Proper brain function and health is dependent on effective brain nutrition that is to say that you need to strengthen your brain with essential nutrients, minerals and antioxidants. This will make the difference between a brain that functions properly and one that doesn’t. One major problem in the brain evolves around oxidative stress. This is inevitable based on metabolism alone but can be a problem from introduction of environmental toxins as well.
Oxidative stress or the formation of free radicals can really wreak havoc on brain cells particularly when they accumulate. This leads to loss in brain function such as memory and learning but may lead to other brain dysfunction as well. Although oxidative stress can occur throughout the body/brain there is an organelle found in all your cells known as mitochondria where free radicals tend to amass themselves. Mitochondria are the site of aerobic respiration were glucose is converted into ATP the energy currency of the cell. This process leads to general free radical formation as well as superoxides. Superoxides are super damaging as they have the ability to damage neighboring molecules. Your cells have genes that code for enzymes and powerful antioxidants that remove free radicals, however, sometimes you don’t make enough and free radicals begin to build up blocking metabolic pathways, damaging DNA and creating irreparable damage to cell membranes. As we age, free radical buildup is inevitable and is a major part of the aging process itself. Eating foods that contain antioxidants is important to combat this problem but sometimes you still can’t get enough and that’s were supplementation comes in. Look for supplements that contain antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E and D along with CoQ10, quercetin, resveratrol (red grape skins), proanthocyanidins (grape seed extract) and alpha-Lipoic acid.
Beyond antioxidants, there are certain coenzymes that the brain requires such as B vitamins. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are particularly important for the brain but a B-complex multivitamin will ensure you have all the B vitamins you need for body and brain.
You have billions of neurons in your brain and all of them have membranes. That’s a lot of membranes which are primarily made up of phospholipid molecules and that’s got to be trillions of those. Unlike other cells in the body, neurons use their membranes heavily to send signals. This means they can become damaged just by normal wear and tear daily. This calls for adding phospholipids and or omega-3 fatty acids to your diet and/or supplementation. When your cell membranes are damaged, neurons can’t release transmitter properly, take in nutrients they need or get rid of wastes properly. Taking in omega-3s will help repair that damage and bring back normal function.
Neurons are heavily dependent on minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride to maintain membrane potential. Maintaining a membrane potential ensures that work can be done at the cell membrane such as release neurotransmitter, respond to second messengers, take in nutrients and get rid of wastes. Also, some enzymes require minerals such as zinc, magnesium and selenium. These are called cofactors and they activate enzymes otherwise the enzyme doesn’t work. B vitamins are also required to activate enzymes and are called coenzymes. They are called coenzymes instead of cofactors because they are organic molecules and not a mineral.
Healthy brain function is also dependent on blood flow to the brain. This brings more oxygen and nutrients to neurons as well as carry off wastes more effectively. There are a number of botanicals that can help to do this such as Ginkgo biloba and Vinpocetine.
Studies indicate that declining brain function is directly related to deficiencies in nutrients, minerals, vitamins, lipids and antioxidants. Listed below are some ingredients you should look for when buying a supplement for brain health. Before taking any supplement, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. And, remember supplementation is not meant as a substitute for eating properly.
Thiamine (B1) – This coenzyme is an essential nutrient that is required by 3 enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Intermediate products of these pathways are also used to generate other essential molecules such as the building blocks of protein, DNA and neurotransmitters.
Niacin (B2) – This coenzyme is important for the formation of nucleotide enzymes that are required for functioning of mono-amine oxidase (MAO) in the brain. MAOs aid in eliminating toxic by-products from the metabolism of essential amino acids. Niacin also increases blood flow to the brain, lowers blood pressure and lowers cholesterol levels in blood.
Pyridoxine (B6) – This coenzyme is involved with making the neurotransmitter dopamine. It also is involved with converting 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) into the neurotransmitter serotonin known as the “feel good” transmitter.
Folic Acid (B9) – This coenzyme maintains healthy levels of homocysteine in blood. High levels of homocysteine promotes brain cell damage. Vitamin B9 improves short-term memory, makes you alert and energized.
Cobalamin (B12) – This coenzyme is involved in red blood cell formation, proper nervous system function and DNA synthesis. Deficiencies in B12 generates fatigue, memory loss and depression.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble antioxidant that keeps free radicals at bay before they can do brain damage. It is also important for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
Vitamin D – This is yet another antioxidant that keeps free radicals at bay and is also involved in neurotransmitter synthesis. The brain has many vitamin D receptors.
Vitamin E – This is a lipid soluble antioxidant and protects cell membranes.
Phospholipids and Omega-3s
Omega-3s are important brain food. These fatty acids make up a large part of cell membranes in all cells and are important for maintaining proper brain function. Some supplements use omega-3 fatty acids as an ingredient while others use phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine and/or phosphatidylserine. These phospholipids are actually in the form the cell uses whereas omega-3s have to be assembled into phospholipid form in the liver. Either way, you’ll get the membrane components you need to sustain proper membrane function.
This molecule is taken from the periwinkle plant and is known for its ability to increase blood circulation in the brain by way of vasodilation. It also protects neurons as it acts as an antioxidant and it is often taken as a nootropic. Nootropics are smart drugs that increase memory function. Vinpocetine also carries anti-inflammatory properties as it has the ability to inhibit genes that code for pro-inflammatory proteins.
Magnesium – This mineral aids in maintaining membrane potential and protecting neurons from toxins.
Potassium – This mineral is important for maintaining membrane potential and cell-cell communication.
Zinc – This is a mineral that plays a critical role in communication between cells in the brain. It is important during development and is involved with the formation of memories in the hippocampus.
Calcium – This is a mineral that is essential for proper brain function. When chemical signals arrive at a cell membrane, calcium ions deliver that signal from the outside to the inside by interacting with certain proteins associated with the membrane. When these proteins are activated by the calcium, this causes changes inside the cell such as altering genetic expression.