Natural Ways to Improve Cognitive Function
Our society assumes cognitive function “naturally” declines as we age. Although aging causes lower production of some chemicals affecting brain chemistry, many things affect cognitive health and a decline is not guaranteed. Aging is not a disease and loss of cognitive function is not a natural consequence.[i] The strongest factors known to help maintain strong cognitive function are a healthy (whole food, organic) diet, regular exercise, and participation in activities that stimulate and challenge thinking. The following supplements are known to assist brain chemistry and function (Note that some supplements can interfere with the function of prescription medications and that there is a potential for allergic reaction to any ingested product, so please ask a trained professional before combining supplements with prescription medications and discontinue use if any negative effects are experienced):
– B Vitamins: Known to affect the formation and maintenance of nerve cells, B Vitamins are essential for maintaining cognitive function. Supplementing on a daily basis is advised because B Vitamins are water soluble and are not stored in the body long-term. Vitamin B12 is especially important for brain health. When taken in supplement form, B12 is best absorbed sublingually in the Methylcobalamin form. (The Cobalamin form is cheaper and more frequently used, so use care when reading labels.)
– Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Naturally found in fish, algae and some nuts and seeds, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been scientifically proven to improve the function of neurotransmitters in the brain.[ii] Omega-3s have been successfully used with Alzheimer patients and are often used to help children with ADD/ADHD.[iii],[iv] The purest Omega-3 supplements are sourced from wild-caught fish in cold waters or from algaes. Omega-3s are best absorbed when combined with Vitamin A. For those who have concerns about radiation poisoning from fish or who live a vegan lifestyle, Omega-3s can be obtained from seeds (flax and chia are good examples), but the body does not immediately absorb the Omega-3s and must convert them before they can be utilized.
– Phosphatidyl Serine (PS): Phosphatidyl Serine naturally occurs in every cell in the body and is a potent modulator of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is one of my favorite supplements for improving cognitive function. Studies proved supplementation with PS may reduce, slow or even reverse cognitive impairment due to age-related decline.[v][vi] PS was shown to improve recall, learning, concentration, and even reflex response time.[vii] PS is also commonly used to help children with ADD/ADHD and is a well-known supplement used by college students to improve retention during finals week.
– Huperzine A: Huperzine A is a chemical found in the herb Chinese Club Moss, which has been used for centuries in Chinese Medicine. Recent studies proved Huperzine A not only improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients,[viii] but that it effectively improved school performance in adolescents.[ix] Please note that Huperzine A is known to interact with several prescription medications used to change brain chemistry.
If brain chemistry interests you, please read my post: Stop the Winter Blues & Seasonal Affective Disorder: http://bit.ly/rdw3Zj.
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As always, these statements were not evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health issue.
i: Finch C. Longevity, Semescence, and the Genome . Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1990.
ii: Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009 Mar;5(3):140-52. Review.
iv: Burgess J, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71(suppl):327S-330S.
v: Cenacchi, B, Bertoldin T, Farina C, Fiori M.G., Crepaldi G. Cognitive decline in the elderly: a double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter study on efficacy of phosphatidylserine administration. Aging (Clin. Exp. Res.), 1993, 5: 123-33.
vi: Alberts B. Et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. New York, NY. Garland Publishing; 1989.
vii: Rosadini, G, Sannita ,W.G., Nobili, F, and Cenacchi, T. Phosphatidylserine: quantitative EEG effects in healthy volunteers. Neuropsychobiol, 1991. 24: 42-8.
viii: Wang, Bai-Song; Wang, Hao; Wei, Zhao-hui; Song, Yan-yan; Zhang, Lu; Chen, Hong-Zhuan (2009). “Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta-analysis”. Journal of Neural Transmission 116 (4): 457. doi:10.1007/s00702-009-0189-x. PMID 19221692.
ix: Sun, QQ; Xu, SS; Pan, JL; Guo, HM; Cao, WQ (1999). “Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.”. Zhongguo yao li xue bao = Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20 (7): 601–3. PMID 10678121.