Which brain supplements do and don’t work?

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A quarter of adults over the age of 50 are taking supplements to try to improve or maintain their brain health. But with so many conflicting studies and many brands cherry picking supportive research, it can be difficult to know which supplements really do boost brain power, and which ones are duds.

Caffeine
Having a cup of coffee each day can offer an array of health benefits, including lowering your risk of heart disease, boosting your metabolism, helping to prevent liver disease, boosting memory and mental sharpness. However, taking caffeine pills or drinking more than three cups of coffee a day is not advised as they can disrupt your sleeping patterns and cause your energy levels to spike and fall.

Vitamin B
Vitamin B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 are all integral to brain health. However, taking supplements will only have a positive affect if you are deficient in vitamin B. Vitamin B12 deficiency is most common in people over the age of 60, and has been linked to cognitive decline, vision problems, depression and decreased mobility. If you find yourself feeling weak, dizzy, moody or notice changes in your coordination and mobility, consult your GP and ask them to check your vitamin levels. Most deficiencies can be addressed through dietary and lifestyle changes.

Ginkgo biloba
You may have heard of ginkgo being used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s a plant that is packed with antioxidants, can help to reduce inflammation, can improve circulation and brain function. However, when it comes to ginkgo being used to prevent or slow dementia, the results are mixed. Some research has found that when used alongside conventional medicine, it can help to increase the functional capabilities of people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, another large study has found it to be ineffective at reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Omega-3s
Omega-3s offer a wide range of health benefits, including pain relief for rheumatoid arthritis, maintaining cardiac health, boosting mental health and increasing memory. Omega-3 is crucial for good health, but 90 per cent of Australians aren’t getting enough of it. But before you run down to the local chemist and buy a bottle of pills, remember that sales of omega-3 supplements exceed $200 million in Australia annually, and the evidence in their favour is inconsistent. Studies and experts consulted by CHOICE revealed that the scientific jury is still out on whether or not omega-3 supplements have the same health benefits as when it’s found in food.

It’s no secret that YourLifeChoices is a big fan of the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia. This diet is rich in oily fish and packed with omega-3s.

According to a study reviewed by WebMD, people who have the APOE4 gene mutation, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s, could benefit from taking preventative omega-3 supplements.

Vitamin E
Studies examining whether or not vitamin E supplements can help to prevent dementia haven’t shown positive results. While one study found that vitamin E may help to slow the worsening of Alzheimer’s in patients who already have it, it’s best to stick to dietary sources of vitamin E like nuts and seeds until further research is conducted.

Ginseng
This popular supplement is often taken to help boost brain power. However, a critical review of a number of major studies has concluded that there is no convincing evidence that ginseng works to help boost or protect mental sharpness.

Curcumin
Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that gives it its vibrant yellow colour and has a wide range of health benefits. Whether or not mental sharpness is one of them is still up for debate. One small study found that taking curcumin helped participants perform better on memory tests, while other trials haven’t found any evidence of this. More research is needed.

Do you take any supplements to help boost your brain power? Are there any you have tried and would recommend to a friend?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Liv Gardiner



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