The Three Hottest Brain Supplements - Fit Grinds
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The Three Hottest Brain Supplements

Dr. Rob Silverman

Modern life is tough on the brain. Our patients work too many hours. They don’t sleep enough, they’re always stressed, and they’re constantly being distracted. Their short-term memory is affected; they feel foggy and irritable; they have trouble concentrating and staying focused. On top of that, they worry about the normal cognitive changes that come with age, thinking Alzheimer’s disease is creeping up on them.

We help them by recommending diet and lifestyle changes, like cutting back on sugar and being sure to get enough sleep. But some of our patients already eat well, get enough sleep when they can, exercise regularly, and even meditate daily. They still feel as if their brains aren’t working as well as they should. Some new research suggests that three supplements could give them the boost they need to reduce inflammation and improve their memory, alertness, and overall cognitive function.

Reduce Inflammation with SPMs

Step one for improving brain function is reducing inflammation. We know that overall inflammation, particularly inflammation that impacts the gut-brain axis, affects the brain. Inflammatory molecules such as cytokines slip through the blood-brain barrier and can cause short-term memory issues, brain fog, and trouble concentrating. Inflammation may cause depression and anxiety. And we know inflammation plays a vital role in the pathogenesis of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain issues such as fogginess and inability to stay focused are often symptoms of inflammation that’s lingering on and causing elevated cytokine levels. It’s resolving slowly or has even stalled out. Without resolution, the body and brain never truly return to homeostasis, and inflammation becomes chronic.

The stalled inflammatory response can be switched off entirely through supplements containing naturally occurring lipid mediators called pro-resolving mediators (PRMs). These supplements are derived from the fractionated marine lipids EPA and DHA. They encourage the production of specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) in the body, providing the basis for the final step in the complex process that down-regulates the inflammatory response once the acute phase is over.

For slowed concussion recovery, PRMs can shift the balance toward an inflammation-resolving environment in the central nervous system. By reducing the arachidonic acid-derived lipid mediators that drive inflammation and let neutrophils and inflammatory chemicals pass through the disrupted blood-brain barrier, SPMs help resolve brain inflammation and put patients on the path to healing.

The neuroinflammation that underlies much Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology may be caused, at least in part, by unresolved inflammation. Persistent neuroinflammation may encourage the further formation of the characteristic amyloid plaques and tau tangles of Alzheimer’s. That makes brain receptors for PRMs a good target for ending brain inflammation. Recent research shows that although brain levels of SPMs are decreased in AD, the number of receptors for them is markedly higher in the brains of people with AD compared to controls. This exciting finding suggests that supplements of PRMs could reach their target receptors in the brain of AD patients and help reduce neuroinflammation.

While omega-3 supplements are very valuable for brain health (see below), for resolving stubborn inflammation, increasing omega-3 intake, even to high levels, isn’t enough. The conversion process is too complex and inefficient to be improved. Supplemental PRMs are needed. Recent research has shown that daily dosing over six weeks produces reductions in standard inflammation blood markers such as hs-CRP, fibrinogen, and TNF-alpha. In addition, because PRMs are a normal part of resolving inflammation, the supplements don’t suppress immunity. They are much safer than standard antiinflammatory drugs, such as glucocorticoids, methotrexate, or even aspirin. They also have no known side effects or interactions with other drugs or supplements.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

More than half of your brain is made up of fatty acids, so it makes sense that omega-3 fatty acids from food and supplements can be protective for the brain. Specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in fish oil are necessary for normal brain function. These fatty acids are needed in the brain to build robust neuronal membranes, produce neurotransmitters, conduct signals, and reduce inflammation.

Research shows that people who eat fish on a regular basis have slower cognitive decline as they get older. One study showed that eating fatty fish three times a week reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by almost 40 percent.

For patients who are reluctant to eat fish that often (or at all), fish oil supplements are helpful both as a preventive step against cognitive decline and also as a way to improve mood. A recent metanalysis, for example, showed that fish oil supplements improved depressive symptoms in people with depression. The effects of fish oil were comparable to prescription antidepressant medications—without the side effects.

Magnesium for the Mind

Magnesium is a crucial nutrient for optimal brain function, particularly in the domains of learning and memory. It is a critical cofactor in building more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes that keep neurons firing smoothly and forming strong connections with other neurons (the basis of learning and memory). Recent research has revealed, however, that magnesium’s most important role may be in supporting brain plasticity—keeping your cognitive function, memory, and ability to learn active and flexible. Loss of brain plasticity was once thought to be an inevitable effect of aging. Older people couldn’t think as fast as younger people; they were less able to learn new things and understand new ideas. This belief is no longer valid. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, high-quality sleep, and avoiding toxins from cigarette smoke and alcohol help keep aging brains agile. Add magnesium supplements to
that list.

Raising the level of magnesium in the brain can help maintain and even restore brain plasticity and improve cognitive function. A recent human study showed that magnesium supplementation could reverse brain aging by as much as nine to 14 years.

Effective as magnesium supplementation can be for brain plasticity, it has been limited by magnesium’s low bioavailability and difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier. In most forms, magnesium supplements don’t increase magnesium concentration in the brain. However, in the form of magnesium L-threonate, magnesium does reach the brain in sufficient amounts. Magnesium L-threonate complex is made by combining magnesium with threonic acid, a breakdown product of vitamin C. In this form, it has been shown to boost brain magnesium levels by about 15 percent. The gains in brain plasticity from this level of increase can lead to significant improvements in memory, learning, and cognition8—even in people with neurodegenerative disease.

I use these supplements to ameliorate a myriad of cognitive issues in my patients because the brain is the most nutrient-dependent, energy-dependent, and toxin and stress vulnerable organ in the body. These supplements support brain health and are a valuable tool in the armamentarium of all chiropractors

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