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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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 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.

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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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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.

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Lutein Levels Linked To A More Agile And “Youthful” Brain

Lutein and CognitionA new study finds a high intake of Lutein may slow down cognitive decline.

60 healthy adults between the ages of 25 and 45 participated in this study.  Carotenoid levels were assessed by measuring MPOD (Macular Pigment Optical Density), which is considered a trusted indicator of Lutein levels in the brain. Event related brain activity was used as a gauge of cognitive function and was recorded as the participants performed cognitive control testing.  Study results showed MPOD was related to both specific electrical brain activity and age during the decision making process, known as the P3 wave.  Younger adults showed a larger abundance of P3 than the older participants however, the older participants with higher MPOD levels displayed P3 measures equal to the younger participants.  Researchers concluded that Lutein appears to have a protective role in the brain since the study data indicated that participants with more Lutein were able to utilize more cognitive resources to finish their tasks.

Besides being beneficial to brain health, Lutein and Zeaxanthin have been shown to provide support for vision and vision diseases since Lutein appears to accumulate in both the brain and in the eyes.  The ability of Lutein in brain processing, memory, speed and processing is intriguing since Lutein cannot be manufactured on its own in the body.

Further study is warranted.

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