Of all the resources that people rely on to navigate their lives, the one taken most for granted is also the one that is relied on the most – memory.

Did you know 50 percent of Americans over 65 are unable to recall even simple names and numbers because of common age-related memory loss? As you get older, blood vessels in the brain may narrow, reducing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. This creates energy shortages in the brain and may cause:

  • Mild memory problems associated with ageing
  • Diminished concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased mental energy

Age-related mental decline and memory problems can be also caused by other factors including harmful free radicals. These highly-reactive forms of oxygen create a chemical reaction called oxidative stress which can damage brain cells. If free radicals get out of control, cells are damaged faster than they are repaired. Like a biological form of rust, a lifetime of oxidative stress can lead to diminished brain function.

Free radicals can not only assault us internally, but they can wreak havoc from the outside as well, primarily through the skin and lungs. Today’s modern industrial environment in concert with the sun's ultraviolet rays produce free radicals. Many are unaware that in the presence of heat and sunlight, ozone forms quickly from nitrogen oxides in polluted air and volatile organic compounds from vehicle exhaust. Ozone is a highly reactive gas and the main component of smog, which is a key contributor in the formation of free radicals. This is the perfect storm for oxidative stress.

Additionally, chemical pesticides, herbicides, and petrochemical paints and solvents are also sources of free radical exposure. Moreover, when people eat fats processed at high temperatures or fats that are deep-fried, they are consuming foods that add to the free radical load. And don’t forget tobacco of all kinds is a major producer of free radicals.

10 Antioxidants for Cognitive Health

Where would we be without our intellect, imagination and creativity? How would we survive without memory, intuition or your ability to reason? You rely on these mental faculties every day of your life, so where does that leave you if you are not taking the necessary steps to promote mental clarity and cognitive health? 

Mental clarity can improve memory, help you better handle stress, and make you more efficient and productive. Mental clarity will help you perform well in your job; learn and retain information; solve complex problems; and help you to relax. Is true mental clarity this elusive phenomena or something that is realistic to obtain? Well, there is good news. You can have mental clarity and have it soon.

Evidence is mounting that cumulative oxidative damage to brain cells causes fuzzy memory, slow learning, and the loss of coordination that is often seen with aging. In fact, according to Webmd.com, almost one in seven U.S. adults aged 71 and older have dementia and that oxidative stress is a one of the key contributors to this staggering statistic. Moreover, Alzheimer's disease begins with oxidative stress long before any symptoms arise.

That said, we need to include antioxidant-rich foods and supplements into our diet because they are powerful at decreasing the damage caused by free radicals. The following antioxidant supplements, among others, significantly support brain function and memory without the side effects of prescription medication:

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). This powerful antioxidant is both water and fat soluble and enters all parts of the cell to neutralize free radicals. It is the only antioxidant supplement that can easily access the brain. There is some evidence that it is useful in the prevention of strokes.

Ashwaganda: A versatile adaptogen that can enhance the immune system, boost energy, calm the stress response, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It can also enhance memory and mental acuity due to its antioxidant effect and ability to increase acetylcholine-receptor activity.

CoQ10: A part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and synthesized in all cells, CoQ10 is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  Aging reduces access to Co-Q10.  Although it can be obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age.  The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate Co-Q10 in later years plays a role in the development of various disease conditions. Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. It is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress. Ubiquinol promotes optimal cognitive function. The brain is extremely metabolically active. CoQ10 helps neurons make more energy. When neurons make more energy better brain function occurs.

Curcumin:  The active ingredient in turmeric. Researchers believe it may help reduce the plaque formation that is associated with Alzheimer ’s disease. The fact that India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric (and consumes 80 percent of it) probably explains why many inflammatory diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are not as prevalent in that country. In fact, India has one of the lowest Alzheimer’s rates in the world. People who are born in India and move to Western countries do not enjoy the same low rates of Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe the traditional Indian diet, which contains large amounts of turmeric, plays a significant role in disease prevention.

Fish Oil: The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years – typically for heart health. Now there is research to suggest that fish oil may be good for the brain as well. Recent research suggests that fish oil supplements may affect parts of the brain critical for memory. In fact, three new human studies add to an impressive body of research regarding the value of EPA- and DHA-containing fish oil for mental health and cognitive function.  DHA, in particular, is considered the most biological active oil for your brain, as it is the primary fatty acid that accumulates in brain cells.  Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.

Ginkgo Biloba (Leaf) Extract: Has been shown to enhance cognition by supporting and enhancing the function of neural tissue. Ginkgo also protects neurons from damage, as well as regenerates neurons.

N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC): A precursor of glutathione, a significant antioxidant and a key detoxifying agent in the liver. Research suggests that NAC levels may drop with age, which could lead to oxidative stress within brain cells, a conspicuous suspect in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Grapeseed Extract: A significant source of naturally occurring phenolic compounds that are known to bolster the structural integrity of brain cells and brain cell networks. A recent study shows the ability of grape seed extract to stimulate the production of new brain cells. Researchers were able to show that compounds in grape seed extract activated genes that controlled cellular rejuvenation. Additionally, grape seed extract strengthened existing brain cell connections in the memory control center of the brain (hippocampus).

Phosphatidylserine (PS): A phospholipid substance which is a building block for the brain’s approximately 100 billion nerve cells. Of the nutrients proven most beneficial to the brain, PS is the most impressive for its degree of efficacy and its impeccable safety record. More than 60 human studies, including 18 double-blind trials, affirm diverse benefits of PS for memory, learning, concentration, word recall, and other cognitive measures in the middle-aged and elderly.

Vinpocetine: Selectively dilates the arteries and capillaries in the head area, reducing vascular resistance, improving cell production of ATP, and promoting better circulation to the brain. By increasing circulation, it allows for improved nutrient and oxygen delivery to brain cells.

Rhodiola: Stimulates both mental and physical performance. Its effects on the brain are perhaps the most interesting. Numerous studies have shown it to improve concentration, especially in tired individuals. In one proofreading test, those taking rhodiola decreased their number of errors by 88 percent. It also helps the brain produce serotonin, which is a key “happy” neurotransmitter. In one study, 128 people suffering from depression were given 200 mg of rhodiola. Two-thirds of the patients (65 percent) had major reduction or complete disappearance of their symptoms.

New Research on Caffeine and Memory

Compelling new research has linked caffeine consumption to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a 2012 University of Illinois animal study may be able to explain how this happens. Scientists have discovered a novel signal that activates the brain-based inflammation associated with neurodegenerative diseases and caffeine appears to block its activity.

Scientists examined the effects of caffeine on memory formation in two groups of mice. One group was given caffeine, the other received none. The two groups then were exposed to hypoxia, simulating what happens in the brain during an interruption of breathing or blood flow, and then allowed to recover.
The caffeine-treated mice recovered their ability to form a new memory 33 percent faster than the non-caffeine-treated mice. In fact, caffeine had the same anti-inflammatory effect as blocking IL-1 signaling. IL-1 is a critical player in the inflammation associated with many neurodegenerative diseases.

The University of Illinois scientific team’s objective was to shed light on how learning memory is impaired. According to the scientists, the hypoxic episode triggered the release of adenosine by brain cells. Cells are little powerhouses and they run on a fuel called ATP, which is made up of molecules of adenosine. When there’s damage to a cell, adenosine is released.

One scientist used the following analogy: Just as gasoline that leaks out of a tank poses a danger to everything around it, adenosine leaking out of a cell poses a danger to its environment. That said, the extracellular adenosine activated the enzyme caspase-1, which triggered production of the cytokine IL-1β, a critical player in inflammation.

What is the impact of caffeine? Interestingly, caffeine blocked all the activity of adenosine and inhibited caspase-1 and the associated inflammation, limiting damage to the brain and protecting it from further injury. Caffeine’s ability to block adenosine receptors has been linked to cognitive improvement in certain neurodegenerative diseases and as a protectant against Alzheimer’s disease.

An abundance of recent scientific evidence indicates that any nutritional regimen to protect the brain from dementia and other ravages of aging should incorporate food and supplements that have been shown to stimulate brain energy metabolism, boost acetylcholine levels, and protect against inflammation, thrombosis, and oxidative stress. By taking advantage of recent advances in nerve cell function, cognition and memory, and how these processes are disrupted during normal aging, health-conscious adults can devise an individualized preventative program utilizing the most potent brain-protective nutrients, such as the ones previously outlined.

These supplements work via numerous mechanisms to provide natural, broad-spectrum support for optimal brain health and function. Because it is so much easier to protect the health of your brain cells than it is to restore their function once damage has occured, it makes sense to begin a preventive program as soon as possible. When it comes to protecting and preserving cognitive health, the old cliché, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t be more true.