You can keep your mind fit and nimble as you age—and ward off problems like inflammation and less brain flexibility—by doing many of the same things that keep the rest of your body youthful. Start with a Mediterranean diet: colorful vegetables, whole grains, and fish and other healthy fats. Get plenty of exercise, too; it’ll literally jog your memory. “Everything that’s good for the heart is good for the prevention of cognitive decline,” says Alan Logan, ND, author of The Brain Diet (Cumberland House, 2007). These smart, research-backed nutrients can help keep your brain sharp for many years to come.
Researchers believe chronic, low-grade inflammation in the brain plays a part in aging, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and possibly memory decline. These anti-inflammatory supplements may help keep your temporal lobes healthy as you age.
Omega-3s. Taking essential fatty acids—DHA, in particular—keeps inflammation at bay and promotes brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein helps the brain’s nerve cells branch out and communicate with each other, which is essential for learning and memory. To keep DHA levels optimal, avoid trans fats. “Trans fat may displace DHA [in the brain cells], which can lead to poor brain function,” says Gene Bowman, ND, assistant professor of neurology at the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
Antioxidants. Plant-based antioxidants such as green tea extract, grapeseed extract, resveratrol, and curcumin may protect brain function. “Curcumin, the yellow component of curry, is like a protective shield for brain cells against the effects of aging and cognitive decline,” Logan says. People with sharper minds have higher concentrations of antioxidant vitamins C and E in their blood, along with B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, according to research by Bowman’s team. “The B, C, D, and E combination seems to be most beneficial in preserving attention, executive function skills [such as decision-making], and language,” he says.
When you’re balancing family, career, and a busy social life, you’re bound to forget something. The brain integrates stimuli, both internal (like stress hormones and emotions) and external (what you’re seeing, touching, tasting, hearing), to create memories, says David Deichert, ND, adjunct clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. But the brain gets overwhelmed when there’s too much to process. These supplements can offer support.
Adaptogens. Herbal supplements like ashwagandha, bacopa, and rhodiola may help the body dial down its response to stress. “It’s very clear that regardless of age, stress can compromise mental focus,” Logan says. Emerging research indicates that these adaptogens can help.
Energy boosters. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), and coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) help maintain healthy energy production inside brain cells.
Before plaques and tangles start to accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, energy deficits in the cells may be contributing to memory loss, Bowman says.