Ever why some people’s memories are better? Or why some people’s mental acuity dulls faster than others? The answer is a combination of many factors, such as biology, blood pressure, cholesterol, vitamin deficiencies, and personal choices such as exercise, diet, and smoking. The use of supplements for seniors may also be relevant for improving memory and brain function.
The brain supplement industry is now one of the fastest-growing markets, and with over 70 million baby boomers reaching senior status, its no wonder its become a multi-billion dollar business. Everyone, not just seniors, is looking for ways to boost their brain function, but seniors are amongst the highest number reaching for supplements.
Based on a 2019 survey published by the AARP, 26% of Americans who are 50+ years old buy supplements to maintain or improve brain function, as well as delay or reverse dementia.
Most case studies are conducted on patients already experiencing a decline in their mental health and memory due to disease or age. Unfortunately, there is a lack of confirmed studies as to how some supplements aid an already healthy brain.
The lack of evidence of using supplements does not mean you should avoid them; it merely means you should exercise caution and consult your doctor before adding any supplements to your daily regimen.
Supplements to aid in brain function are also referred to as nootropics. Nootropics refer to all medications and supplements that aid in brain health. Nootropics are said to help with cognitive function, focus, depression, and memory.
The supplements in this list can all be considered nootropics. They each have their advantages and disadvantages.
What to Know Before Purchasing Nootropics
Because supplements are not held to FDA guidelines and regulations, you must know what to look for in a supplement before picking one up from your local pharmacy. Here are a few things to check for when choosing the right brain supplement:
- Look for the statement “certificate of analysis” which indicates the product has undergone third-party testing.
- Take time to read the label and know what ingredients to look for.
- Be sure the supplement has been approved or endorsed by a reputable licensed doctor.
- Avoid supplements with additives or artificial ingredients.
- Choose a supplement produced in the US or a country with similar or higher standards.
Supplements focused on brain function and memory are frequently marketed towards seniors, and though some are legitimately good products, others are just after your money.
Memory supplement scams fall into the category of anti-aging scams, one of the leading scams targeting seniors in America. Since the fear of cognitive decline and memory are a genuine and serious problem amongst seniors, criminals are using this fear for financial gain. And because supplements do not require FDA approval, it is all the easier for scammers to get their product to market.
Risks of Taking Supplements
Although supplements are supposed to help improve our health, some supplements can cause more harm than good, which is why it is vital to consult your doctor before taking any new medications.
Supplements can have adverse drug interactions with other medicines or may cause greater health concerns if you have a preexisting illness. For example:
- Those who have or are at high risk for cardiovascular disease should not exceed 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin E.
- There is a greater risk of prostate cancer for those taking 400 IU or more of vitamin E per day.
- Vitamin E, fish oil supplements, and Ginko Biloba hinder blood clotting, so using or combining any of these supplements can lead to increased bruising and bleeding.
- Fish oil
- Vitamin E
Fish oil has long been toted as one of the best supplements to take for a wide variety of reasons. Though not all of the benefits of this supplement have been substantiated, several claims have been proven, making fish oil a trusted and reliable supplement.
Fish oil contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), both of which are types of omega-3 fatty acids. These specific fatty acids are proven to aid in promoting good mental health.
Specifically, DHA is critical for maintaining the structure and function of your brain. DHA also helps with improving memory, thinking skills, and reaction times.
EPA works as an anti-inflammatory, which helps decrease damage to the brain associated with aging. Additionally, DHA and EPA help to reduce the decline of cognitive function as well as boost one’s mood, especially when linked to depression.
Other Benefits: Fish oil has other benefits such as:
- Lowers triglycerides
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases good cholesterol
- May increase eye function
- Impedes the plaque growth in the arteries
- Reduces chances of stroke
- Promotes good heart health
- Reduces pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- Reduces the risks of some cancers
Foods that Contain: Obviously fish oil is found in fish, but some fish have a higher content level such as salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel
Recommended Dose: The ideal intake amount and method for fish oil is eating two servings of fish per week. But, if you dislike the taste of fish, fish oil supplements will work too. The recommended dosage is 1,000-2,000 mg per day. The USDA states that fish oil intake should not exceed 3,000 mg per day.
Cautions: Remember, fish oil increases blood clotting, so those who are on blood thinners will want to consult their primary physician before taking fish oil supplements.
Phosphatidylserine is essential to a functioning brain. This fatty substance is also known as a phospholipid, which is responsible for protecting brain cells as well as delivering messages amongst the cells. Also, phosphatidylserine helps to improve cognitive function and decrease memory loss.
Studies confirm that those taking phosphatidylserine supplements have an increase in mood, focus, and better short term memory. Recently doctors have started to use phosphatidylserine on Alzheimer patients to treat symptoms.
Research shows that as we age, the levels of phosphatidylserine found in our brains decrease over time, which is why it is phosphatidylserine is fast becoming popular with seniors looking to improve overall cognitive function.
Other Benefits: Phosphatidylserine has been used to help muscle soreness associated with exercise, athletic performance, milk production in breastfeeding mothers, and multiple sclerosis.
Foods that Contain: Phosphatidylserine is found in foods such as eggs, organ meats, fish and shellfish, lean meat, and cereal grains.
Recommended Dose: The optimal dose for greatest effectiveness is to take 100 mg, one to three times a day.
Cautions: There are a few side effects to be aware of when taking phosphatidylserine, such as possible interactions with blood thinners, upset stomach, gas and bloating, and insomnia.
Resveratrol found in plant proteins often in the skin of red or dark-colored fruit. This plant compound acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and helps to deter the production of beta-amyloid, which forms the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties found in resveratrol have shown to protect brain cells from deterioration associated with aging.
Other Benefits: Resveratrol’s benefits don’t stop at protecting the brain; resveratrol is also known to or is suspected to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease LDL cholesterol oxidation
- Ward off the diseases associated with aging
- Promote better insulin sensitivity
- Ease joint pain
- Suppress cancer cells
Foods that Contain: white and red grapes, white and red wine, grape juice, peanuts and peanut butter, pistachios, cocoa, and some berries (including bilberries, blueberries, and cranberries).
Recommended Dose: 10-200 mg per day, you may consult your doctor to dial in your ideal dose recommendation.
Cautions: In higher doses resveratrol has been linked to the following side-effects:
- Mild-to-moderate gastrointestinal issues like nausea, abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea
- Increase the risk of bleeding or bruising
- May increase the rate in which your body metabolizes other drugs
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a product of L-carnitine. It is an amino acid that is naturally occurring in the body. L-carnitine is different than the traditional amino acids, as it is not used a building block for protein. Instead, L-carnitine is used to aid in converting fat into energy.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is a supplement commonly used to aid in boosting memory and improving mental skills. It has shown to be effective in seniors who experience age-related memory loss and decreased cognitive function.
Additionally, acetyl-L-carnitine has helped reduce mental fatigue common in older adults. It has also been found useful in combating early Alzheimer’s Disease.
Other Benefits: Other common problems that acetyl-L-carnitine is used for include:
- Lower levels of testosterone in older men
- Symptoms associated with alcohol disorders
- Nerve pain
- Peyronie disease
Foods that Contain: Foods that contain the most carnitine include beef, milk, dairy, fish, and poultry.
Recommended Dose: Depending on why you are taking acetyl-L-carnitine, here is the recommended dosage amounts:
- The decline in memory and mental skills associated with aging: 1,500-2,000 mg daily
- Mental tiredness: 2 grams of acetyl-L-carnitine twice a day
Cautions: Though there are few side effects associated with acetyl-L-carnitine, there are few, which include stomach upset, dry mouth, headache, restlessness, and an increase in seizures among those already prone to seizures.
Additionally, do not take acetyl-L-carnitine if you are already on Acenocoumarol (Sintrom) or Warfarin (Coumadin) as it may increase the effects of these drugs.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that aids in reducing oxidative stress on the brain. The term vitamin E refers to eight different compounds that make up this vitamin.
According to Harvard Medical, higher doses of vitamin E have proven to help people with early Alzheimer’s disease continue to perform necessary daily routines. However, vitamin E does not reduce or eliminate the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.
Though not enough is known, it is believed that vitamin E may aid in repairing damaged cells.
- May help reduce free radical damage
- May help with some eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts
- Decreased cognitive decline
- May help prevent heart disease
- May help prevent some cancer-causing cells
- May slow the aging process of your cells
Foods that Contain: Key foods with vitamin E include seeds, nuts, broccoli, spinach, and vegetable and seed oils.
Recommended Dose: The recommended adult 15 mg/day
Cautions: Vitamin E is an excellent supplement, but too much can have serious ill-effects such as:
- Increased risk of pancreatic cancer
- Blood clotting issues
- Increased risk for complications in those who have or at high risk for heart disease