We hear a lot lately about preserving and supporting brain health. This is often discussed within the context of delaying or preventing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease from developing, but it is also discussed within the context of day-to-day use of our brains more effectively. Consumers are keen on finding ways to promote their focus, attention and ability to think quickly.
There are several nutrients that seem to have an impact on brain health. Let’s discuss a few of the more popular ones, and see what the science says in terms of how effective they can be at supporting brain health.
Choline is an essential micronutrient that is found in foods such as eggs, beef, nuts and fish. Although it is recommended that most people consume about 425 mg per day, many people fall short of this recommendation. Fortunately, it can also be taken in supplement form.1 This nutrient is an important methyl-donor involved in a variety of functions within the body.2 Choline is also vital for normal brain development, neurotransmitter synthesis and cellular signaling. It has recently been found to alter neuronal gene expression and play a key role in S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) synthesis and availability, which has been shown to improve cognitive performance.3 Further, choline is found in several phospholipids that are needed for proper functioning and structure of nerve cell membranes. Studies conducted in animals and humans have found that choline supplementation can improve spatial memory and improves cognitive performance. In fact, one recently found that adequate choline intake, coming from both food and supplementation, can reduce the risk of low cognitive functioning in the elderly population.4 Given choline’s role in overall brain, it is essential the people consume adequate amounts.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in foods like nut, bananas, meat, legumes and fish. Just like other B vitamins, B6 acts as a coenzyme in more than 100 reactions including amino acid metabolism and cellular functioning. Due to its role in amino acid metabolism, inadequate B6 will negatively impact the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, GABA and melatonin.5 Deficiency of B6 has been associated with low energy levels, altered mental status and mood changes, and severe deficiency being associated with depression, making it essential that people maintain normal B6 levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha linonic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is considered essential since our body cannot make it. Although ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, it is not an efficient conversion, and getting exogenous sources of EPA and DHA is recommended. ALA can be found in foods such as flax and chia seeds, green leafy vegetables, soybeans and canola oil, and EPA and DHA are mainly found in seafood. Unfortunately, many people do not meet the recommended amounts of these fatty acids due to poor dietary habits. In fact, people who consume the typical Western diet actually have lower amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 levels and higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and supplementation can help one meet their required amounts.
Omega-3 fatty acids are needed throughout the lifespan in order to maintain brain integrity and health. These anti-inflammatory fatty acids are also involved in gene regulation, neuronal differentiation and metabolism, brain repair, as well as improved mood. Supplementation throughout different age groups has been associated with improved literacy levels, cognition and working memory.6 For example, in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with improved treatment outcomes, hyperactivity and inattentiveness.7 DHA specifically is found in high concentrations within the brain and is the preferred substrate for phosphatidylserine (PS) synthesis.8 It is also needed for permeability and function of the neuronal membranes. As one ages, a decrease in brain lipid metabolism and neuronal survival occurs, which is why DHA is often considered neuro-protective fatty acid. It has been shown that people with higher intakes of DHA have lower risk of cognitive impairment.9 Taken together, it is evident that adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial for brain health.
Similarly to other phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables, which are found to be neuroprotective, coffee cherry extract is a bioactive compound that has also been associated with improved brain health. Since coffee cherry is rich in polyphenols and has high antioxidant activity, it combats oxidative stress by fighting free radicals. This specifically benefits brain health, since oxidative stress negatively impacts central nervous system functioning.10
A recent randomized, double-blinded placebo controlled study found that coffee cherry extract supplementation improved reaction times during set tasks and an increase in brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). This is important because BDNF is a neurotrophin involved in memory and learning, as well as growth and survival of the neuron.11,12 In addition, daily coffee cherry can provide cognitive support and may help improve reaction times in those with mild cognitive decline.13 Taken together, coffee cherry works to decrease oxidative stress that causes neurodegeneration and may prove to be a useful antioxidant to ameliorate cognitive decline.
PS makes up about 15 percent of the phospholipids, which is a class of lipids within the outer layer of the brain called the cerebral cortex. PS is involved in different signaling pathways within the brain and regulates the functioning of receptors involved in neuronal function. Furthermore, PS interacts with other proteins within the brain for nerve cell growth. However, PS may decrease over time with age, and therefore supplementation may be helpful to mitigate the negative effects associated with this decrease.8 One study found that taking PS is a safe way to improve executive functioning, recall and learning in an elderly population with reported memory problems.14 Other studies conducted in both animals and humans have supported these findings, showing that it can improve relaxation, verbal recall and increase in BDNF within part of the hippocampus.8 Overall, PS supplementation may exert beneficial effects on nerve functioning within the brain, helping to keep one’s memory intact, especially with advanced age.
Brain Health Supplements: What Should You Look For?
It is important to know which ingredients can have an impact on brain health. The emerging science suggests that B-vitamins, PS and coffee cherry can all help to support brain health. So, how can you incorporate these into your lifestyle? Neuriva is part of a comprehensive brain-health ecosystem rooted in nature and science with clinically tested, naturally sourced ingredients to help support brain health for adults at every life stage. Neuriva Plus is a dietary supplement that contains all three of these ingredients—B vitamins, as well as GMO (genetically modified organism)-free and gluten-free Neurofactor (decaffeinated botanical extract made from the nutrient-rich fruit of the coffee cherry) and plant-sourced Sharp PS (Phosphatidylserine).
1 Derbyshire E. Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. 2019;2(2):86-89.
2 Zeisel SH, da Costa K-A. Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutr Rev. 2009;67(11):615-623.
3 Bekdash RA. Neuroprotective Effects of Choline and Other Methyl Donors. Nutrients. 2019;11(12):2995.
4 Liu L, Qiao S, Zhuang L, et al. Choline Intake Correlates with Cognitive Performance among Elder Adults in the United States. Behav Neurol. 2021;2021:1-11.
5 Kennedy DO. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):68.
6 Derbyshire E. Brain Health across the Lifespan: A Systematic Review on the Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements. Nutrients. 2018;10(8):1094.
7 Kiliaan A, Königs A. Critical appraisal of omega-3 fatty acids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;Volume 12:1869-1882.
8 Kim H-Y, Huang BX, Spector AA. Phosphatidylserine in the brain: Metabolism and function. Prog Lipid Res. 2014;56:1-18.
9 Sambra V, Echeverria F, Valenzuela A, Chouinard-Watkins R, Valenzuela R. Docosahexaenoic and Arachidonic Acids as Neuroprotective Nutrients throughout the Life Cycle. Nutrients. 2021;13(3):986.
10 Nemzer B, Kalita D, Abshiru N. Quantification of Major Bioactive Constituents, Antioxidant Activity, and Enzyme Inhibitory Effects of Whole Coffee Cherries (Coffea arabica) and Their Extracts. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). 2021;26(14):4306.
11 Bathina S, Das UN. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Arch Med Sci. 2015;6:1164-1178.
12 Robinson JL, Yanes JA, Reid MA, et al. Neurophysiological Effects of Whole Coffee Cherry Extract in Older Adults with Subjective Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over Pilot Study. Antioxidants. 2021;10(2):144.
13 Robinson JL, Hunter JM, Reyes-Izquierdo T, et al. Cognitive short- and long-term effects of coffee cherry extract in older adults with mild cognitive decline. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition. 2019;27(6):918-934.
14 Zchut S, Richter Y, Herzog Y, Lifshitz, Hayun. The effect of soybean-derived phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance in elderly with subjective memory complaints: a pilot study. Clin Interv Aging. 2013:557.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.