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Want to boost brain power? Try nootropics, a class of supplements linked with memory, focus and alertness. Bacopa monnieri, a traditional Ayurvedic herb, has been shown to enhance memory, increase recall and improve cognitive function, as well as reduce depression and improve mood. Other studies suggest that bacopa may also protect against age-related neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. Ginkgo biloba, an herb used in Chinese medicine, enhances blood flow to the brain and may improve focus, thinking skills and some aspects of memory, while protecting against age-related cognitive decline and memory loss.
TRY: Gaia Herbs Agile Mind. $42, gaiaherbs.com
Fish oil contains two types of omega-3 fats: EPA and DHA. Of these, DHA may be especially important in protecting the brain from cognitive decline. Low levels of DHA have been linked with a reduction in brain size, one sign of brain aging, and some studies suggest DHA supplementation in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can significantly improve cognitive function and slow the progression of brain atrophy. In one study of people with age-related cognitive decline, those who took DHA showed improved learning and memory function. In another study, people with the highest DHA levels had a 47% lower risk of all types of dementia.
TRY: Nordic Naturals DHA Xtra. $32, nordicnaturals.com
Supplementing with probiotics may improve mood and enhance brain health. The gut is involved in the production of neurotransmitters, and microbiota appear to communicate with the brain, influencing anxiety, mood and cognition. Gut bacteria also protect against inflammation, linked with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. And a meta-analysis found probiotics were associated with a significant reduction in depression, in both healthy people and those with major depressive disorder.
TRY: Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics Mood+. $47, gardenoflife.com
B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate, are key in brain health and can protect against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. Inadequate B-vitamin status can lead to elevated levels of homocysteine, a recognized risk factor for cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Research shows vitamin B supplements slow the rate of brain atrophy in specific regions linked with Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline and can improve memory and cognitive performance in older adults with elevated homocysteine levels. Low levels of B12 have also been linked with poor memory, impaired cognition as well as higher levels of neuroinflammatory compounds that are thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
TRY: Solgar B-Complex “100.” $12.50 for 50 tablets, solgar.com
As you age, neurons are lost and the brain’s ability to grow and form new connections declines, impacting cognition and mental function. Lion’s mane, a medicinal mushroom used in cooking and in traditional Chinese medicine, may protect against this loss. Studies suggest lion’s mane may increase nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that’s critical for neuron growth, maintenance and survival. It also contains hericenones and erinacines, compounds that have been shown to stimulate the growth of brain cells and have neuroprotective and cognitive- enhancing effects.
TRY: Host Defense Lion’s Mane. $32, hostdefense.com