moss–which grows in Southeast Asia, Huperzine A is believed to improve memory and blood circulation to the brain, as well as reduce inflammation.
Raises Acetylcholine Levels in the Brain
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is important to many brain functions, such as sleeping, memory, and learning. The mechanisms of Acetylcholine are very similar to the popular Alzheimer’s drug, Aricept. Both the synthetic drug and Acetylcholine inhibit the function of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which deactivates acetylcholine. The latter is necessary for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other conditions that result in cognitive decline. In one study, results were promising that Huperzine A may show symptoms of Alzheimer’s if the disease is still in its early stages. In China, it is an approved drug for such disorders.
Promotes New Brain Cell Growth and Protects Brain Cells From Damage
Huperzine A also protects the human brain from damage from environmental toxins and free radicals, while boosting the new brain cell growth.
Often described as meditation in a capsule or a teacup, L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and black teas. This particular supplement provides a truly unique set of benefits to the human brain.
A Calm, But Alert State of Might
L-theanine works by altering the normal patterns of one’s brain waves. The result is a supplement that places a person in the coveted state of relaxed alertness. It is very similar to the state of mind achieved during meditation. This is because it imparts a sense of general well-being by reducing stress, while simultaneously sharpening focus.
Enhanced Neurotransmitter Levels
L-theanine boosts levels of several vital neurotransmitters, including GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. This boost helps individuals to learn at a faster rate and stay motivated to reach goals. It also results in an overall positive mood, which makes one more resilient when the time comes to combat anxiety and stress.
A Unique Sleep Remedy
By keeping individuals in a calm and relaxed state of mind, it makes it easier for them to fall asleep at night. However, the supplement does not make one drowsy throughout the day. It simply helps people to maintain a calm mental state, so that a significant amount of “unwinding” is not necessary before it is time to go to bed.
Protection Against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Because L-theanine is also considered a neuroprotective, it may ward off Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even certain types of strokes.
The aforementioned supplements offer outstanding benefits to virtually anyone who wishes to improve brain health. However, it is important to inform one’s primary care physician about any supplements he or she plans to take on a regular basis.
You can also read our most popular 51 Amazing Facts About the Brain.