We often think of vitamins and minerals as essential for maintaining optimal health, being energetic and avoiding wintery colds. But have you ever considered the role that vitamins and minerals play in the functioning and development of your brain?
If you haven’t, now’s the time to.
Degenerative diseases and longevity go hand in hand. As we all gradually age, the risk for all of us increases. In fact, as many as four million Americans have Alzheimer. In the UK, the number of people with the disease is larger than the population of Liverpool. Brain health is a serious affair.
We all want to feel young and free from diseases. We want to live a long life, and age gracefully. The good news is that degenerative diseases can most often be avoided with adequate prevention. In fact, only less than 1 percent of the population develops Alzheimer’s because of a rare genetic mutation. That means, the remaining 99% could actually prevent it. Yes: 99%, which most likely includes you.
Now’s the time for action
Medical research showed that the brain changes leading to degenerative diseases unfold twenty to thirty years before a diagnosis. First symptoms of Alzheimer’s for most people appear at some point between the age of 40 and 65. According to the Mayo Clinic, the damage most often starts in the region of the brain that controls memory, but the process begins years before the first symptoms. Without any noticeable symptoms, it is extremely unlikely to get a diagnosis, which means it’s very difficult to track those early changes happening in the brain.
So go ahead and do your counting. Add 20 to 30 years to your age. Does that mean you should start taking care of your brain health now?
Better sooner than later, that’s our how we see it. Especially, since the power is in your hands. The power of making sound changes in your diet and lifestyle. And appropriate supplementation, if necessary.
For this reason, we have developed this guide summarising the 5 most essential groups of vitamins, minerals, and adaptogens for your brain. Take a look, and see what improvements you could make, to prolong and improve your brain health.
1. B Vitamins: For Energy and Resilience
B Vitamins for Brain Communication
B Vitamins, and particularly vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin B3 and folate (B9) are on top of the list. This is because they literally “make things happen” in the brain. These vitamins play a crucial role in overall brain function, from regulating energy release in brain cells, to their main function, which is to facilitate the action of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transfer information between over 100 billion neurons.
All of your movements, thoughts, and feelings – pretty much everything you do – is the result of these neurons talking with each other. Because neurotransmitters are functionally integrated with the immune system, the endocrine system and impact muscles, organs and glands, neurotransmitter imbalances can cause widespread health problems that might seem unrelated. Neurotransimtter imbalances can cause issues such as fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances. Neurotransmitters provide support in all life processes and as such, are incredibly important.
B Vitamin deficiencies
Given their tremendous power, vitamin B deficiencies can lead to numerous degenerative diseases. Severe deficiencies in B vitamins have been shown to have profound effects on the brain. These effects include impaired memory, higher levels of anxiety, confusion, irritability, depression, and inhibited mental performance.
Insufficient levels of vitamins B6 and B12 were found to lead to dementia, as they contribute to the myelin sheath around nerve cells, which speeds signals through the brain. Deficiencies of vitamin B9 are known to cause neural tube defects of the foetus, leading to cognitive dysfunctions later in life. Folic acid also helps maintain normal levels of serotonin, and so deficiencies may contribute to depression, dementia, and schizophrenia. Vitamin B1 deficiencies are known to limit the brain’s ability to use glucose, the brain’s fuel, therefore decreasing energy available for mental activity. The list goes on.
As suggested by Lisa Mosconi in her book Brain Food, 25 percent of all dementia cases, and most likely some of the remaining 75 percent, might be fully prevented by increasing consumption of B-vitamin-rich foods. That’s pretty sweet, isn’t it?
So how do you make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins?
Sourcing B Vitamins
While a lot of B vitamins come from the food we eat, their absorption for many of us might be weak. Especially as we get older, our metabolism naturally slows down and absorption of some vitamins like vitamin B12 might decrease. For this reason, it is super important to supplement your diet with a B complex that contains a full spectrum of B vitamins in the most bioavailable form.
This is especially true if you’re vegan or vegetarian and you avoid most vitamin B rich foods, such as fish, eggs and meat. If you think your diet is low in B vitamins, or if you’d like to know what it feels like to get adequate levels of B vitamins, try our brain formula Power Up. Power Up, our daytime nootropic, provides the perfect, easily-digested B complex to maintain and support brain health and mental acuity.
2. Choline: For Memory and Learning
Choline and the production of neurotransmitters
Strictly speaking, Choline is another type of B vitamin, but we think it deserves its own section. Indeed, choline is incredibly important for brain health as it supports the production of neurotransmitters.
Choline is particularly key for manufacturing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, as well for the production of cell membranes. Acetylcholine is one of the brain’s main neurotransmitters. It is crucial for memory and learning. Psychology Today highlights the importance of Choline intake in pregnancy, as studies have shown that a diet four times superior to the normal amount consumed can actually prevent memory decline in children as they reach old age.
Choline deficiencies, Alzheimer’s and memory loss
You are probably aware that Alzheimer’s is typically closely related to memory loss. This loss is mostly caused by a shortage of acetylcholine.
Sadly, as many as 90% (ninety!) of Westerners are not getting sufficient levels Choline from their diet. This level of deficiency is completely crazy!
Around 10 percent of the total amount of choline circulating in the body is produced by our liver. The remaining 90 percent should come from the food we eat, or from supplementation. It can be tricky to reach an adequate supply of choline without supplementation. For example, for men, it can take up to 4 eggs every day to reach healthy levels of choline.
Food sources include:
- eggs, as one of the richest sources of choline,
- most fish,
- organ meat,
- shiitake mushrooms,
- wheat germ,
- peanuts, and almonds,
- supplements. Amongst the supplemental sources of choline, we recommend a synergistic, brain-focused blend, such as Power Up.
3. Minerals: As Nervous System Regulators
Key minerals for brain health
Magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, iodine, selenium, manganese, and potassium. Alongside B vitamins, these minerals represent another set of brain savers. They are all minerals derived from the earth and primarily absorbed from fruits and vegetables. As much as vitamins, these minerals play a major role in supporting our brain health. They do so by regulating nerve transmission, controlling hydration and powering the metabolism.
In adequate concentrations, minerals are essential for optimal brain function. Iron is crucial for production of haemoglobin which forms the part of our blood cells that carry oxygen and proteins. Magnesium is essential for a well-functioning nervous system. It supports memory and learning. Copper is key to the health of our immune system, blood vessels, nerves, and bones. Zinc supports brain metabolism. Iodine is an integral component of the thyroid hormone and mediates its effects on brain development. Selenium influences compounds with hormonal activity, and neurotransmitters, and can affect mood in humans and behaviour in animals. Manganese is key to normal cell function and metabolism. Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions, maintain healthy nerve function, and regulate fluid balance.
Stress and mineral deficiencies
Too little of any of these minerals would slow your brain down.
While most of our minerals are consumed by us daily through food and water, some of them get quickly wiped out from our systems. This usually happens because of stress and lifestyle factors. As a prime example: most people living a modern, city life with stressful work, are deficient in magnesium. This might be the most common issue encountered by holistic health practitioners across the Western world.
It is still important to remember that most minerals are actually needed in small quantities. Excessive intake of zinc and copper might promote oxidative stress that makes your brain age faster. Caution and being smart about your choices are key.
As a first step in improving your supply of key minerals, particularly magnesium, try adding these foods into your diet on a weekly, if not daily basis:
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g. kale, collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli sprouts…)
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans)
- Fruits (avocado, banana, raspberries…)
- Nuts (cashews, almonds, brazils…)
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines…)
- Whole grains (brown rice, wholegrain oats…)
- Raw cacao
In addition to ramping up your supply of mineral rich vegetables, choose supplements with high bioavailability and digestibility. Better yet – try our brain-focused, restorative mineral blend: Unplug.
4. Antioxidants: To Fight Cognitive Decline and Ageing
Chasing away oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is one of the main causes of aging. Oxidation is something that happens in our brain continuously as our brain cells burn glucose and oxygen to produce energy. This is perfectly normal and healthy. However, while generally our brains are good at managing this process, sometimes the amount of oxidation exceeds our brains’ ability to keep it in check. This is when oxidative stress happens. Fortunately, nature has equipped us with amazing ways to deal with it.
Antioxidants and flavonoids are substances that naturally prevent oxidation from happening. They are capable of wandering throughout our bodies and brains, and fighting off whatever free radicals they encounter along the way. You can consider antioxidants as our internal police officers. They chase the bad guys away. Their role in preventing degenerative diseases is thus of incredible importance.
Antioxidants and flavonoids should definitely come from your food as the main source. In fact, when it comes to brain health, antioxidant supplements have surprisingly been proven not to work. Only fresh nutrients from natural food sources were found to have lowered rates of cognitive decline and dementia.
When it comes to antioxidants, think of vitamin C, E and beta carotene found in broccoli, artichokes, carrots, bell peppers, watercress, spinach, peaches, grapefruits, kidney beans, lentils and corn.
Spices and herbs – turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, thyme, parsley and basil also come into play.
Flavonoids can be found in berries, pomegranates, apples, red wine and chocolate. Yes, wine and chocolate. With wine, we’re afraid to say that alcohol defeats most of the health benefits. So indulge in chocolate daily instead. The only rule is it’s got to be high quality, dark chocolate. Or better yet, consume unadulterated, powerful raw cacao. Try our Creamy Cacao Whey Protein made with raw cacao directly sourced from Ecuador. That’s certainly the best choice!
4. The Power of Adaptogens
Getting ahead of the game
Food comes first, there is no doubt. Plan your meals, make sure you’re getting plenty of B vitamins, mineral and antioxidants on a daily basis.
If you really want to be ahead of the game, however, there are some very powerful ways to maximise your brain health and mental power. One of them includes supplementing with adaptogens. Yes, adaptogens – that buzz word that you read about all the time in the health columns. There is a reason for the hype.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbs that increase your ability to cope with stress.
In other words, adaptogens help the body adapt to new or stressful situations, such as a high level presentation, a job interview, or a sports competition. This is because adaptogens work as nerve tonics that calm the nervous system and deeply nourish tissues and fluids in the body.
Dr Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, says adaptogens are helpful due to how they interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, both of which are involved in the body’s response to stress.
Most adaptogens also have amazing brain protecting qualities. It seems they are perfectly suited to help us all survive in this crazy busy world.
Our favourite adaptogens
While the list of adaptogens is long, we have our personal favourites:
First, a potent blend of Rhodiola and Ashwaganda, as used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. They are both useful for combating fatigue and stress, reducing depression and soothing a jangled nervous system. While Ashwaganda is soothing, Rhodiola has the ability to restore. In this tandem, they have an amazing power in aiding study, improving work performance and pepping up performance on the sports field. Golden roots indeed.
- Gotu Kola and Brahmi (AKA Bacopa Monnieri)
Another powerful Ayurvedic set includes Gotu Kola and Brahmi Powder. These herbs are incredible at improving cognition and sharpening memory. Thanks to their strong memory-enhancing abilities, they are both currently in the spotlight as a natural treatment to help slow age-related decline and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
One more wonder herb is Kapikkachu which also has its roots in the Ayurvedic tradition. This herb is known as a naturally powerful motivator and focus enhancer. This is due to its high content of the amino acid L-dopa, or levodopa, which is an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter called “dopamine” – used by the brain for decision making. In the Chinese herbal system, Kapikkachu is famous for having the power to restore the adrenal systems, hearing and cognitive functions.
The last pair comes from the Chinese medical tradition with herbs already famous in the West. Panax Ginseg and Gingko Biloba being the two superstars. Panax Ginseng is known as the Fountain of Youth among the Chinese and is now increasingly used to support the treatment against Alzheimer’s. Just watching Ginkgo Biloba as it grows in some of the most polluted cities and manages to thrive, demonstrates its incredible adaptogenic power. The alkaloids contained in the Ginkgo Biloba leaves are thought to ward off mental retardation, improve mental function, and provide detoxification, nourishment, and oxygenation for the brain. A real treasure.
In this article we’ve highlighted 5 key groups of micronutrients that can make a real difference to your mental agility and your brain health in the long run. Now here’s a summary of action steps, which you can easily implement from today onwards:
- Look after your brain health now, rather than later, as symptoms of a degenerative disease might only appear 20-30 years after the first changes start occurring.
- Supplement in key B vitamins, including choline, using a brain-specific formula (try Power Up for a month).
- Increase your daily and weekly supply of mineral-rich foods, and if necessary, supplement with a mineral blend such as Unplug.
- Eat plenty of fresh sources of antioxidants and flavonoids, as these can not be effectively supplemented.
- Experiment with adaptogens, like those included in Power Up and Unplug, to supercharge your brain.