Certain vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements have been associated with brain health. Though research on some of the products is mixed, there is some evidence to suggest that these supplements might help boost memory and reduce the risk for dementia.
Extracts from the leaves of the ancient Chinese gingko biloba tree may improve memory and slow the progression of dementia.
Gingko may work by increasing blood flow in the brain and boosting neurotransmitter activity. It also enhances the absorption of glucose, the main source of energy for the brain. Not all studies have demonstrated that gingko boosts memory, but a major clinical trial now underway is examining gingko’s effects on the elderly who have Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, with the potential for slowing the damage caused by free radicals. Studies suggest that vitamin C ingested through food offers lowers the risk for developing Alzheimer’s, but whether a supplement can help is uncertain. Good sources of vitamin C include in the diet include red bell pepper, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, oranges, and strawberries.
In the body, the B vitamins play numerous roles, including the pro-duction of body cells, the production of hemoglobin in the blood, and the production of important body chemicals. In elderly people, die ability to absorb vitamin B12 is often diminished. A deficiency of this vitamin produces symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s.
Researchers now believe that certain B vitamins—namely vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12—may play a role in treating Alzheimer’s by reducing the levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that has been associated with a greater risk for vascular diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. Damage to the blood vessels caused by elevated levels of homocysteine may raise the risk for Alzheimer’s.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging is currendy doing a phase III clinical trial to test whether high doses of folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 can slow the rate of cognitive decline in people who have Alzheimer’s disease.
Until recently, many doctors gave Alzheimer’s patients vitamin E as part of their treatment regimen. Several studies had suggested that this fat-soluble vitamin could help reduce the risk for dementia. The belief was that vitamin E, which is an anti-oxidant, worked by preventing oxidative stress caused by free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can damage brain cells and promote the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. One study funded by the National Institutes of Aging, had found that a daily dose of 2,000 IUs of vitamin E offered a modest benefit to participants in moderately severe stages of the disease.
But in January 2005, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that taking more than 400 international units of vitamin E each day slighdy increased a person’s risk for dying from all causes. Researchers had analyzed data from nineteen previous clinical trials in which participants took vitamin E for various reasons including the prevention of heart disease and cancer, and the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In the aftermath of this alarming study, most physicians have stopped prescribing vitamin E to their patients.