Today we’re going to look at keeping your brain healthy to support mental health, particularly as you age. The aging brain definitely does better with the right support, so let’s look at some nutrients and supplements that are particularly beneficial for brain health. The most important of these is probably fatty acids, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids.
Essential Fatty Acids
Your brain Is made up largely of fat, and so including plenty of essential fatty acids in your diet makes your brain very happy. There are two basic essential fatty acids (EFAs) known:
- ALA – alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)
- LA – Linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
Recommended Intake Of Fatty Acids
The Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends the following intake:
alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) – Omega-3 – Recommended Value: 2g
Linoleic acid (LA) – Omega-6 – Recommended Value: 10g
But You’ll Know Them As…
These are the starting point for the creation of other fatty acids which are referred to as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which include:
- EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)
- DHA – docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)
- GLA – gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
- DGLA – dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
- AA – arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
The first two of those, EPA and DHA are commonly found in fish oil supplements. They’re particularly important because they are Omega-3 fatty acids.
Okay, Break That Down For Me. Which Fatty Acids Do I Need More Of?
In most diets, people get plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids. Probably too many, particularly if they consume processed foods or seed oils. Since Omega-6 can cause inflammation, people with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis want to be careful of their dietary intake of Omega-6’s. Issues like that are why our Hong Kong holistic clinic combines medical advice with nutritional counseling in many situations.
However, people are often short of Omega-3 fatty acids. Keeping the ratio of Omega-3’s to Omega-6’s healthy helps control inflammation.
So for brain health, we want to ensure that adequate intake of Omega-3’s happens. This is important for healthy cellular membranes and myelin sheaths that allow brain messages to be communicated. The result is better memory and clearer thinking.
A couple of meals per week of fatty, oily fish is your best option, but for a vegetarian, seaweed and algae can also meet the need.
What Foods Are High In Essential Fatty Acids?
Here are some foods particularly high in Omega-3 fatty acids:
Fatty, oily fish including:
There are also vegetarian sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Seaweed and algae
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Kidney beans
- Soybean oil
Supplements commonly available include:
- Fish oil
- Cod liver oil
- Krill oil
- Algae oil
ALA supplements based on flaxseed, chia seed or hemp seed are available but generally not as effective.
What Else Supplements Brain Health?
Other areas to support an aging brain to stay healthy include:
B Vitamins, Particularly B12 And B9 (Folate)
B Vitamins, particularly B12. There are four forms of B12 available. Ideally, choose any except cyanocobalamin. The aging brain requires more B12, so even if you’ve never supplemented it could be a good time to try. The adenosylcobalamin form of B12 can be particularly helpful for energy. Speak to your doctor for a personalized recommendation.
Folate is another particularly important B vitamin when aging. You get it from green, leafy vegetables, and hopefully, you’re consuming plenty. If not, it’s possible to supplement with various forms. Folinic acid is a form that works well for many people. Be cautious about supplementing with the folic acid form if you have MTHFR genetic issues or have had (or have a family history of) cancer. Again, speak to your doctor, who can order homocysteine or genetic tests to evaluate whether you are in particular need of extra folate (B9) supplementation.
Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, A, E and selenium can help support brain health. Increased intake of Vitamin E has been associated with a lower rate of cognitive decline. Glutathione, your body’s “master antioxidant”, isn’t easy to supplement orally, but can be boosted with injections.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine seems to slow or even reverse the effects of brain aging. Some people find it helps them think more clearly and remember things better. It boosts the production of a brain neurotransmitter that helps intracellular communication.
If you’re in Hong Kong and concerned about signs of aging, brain health, memory issues, and the best diet and supplement choices for your particular health concerns, give us a call today.