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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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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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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Magnesium Status and Dementia: Is There a Link ?

Magnesium and DementiaA new study published in Neurology, shows people with either low or high blood levels of Magnesium may have a higher risk of developing dementia.

Approximately 9,500 individuals participated in this prospective study.  Participants with an average age of 65 who did not have dementia were followed for an average of 8 years.  Serum Magnesium levels were measured at the start of the study.  Results were adjusted for variables like alcohol intake, body mass index, smoking status and kidney function, which may affect dementia risks and Magnesium levels.  Participants were divided into quintiles based on their serum Magnesium levels.

During this follow up period, over 800 individuals developed dementia.  Over 650 of these individuals were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The incidence of dementia was found to be 30% higher in both the lowest blood Magnesium groups and the highest blood Magnesium groups.  Since this was an observational study only, no causality could be determined from the study outcomes.

There was however a few limitations on the way the study was set up.  First, Magnesium levels were only taken at the onset of the study, so changes in these blood levels may have occurred during the follow up period.  Second, blood levels of Magnesium may not be a reliable measure of total body Magnesium, meaning a person can have a normal serum Magnesium level and still have a Magnesium deficiency.  These limitations confirm that further research is needed.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists Magnesium as being involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, such as helping to maintain normal nerve and muscle functions, keeping our bones strong as well as supporting a healthier immune response.  This important mineral is also necessary for supporting healthy blood pressure and blood sugar management.  70% – 80% of the population in the United States is not achieving the recommended intakes of daily Magnesium.

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Ginkgo May Enhance Performance, Boost Brain Health for Active Men

Ginkgo Biloba Enhances Performance and CognitionAccording to a small study extracts of Ginkgo Biloba may offer both mind and body advantages for young active men.

18 young active men participated in this study.  Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a standardized extract of Ginkgo Biloba or a placebo.  The study lasted six weeks.  Improvements in VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake) and blood antioxidant capacity were seen in both groups, however the greatest increases were seen in the Ginkgo Biloba group. Participants in the Ginkgo Biloba supplementation group also showed increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) during exercise.  BDNF acts on certain neurons of the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system.  These proteins help to support the survival of existing neurons and encourage growth of new neurons.  BDNF is vital to higher thinking, learning and memory.

Although no statistical significance was noted between the groups (a marginal increase of 6% vs 1% was seen in VO2max) researchers attribute that to the dosage levels used in the study, since previous studies have shown even more benefits with higher doses.  Researchers believe that the polyphenolic compounds found in Ginkgo Biloba enhance antioxidant effects by both indirectly boosting the actions of antioxidant enzymes like glutathione peroxidase, SOD, and catalase and by directly scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS).  A 20% increase in SOD activity was seen in the Ginkgo Biloba group compared to the placebo group.

Larger studies are needed.

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