Could Melatonin Promote Healthy Ageing?

Melatonin and Anti-AgingA new review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests supplementation with Melatonin may lessen the decreases in the strength of the circadian system seen with ageing.  Melatonin is associated with helping people fall asleep more rapidly as well as helping to realign sleep cycles to a normal dark/light pattern in people who are blind or who suffer from sleep-wake disorders.  Prolonged-release melatonin (PRM) has been shown to reduce nighttime blood pressure in individuals whose blood pressure does not normally drop at night.  For most people, there is a normal reduction in their blood pressure at night.  The risk of cardiovascular problems is significantly higher for individuals who do not experience this reduction.

Melatonin has also been showing promise in the area of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  Associations between insomnia and AD and other neurodegenerative diseases have been identified.  Poor sleep quality has been associated with the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in pre-clinical Alzheimer’s.  At this stage of AD neuropathological changes have been accompanied by reduced melatonin levels.  Researchers have also identified a possible correlation between sleep disruptions and a reduction in the ability of the brain to clear beta-amyloid plaque in the area of the brain involved in the speed of the reaction time to a verbal memory task (precuneus).

One study found participants with mild to moderate AD supplementing with a 2 mg/day dose of PRM over a 6 month period either maintained or showed improvements in their cognitive function.

Researchers believe the evidence to date shows sufficient benefits to warrant further studies.



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.


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.


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.



Study Finds Link Between Gut Microbiota, Sleep Quality and Cognitive Flexibility

Sleep and ProbioticsAccording to a new study, poor sleep quality was linked with composition of the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility in healthy older adults.  Low amounts of bacteria in the phyla Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae, were associated with poor sleep quality as well as performance on specific cognitive tests.

Stool samples were provided by study participants.  Data on sleep quality using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index were also given by participants.  Cognitive flexibility was assessed through the completion of tests like the Stroop Color Word Test.  Results showed that when participants experienced better sleep both higher proportions of Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae were present and improvements were seen in better cognitive flexibility.

The bidirectional interaction between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract which is called the gut-brain axis has been increasingly gaining attention from both consumers as well as scientists.  Research links the microflora found in the digestive system to many markers of health including reduced anxiety levels, depression and overall general mood.  Scientific evidence shows partial sleep deprivation may change the gut microbiota.  Also seen in scientific literature is dysbiosis, a microbial imbalance, caused by shift work and jet lag which may actually promote glucose intolerance and obesity.

A 2014 survey by Datamonitor Consumer ranked insomnia as the fourth most relevant health issue experienced by Americans by percentage after stress, tiredness and fatigue, and allergies.  Middle aged women were the most worried about insomnia.



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.


Lutein: For the Brain? Adults and Children May Benefit

Lutein and Brain for Adults and KidsLutein, a carotenoid, is usually associated with its benefits for ocular support.  This carotenoid is commonly found in both vegetables and fruits.  Research supports the role Lutein plays in the retina and its ability to decrease the risk of age related eye diseases.  Currently, Lutein is beginning to be recognized as support for the brain.

Lutein is taken up into brain tissue on a selective basis and is the main carotenoid in adult and infant brains.  Increased levels of Lutein correlate with improve cognitive function in older individuals.  Interestingly enough Lutein concentrations in the macula of the retina correspond with the levels of Lutein found in the brain tissue, and provides a non invasive means to measure Lutein in the brain.  This reinforces research showing increased macular pigment density in adults being significantly associated with improvements in cognitive performance.

Lutein also plays a role on cognition in early life.  Lutein is the preferred carotenoid taken up in cord blood and in breast milk.  Young brains show the ratio of Lutein to total carotenoids to be twice those found in adults which accounts for over half the concentration of total carotenoids.

The increased proportion of Lutein found in young brains suggests Lutein is needed during neural development.  Recent studies in children 8 – 10 years of age, shows macular pigment density was significantly related to academic performance and better memory.

Lutein’s role as an antioxidant and a natural anti-inflammatory may be why Lutein is so important.  In a randomized double blind placebo controlled study in healthy newborns supplementing Lutein significantly increased serum antioxidant activity providing a benefit when in brain tissue.