Omega-3 and Cognitive Health

Omega 3 and Cognitive HealthThere is a lot of research out there that looks at the connection between brain health and Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids, from cognitive function and memory to PTSD and mood elevation.

Here is a recap about the current science on Omega-3:

There are many randomized clinical studies that show very clear benefits for Omega-3 and its ability to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline and increase cognitive performance.  A key area of research now centers on the role Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids plays in the developments of a healthy fetus during pregnancy.  A new study reported increasing the intake of DHA, a component of Omega-3, could produce improvements in motor function later in life in offspring.  Another study showed improvements in motor, cognition, and visual development in offspring whose mother’s supplemented with Omega-3. The results of a meta-analysis that reviewed 15 randomized controlled gold trials showed an improvement in motor skills in children when Omega-3 supplementation occurred during pregnancy and infancy.

Other studies have reported Omega-3 supplementation supports improvements in behavior and mood, including benefits of EPA and reductions in depression symptoms.  One study found a 50% reduction in depression ratings in participants supplementing with 1,000 mg of EPA which matched the effects seen in patients taking the antidepressant drug Fluoxetine.  A recent study found EPA was helpful in reducing the severity of symptoms in suffers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  Increased levels of EPA and DHA, EPA only and the ratio of EPA to Omega-6 AA (arachidonic acid) were all associated with low PTSD severity symptoms in individuals who supplemented with Omega-3 after a 3 month period.  Another recent study found people suffering from PTSD benefited from Omega-3 supplementation for relieving psychophysiological symptoms like a pounding heart.

The findings in these new studies are of particular interest to both former and current members of the armed forces.  Additionally interest in Omega-3 for mood improvement, reductions in suicide rates amount current and ex-military personnel, increasing recovery from traumatic brain injury as well as improvements in reaction time for fighter pilots is being reviewed by the military.

Further studies of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids and its benefits are imminent.

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Melatonin Supplementation Benefits Alzheimer’s Disease Patients

Alzheimers and MelatoninA benefit in cognitive function and sleep for both men and women with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease, was seen in a double blind placebo controlled study using a sustained-  release melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone released from a gland found in the brain called the pineal gland.  Melatonin regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and helps initiate sleep.  Sleep plays an essential role in memory consolidation.

73 patients who were receiving drug therapy for Alzheimer’s disease participated in this study.  The participants received a prolonged release melatonin or a placebo every night for 24 weeks.

Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index assessments, Mini-Mental State Examination, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living and Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale Cognition tests were given before the study, 12 weeks into the study and at the end of the study.  In addition a sleep diary which kept tract of awakenings midsleep was completed.

After the 24 weeks, participants who had received the melatonin showed significant cognitive performance in comparison to participants who received the placebo.  Also the melatonin group had improved sleep efficiency compared to prior to the study’s onset.  For 13 individuals who had insomnia at the start of the trial the melatonin improved all their test results significantly.

Researchers believe that improved sleep efficiency may lead to less risk of beta amyloid deposits increases in the ability of the body to clear beta amyloid from the brain.  Ultimately this slows Alzheimer’s disease progression.

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Study Links Lutein Levels to Higher IQ

Lutein and Higher IQA new study finds higher levels of MPOD (macula pigment optical density), a measure of Lutein levels in the brain and eye, is associated with higher IQ levels.  Data from the study showed a higher MPOD level was an independent predictor of fluid intelligence, the ability to problem solve in unique situations and to think creatively in regard to everyday challenges, and IQ levels.

114 obese and overweight individuals between the ages of 25 and 45 participated in this study.  Individuals who are overweight and obese are known to be at risk for having a lower MPOD status.

Many studies in children, the elderly, middle age individuals and primates show Lutein’s importance in brain health.  The link between Lutein’s ability to support the eye and the brain is not a surprise since the brain and the eyes are connected.  In recent studies from pediatric brain tissue samples, Lutein made up about 60% of the total carotenoids identified in the brain tissue.  Considering Lutein makes up 12% of the carotenoids found in the diet, a preference for Lutein in the brain seems evident.

Prior studies have also shown higher blood levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin are associated with better executive function, memory and cognition.

Further studies are needed.

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The Health Benefits of Vitamin E

Vitamin EVitamin E, an antioxidant, is a fat-soluble nutrient and can only be obtained through food or through supplementation.  It is well known for its benefits for the skin, however it also beneficially for the heart and the brain.  A deficiency of Vitamin E is usually caused by a genetic abnormality or a fat malabsorption disorder.

Health Benefits for the Skin:

People have long recognized that Vitamin E is good for their skin.               Vitamin E in addition to Vitamin C has been proven to provide anti-aging benefits by preventing oxidative damage caused by sunlight.  These two antioxidants are also able to protect the skin against UV irradiation as well as eliminate free radicals, known to break down the polyunsaturated fatty acid membranes that provide cellular protection for every cell.  These two antioxidants used in combination have been shown in studies to provide a synergistic benefit not seen by either antioxidant when taken by them self.  Additionally studies have shown people with vitiligo, a condition where the skin loses its pigmentation, who have taken Vitamin E supplements have improved re-pigmentation of the skin as well as a reduction in the worsening of the condition.  Reductions in inflammation and lesion growth have also been seen with Vitamin E supplementation.Brain

Health Benefits for the Heart:

Vitamin E aids in protecting cells from oxidative stress in addition to preventing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol from oxidation.  A severe deficiency of Vitamin E can cause cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.  Animal studies have shown beneficial effects of Vitamin E for atherosclerosis.  In a large study with almost 40,000 women participants over 45 years of age, cardiovascular death rates were reduced by 24% in participants supplementing with Vitamin E.  Women older than 65, experienced a 49% reduction in cardiovascular death rates and a 26% reduction in nonfatal heart attacks.

Health Benefits for Other Things:

New interest in Vitamin E and its ability to support brain health has prompted research.  Some studies have shown Vitamin E could provide protective effects against injuries occurring in brain cells caused by strokes, reducing the risk for neurodegenerative diseases.  It is believed that Vitamin E influences the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment as well.

Vitamin E also has been linked with benefits for individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL).  Studies have found supplementation with Vitamin E improved biochemistry features and microscopic tissue structures of patients with NAFL.

Increased Vitamin E supplementation during pregnancy may be needed to meet the increased needs of the body and to prevent gestational complications including several brain conditions.

In a study of over 29,000 male smokers who supplemented with Vitamin E for 5 – 8 years, a 32% reduction in prostate cancer incidence was seen when compared to the placebo group.

Over 90% of adults in the United States do not meet the average daily requirement of Vitamin E (around 15 mg) according to the Linus Pauling Institute.  Older individuals needing to improve their immunity should take higher dosages.

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Sports Nutrition and the Brain

Sports Nutrition and the BrainGetting fit for the New Year should be more than just about the body.  The brain also benefits with proper nutrition.  Athletes train for hours exercising and taking supplements to enhance their physical performance but investing some extra effort in supporting cognitive function can be just as important as feeding the muscles.  Combining brain health with sports nutrition gives a new synergy to a fitness routine.

Natural ingredients can not only promote motivation, but they can increase focus and concentration, increase reaction time, provide neuroprotective properties and reduce stress caused by exercise.  Excessive training is now being seen as a major stress on the body and is considered a natural risk of working out and can lead to injury, reductions in the body’s immune function, performance reversals and depression.  Athletes often experience muscle soreness, increases in cortisol levels, decreases in testosterone levels and increases in resting heart rate.  Consistent overtraining can interrupt the ratio between the catabolic hormone cortisol and the anabolic hormone testosterone.

Phosphatidylserine (PS), a type of fat found in cell membranes can be effective for reducing exercise-induced stress and the breakdown in the body that comes with overtraining according to recent studies.  PS is readily found in the brain and actually makes up 15% of the total phospholipids.  Studies show PS might aid athletes by accelerating recovery, improving well being and reducing muscle soreness.  One study showed cyclists supplementing with PS had a 30% lower cortisol level when compared to the group supplementing with a placebo, demonstrating PS’s ability to lessen the severity of the stress response to exercise.

Acetyl L-Carnitine, naturally found in plasma, kidneys, liver, heart, and skeletal muscle, is necessary for fat metabolism and energy production and is best known for its ability to help burn stored fat, however,  it is now being recognized for its ability to improve metal agility and enhance alertness and physical performance.  New studies show the cognitive brain functions associated with Acetyl L-Carnitine are improvements in memory, increases in learning capacity, and improved memory recall speeds and thought processing.  Additional studies show that participant’s memory recall speeds and thought processing in addition to overall concentration and focus were improved with Acetyl L-Carnitine.

Vinpocetine extracted from the periwinkle plant, may increase blood flow to the brain and enhance reaction time.  In a rehabilitative setting with NFL players, Vinpocetine combined with Acetyl L-Carnitine, Fish Oil, Huperzine-A and Alpha Lipoic Acid, showed increased reaction speeds and processing speeds.  Vinpocetine has also been shown to provide support for traumatic brain and concussions by providing a neruoprotective role and reducing neural inflammation.  In a recent study athletes supplementing with Phosphatidylserine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Vinpocetine and other nutrients showed significant increases (over 50% increases for many of the athletes) in motivation, memory, blood flow and cognitive scores within 6 months.  Standard neuropsychological tests and SPECT images were used to measure blood flow related to cognitive function and proficiency related to mood, language, memory, attention, information speed and accuracy.

Huperzine-A, isolated from the Chinese herb Huperzia serrata, has been shown to be a cognitive enhancer that blocks acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that damages acetylcholine, the learning neurotransmitter.  The protective effect of Huperzine-A is believed to be its ability to reduce oxidative stress, protect the mitochondria and support nerve growth factor.

Athletes have always paid more attention to nutrition for their bodies and not their minds.  These new studies show that cognitive function plays an important role in supporting athletic performance by reducing exercise-induced stress, promoting concentration and focus, improving motivation and reaction times and providing neuroprotective properties.

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Study Ties Nutrition to Brain Health and Intelligence in Older Adults

Lutein and BrainA new study has found that the pigment found in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, lutein, may preserve “crystallized intelligence”, the ability to use the knowledge and skills acquired by a person over their lifetime, in older adults.

122 people ranging in age from 65 to 75 years of age participated in this study.  Participants answered questions on standardized tests and solved problems to assess their crystallized intelligence levels.  Blood samples were also taken to determine the blood serum levels of lutein.  MRI’s were used to determine the volume of different brain structures.

Participants with higher serum lutein levels performed better on tests of crystallized intelligence and seemed to have thicker gray matter in the para-hippocampal cortex, a region of the brain that like crystallized intelligence is preserved in healthy aging.  Prior research has shown that lutein actually accumulates in the gray matter of the brain and may actually play a neuroprotective role.

Further studies are planned.

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Study Finds Probiotics May Improve Cognition in Alzheimer’s Patients

Probiotics and Cognition in Alzheimer'sAccording to a new study, probiotics may improve cognitive function in humans.  This is the first time research has shown supplementation of probiotics, friendly bacteria, may aid individuals with Alzheimer’s.

52 women and men between the ages of 60 and 95 with Alzheimer’s Disease participated in this randomized, double blind, controlled clinical trial.  The study lasted twelve weeks.  Half the patients were given milk enhanced with four strains of friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. fermentum and Bifidobacterium Bifidum) the other half of the participants received only milk.  Blood samples for biochemical analysis were taken at the beginning and at the end of the study period.  Additionally cognitive function tests with MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination, a standard measure of cognitive impairment) questions were also given; this includes tasks like repeating a phrase, copying a picture, counting backwards from 100 by sevens and giving the current date.

Significant increases (from 8.7 to 10.6 out of a maximum of 30) on the average score on the MMSE questionnaire were seen over the 12 week study period in the group receiving the probiotics.  The control group did not see the same results (from 8.5 to 8.0 out of a maximum of 30).  The participants remained severely cognitively impaired even after the study ended, however the researchers believe the results seen in this study are important because they are the first to show probiotics can improve human cognition.  Prior studies showed probiotics could improve memory as well as impaired spatial learning in diabetic rats.

Probiotics are known for their benefits of provinding protection against irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, periodontal disease, eczema, allergies, tooth decay and infectious diarrheas.  Scientists have believed for a long time that probiotics might improve cognition due to the continuous communication between the brain through the nervous system, immune system and hormones and between the intestinal microflora and the gastrointestinal tract (“microbiota-gut-brain axis”).

Further research is needed to determine if the benefits of probiotics grow stronger over a longer period of time.

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