How To Boost Your Brain Health With Supplements!


Keeping your brain healthy as you age is definitely a wise move. Studies show that doing things like healthy eating, exercise, and getting enough sleep can significantly lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease. As for taking “brain-boosting” supplements, sales of which increased 74% between 2006 and 2016, the jury is still out.

“There are a lot of supplements out there that don't work,” cautions Majid Fotuhi, M.D., medical director of NeuroGrow Brain Fitness Center in McLean, Va. Ginkgo Biloba is one such supplement that a lot of us have heard of. One study published in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology of almost 3,000 adults over the age of 70 with memory complaints found that this herb did nothing to reduce the rate of developing Alzheimer's compared to the group who took a placebo. Other faddish DHEA supplements also failed to pass the studies.

Here's a look at three supplements you might want to look at specifically for brain health—and another, fish oil, that comes with some caveats.

B Vitamins

Some B vitamins may help slow memory decline when they're taken for at least 18 months, says Tod Copperman, M.D., president of, one of the country's leading independent evaluators of dietary supplements. In one two-year study of people age 70 or over who had mild cognitive impairment found that those who took a combination of B vitamins; 800 mcg of folic acid, 500 mcg of vitamin B-12, and 20 mg of vitamin B-6; had slower cognitive decline than those who took a placebo. B-12 is especially important for brain health because they help insulate and build up brain neurons, says Fotuhi. About 30% of people over the age of 50 don't absorb B-12 properly from food, notes Cooperman and as a result, they're more likely to be deficient.

If you're over 50, Cooperman advices you get your B-12 levels tested. If they are low, talk to your medical professional about temporarily taking a 100-500 mcg daily supplement fo B-12, along with possibly 400 mcg of folic acid. You also want to make sure you're getting the recommended daily allowance of B-6, which is 1.7 mg. You can get this vitamin through your diet, and supplements aren't recommended since high doses have been linked to reduced kidney function and stroke. You can find a list of foods rich in the vitamin here.


Curcumin is a compound found in the spice turmeric; it's what gives the spice its color. It also provides a host of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research has also found that it may help in both your thinking and memory. “We think it's one of the reasons that senior citizens in India, who eat curcumin virtually every day, have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer's disease,” says Gary Small, M.D., director of geriatric psychology at UCLA's Longevity Center. In a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry conducted on 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 with mild memory complaints found that those taking 90 mg of curcumin twice a day for 18 months experienced significant improvements in their memory and thinking abilities compared to those who received a placebo. They also had less buildup of amyloid and tau in their brains, two substances known as biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease.

Just a teaspoon of turmeric contains about 150 mg of curcumin, so you can reap its benefits by adding a dash to your food every day. If you choose this route, make sure the meal contains fats or oils, which will help with the absorption. If you take a supplement, be aware, many commercial brands don't contain the amounts they claim on their label. The four that have recently passed ConsumerLab's testing requirements are Doctor's Best High Absorption Curcumin, NOW Curcumin, NutriGold Turmeric Curcumin Gold, and Swanson Ultra Turmeric Phytosome.

Cocoa Flavanols


Cocoa flavanols are compounds found in chocolate, and they have been linked to improved memory and thinking skills. Flavanols are abundant in the cacao bean, which is found in unsweetened cocoa powder. In one Italian study from 2015 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that healthy people aged from 61 to 85, who drank a daily drink that contained anywhere from 520 to 993 mg of flavanols saw significant improvements on memory tests after eight weeks compared to those whose drink contained only about 50 mg. And in another study from 2012 and published in the journal Hypertension found that drinking cocoa flavanols each day improved thinking skills in adults who already had mild cognitive impairment.

You need to be careful with cocoa powders since many of them are contaminated with the heavy metal cadmium, which is toxic. Consider using an extract like CocoaVia instead. If you have your heart set on a drink made with traditional cocoa powder, limit yourself to one cup a day. ConsumerLab's testing has found that Hershey's 100% Cacao Natural Unsweetened powder has the highest levels of flavonoids with the least contamination.

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Fish Oil

If you're healthy, with no memory problems, there's little evidence that you'll benefit from this popular supplement. Research shows positive effects have been seen in people who already are suffering from early-stage dementia. One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition followed people over the age of 65 who had mild cognitive impairment for six months and found that those who took daily fish oil pills improved their scores on verbal fluency, a type of memory-related test where you have to produce as many words as possible from a category in a small amount of time. But a 2012 Cochrane Library review looked at the use of fish oil in more than 3,500 cognitively healthy older people for up to 40 months and saw no benefit. Chances are, if you eat fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel or salmon at least twice a week, you're getting enough fish oil, and a supplement won't make a difference, explains Cooperman.

My Thoughts

What does all of this mean for us? Well, I think, if you're healthy and eating a balanced diet, you should be getting your B vitamins in. I do take a supplement that contains turmeric, and I take it for inflammation and not brain health. I checked the label, and the amount of curcumin is minimal, so I might consider taking a little more or just adding some turmeric to my meals.

If you know me, you probably know I don't like dark chocolate, anything over about 57% cacao, and I just can't eat it. So, chances are I won't be doing any more chocolate. From what I've read, anything under 60% is considered pretty sweet and full of sugar, so staying away from it is a good thing.

Finally, I do take fish oil (krill) on the advice of my Optometrist. My eyes tend to get dried and, and the fish oil is supposed to help.

So, if you like dark chocolate, have a small square daily, it can't hurt. And I've long touted the benefits of taking a turmeric supplement.

How about you? What did you take away from this article? Will you change or add any supplements to your diet? Let me know in the comments below!

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