Taking care of those little grey cells can be a synch thanks to the latest advances in natural health and nutrition
Say what you like about the baby boomer generation, but the natural health sector just wouldn’t be the same without them. Many of the market’s key categories – from organic food to natural beauty – had their seeds in the cultural tumult of the 1960s.
And since those heady days, baby boomers have been key in taking the move-ment to the mainstream by opening independent health stores, becoming nutri-tionists, or simply spreading the word about alternative health measures.
But sadly, research suggests that the boomers might now be facing a far bigger challenge than fighting the government over the Vietnam War.
Rising house prices mean they’ve often been able to hold onto their money, and natural living means they’ve mainly held onto their physical health. Now the big challenge for them is to go into their twilight years holding onto their full cognitive faculties.
A dementia epidemic
The fact is that today in the developed world we enjoy longer life expectancy than ever – and can treat a wealth of different diseases that saw off previous generations before they got the chance to pick up their pensions.
Yet while our bodies may enjoy a fully functional older age, there’s evidence that our minds might get left behind.
Experts predict that the number of people suffering with dementia will treble by 2050 to around 135 million around the world. This rapid increase, unprecedented in recent times, will create some serious problems for society.
For one thing, dementia sufferers need a lot of time and attention, and since baby boomers had fewer children than the last generation, full-time care-givers may be few and far between.
There’s no clear medical treatment either, and the current medical emphasis is on managing the condition rather than trying to cure it.
But the outlook isn’t all bleak. In 2013 David Cameron announced that he would double the funding for dementia in the UK to £122 million by 2025.
This means that there will be fresh emphasis on ways to prevent the condition by promoting good brain health. And, as usual, it’s here that independent health stores come into their own with a raft of natural ways to help keep the next generation on top of their game.
It’s not surprising that when it comes to brain health the spotlight in-store is still on fatty acids such as omega-3s. This is due not just to solid scientific evidence around the benefits, but also to a genuine customer buzz about fatty acids.
“A good quality, bioavailable form of omega-3 fatty acids is an essential dietary supplement for our overall health and wellbeing, but especially for our brain health,” explains Anita Moe Larsen from Ayanda, the Norwegian manufacturer of the new-to-the-UK supple-ments line NaturVits.
“The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and do-cosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fish oils, are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that make up important components of all cell membranes in the human body,” she continues.
“They have many crucial roles, including regulating tissue development and inflammatory processes, and are considered ‘essential’ as the human body cannot synthesize enough of them.
“EPA has the special ability to build neurons, boost neurotransmitter levels and promote the way our nerves work; all contributing to improved brain function and enhanced cognitive abilities. DHA also plays an active role in helping maintain normal brain health.”
Benefits aside, any new-comer to the omega-3 shelf faces serious competition from well-established brands. This means manufacturers are having to work extra hard to set their products apart – often using purity, provenance and quality as their unique selling point.
NaturVits is hoping to hook UK consumers through promoting their superior bioavailability, among other key qualities. Larsen explains that better bioavailability comes through a patented process which uses Con-Cordix technology.
“NaturVits Omega-3 supplements are proven to deliver 44% better uptake than ordinary omega-3 soft gels, enabling the body to take greater advantage of the active ingredients,” says Larsen. “They also benefit from being sugar-free, contain 100% natural flavours, the purest and freshest ingredients available and fish oils from some of the clearest and most nutritious waters of the world.”
So, when should you start promoting good brain health with a dose of omega-3? G
areth Zeal from Quest Vitamins believes that parents should be thinking about supplementation pre-birth. “The crucial time to get the first dose of omega-3s is in the womb,” he says. “The very early months are when the brain and other functions start to develop. Fatty acids are good for normalizing this development.
“It’s not so much about boosting the brain – it’s about bringing the foetus up to an ideal ‘normal’.
“And by taking omega-3s, mums are less likely to get post-pregnancy depressions – so everyone wins.”
Of course, many nutri-tionists consider oily fish to be the best natural source of omega-3s. But, as Zeal points out, customers can find it hard to fit it into their diets – or are nauseated by the dis-tinctive smell and flavour of fish such as mackerel.
He also has found that many of his customers are worried about damage from the ‘heavy metals’ ingested by deep sea fish before they’re caught and eaten.
However, Dr Marilyn Glenville reminds her clients that fatty acids aren’t the sole province of poissons – eggs and flax seeds are other safe and natural sources. “Remember that egg yolks are a good source of omega-3 and eggs generally are also a first-class source of protein,” she says. “It’s unfortunate that they got a bad rap through all the talk of cholesterol a few years ago.”
Glenville says that clients come to her complaining that they’re suffering from a lack of concentration when doing everyday tasks – like reading a book. For these clients, she says, it’s important to look at diet ‘in the round’ and go beyond fatty acid intake. “There’s the whole blood-sugar side to consider,” she says.
“I think that the first thing is to make sure clients are eating well. Low blood sugar will cause problems with memory and con-centration. If that’s happening then it’s all about having a low GI diet and making sure you’re eating little and often to stop any spikes in blood sugar.”
Teaching pupils a lesson
The next natural key stage for cognitive health is at school, when children are expected to take on a raft of new knowledge. “When you start school you need to improve and maintain concentration, and that’s where DHA comes in,” explains Zeal.
“Children need more fatty acid than adults, just as men need more than women – it’s a biological fact.”
Larsen also confirms the benefits of using omega-3s to boost a child’s learning prowess. “Numerous research studies confirm that the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish helps boost brain function, enhance memory and improve concentration,” she says.
“This is particularly the case in the formative years when a child’s brain is developing. Fish oils can also help protect developing brains against the worst effects of eating a poor diet, which can prevent the brain from generating new nerve cells.”
As most parents know, though, getting children to take their ‘medicines’ (and overcoming the ‘eww’ factor) can be tough.
“If you’re putting the fish oil straight into a drink, make sure you blend it or it’ll sit on the top and the kids won’t touch it,” advises Zeal.
This aversion to supple-mentation means that brands have become clever and are disguising supplements as sugar-free ‘sweets’ for kids.
Indeed, NaturVits has used research to back up the benefits of this approach. It commissioned an independent study involving 428 children over a 16-week period. According to the research, after this time only 22.5% of the children were taking vitamins with water, while 87.5% were still taking NaturVits jelly drops.
Adults may mind less about the taste of fish oil – but they should definitely care about the dosage.
For adults, Patrick Holford recommends at least 500mg of DHA a day for optimum results. “The best results with omega-3 fats have tended to be those with high amounts of DHA, at least 500mg,” he explains.
“One study gave 2.2g, roughly two big capsules, of omega-3 fish oil to people aged 50-75 and saw positive changes in the integrity of their brain within 26 weeks. For prevention [of cognitive decay], I would certainly recommend a daily intake of at least 500mg of combined DHA and EPA a day, and double this if a person’s memory is slipping.”
Most nutritionists will recommend a multivitamin to cover a host of different health issues. And a growing body of research suggests that there could be a link between vitamin deficiency and cognitive function. For instance, a 2012 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that Alzheimer’s patients were 85% less likely to have the highest levels of vitamin E, compared to people with normal cognitive function.
The researchers, led by Francesca Mangialasche from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said in the study: “The increasing evidence about vitamin E family neuroprotective properties warrants further investigation of their role in age-related cognitive decline.”
Despite this success, Holford is a bit more sanguine about vitamin E’s effects. “Studies are mixed on vitamin E,” he says. “Two have worked and one has failed. No changes in brain structure have been shown. The best evidence for reduced risk is in people who both supplement vitamin C and E, each above 500mg a day. I think that is worth doing.”
It’s not just vitamin E – the B family of vitamins have been shown to help too. “About half of people over 65 have insufficient levels of B12 to prevent accelerated brain shrinkage, and about half have raised levels of homocysteine,” says Holford. “This means they need more B vitamins, principally B6, B12 and folic acid. “
A study giving B vitamins to such people, with mild cognitive impairment – the precursor to Alzheimer’s – showed they had nine times less brain shrinkage compared to placebo over the year and a substantial slowing down in memory decline. About a third in this study had a zero rating for dementia by the end of the study.” Holford believes that homocysteine is key to this whole process. “The supplements given were designed to lower homo-cysteine. This is a standard blood test, and if a person’s level is above 10µmol/l then supple-mentation is essential.”
There’s also research to show that silicon-rich water might also have benefits for Alzheimer’s disease. A 2012 study from Keele University found “preliminary evidence” that silicone-laced water improved cognitive perfor-mance in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s early days, but the research could add extra oomph to the functional drinks market that’s already massive in Asia but hasn’t yet truly caught on over here.
Closer to home, Co-Q10 is fast gaining ground as an excellent anti-ageing all-rounder, with evidence that it supports brain health and helps protect against age-related memory decline. “Co-Q10 is a very powerful antioxidant, de-creasing the ageing process in our cells, arteries, hearts, gums and brains,” explains nutrition expert Dr Wendy Denning.’
Holford also speaks positively about antioxidants – and expects more research around them to emerge in the future. “There’s a known protective factor from diets high in antioxidants and polyphenols, but supplement studies just aren’t there yet,” he says. “I suspect, in the near future, there will be more evidence that supplementing key antioxidants and polyphenols will provide protection. I take a high strength antioxidant every day on this basis.”
As Glenville notes, all this research sounds like a “great argument for taking a good multivitamin”. It’s also useful for informing benefit-specific products too, like the brain and memory supplement she recently developed with NHP.
“We were looking at the research and asking – what is out there that we know has good evidence?” she explains. “What we’re always trying to do is to harness the full value of that re- search through the right combination of nutrients.”
Coenzyme Q10 is a great way to defend against age-related degeneration in both the mind and body. As well as helping heart function, Quest Vitamins’ super bioavailable version of CO-Q10 also improves brain health.
Dubbed ‘plant Prozac’ by the press, St John’s Wort has been scientifically found to be helpful against mild depression. Solgar’s standardized version of the herb ensures a full-strength healing hit.
Higher Nature’s Brain Nutrients harnesses the power of several of the most well-researched natural approaches to brain health in an easy-to-take capsule.
Green tea has an antioxidant that scientists say can improve memory. Pukka’s Green Chai tea is a smart way for customers to get their fix with no metallic aftertaste.
Health File Listings
A new exceptionally high quality organic omega oil, suitable for vegans. The best on the market for quality and freshness and contains high levels of Omega 3,6,9. Vitona Oil of Life Premium is composed of organic unrefined flaxseed oil, organic evening primrose oil and vegetarian DHA. It is the only vegetarian omega oil to contain EFSA approved DHA levels, produced and extracted directly from the algae Schizochytrium sp., in a sealed cultivation system. Daily intake of two small tablespoons gives the recommended amount of 250ml DHA, which has been show to contribute to the maintenance of brain function, heart health and healthy vision. Available direct & from Revital
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BrainVit® – Healthy brain and cognitive function. The brain, the most vital organ in the body requires nutrients to support its function. The stress and pressure associated with our modern lifestyles may reduce the brain’s ability to function optimally, resulting in reduced concentration and alertness. With this in mind, HealthAid have developed BrainVit®, incorporating specific ingredients such as Phosphatidyl serine, CoQ10, Ginkgo, Alpha lipoic acid and other essential nutrients, to support cognitive function and maintain good blood flow to and from the brain. BrainVit® is free from common allergens, suitable for vegetarians. BrainVit® retails at £16.99 for 60 tablets. Contact HealthAid Ltd on 020 8426 3400 for purchase and stockist information or visit www.healthaid.co.uk
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Taking Gingko Biloba has been proven to improve blood circulation to the brain, which in turn improves delivery of essential nutrients to the brain. This may help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. An independent study found that for people taking ginkgo biloba, improved recall correlated with better brain function in key brain memory centres. Nature’s Answer are the pioneers of low alcohol and alcohol free liquid herbal extracts, holistically balanced and created using wildcrafted and organic herbs wherever possible.
Taking Terranova B-Complex may help maintain healthy brain function, including memory. Choline may help prevent depression and mood swings, and in combination with Vitamin B6 maintains a healthy level of serotonin in the brain. Like all Terranova products, B-Complex is vegan in a food base with no artificial fillers or binders, and enriched with a blend called Magnifood for maximisation of absorption in the small intestine, metabolism in the level, delivery and utilisation at intra-cellular level.
Omega-3s are crucial to brain development, as well as health and maintenance throughout the lifecycle. Omega-3s bound to phospholipids have been shown to be preferentially transported to brain tissue compared with Omega-3s delivered as triglycerides. Phospholipid Omega-3s play a key role in the proper structure and function of brain cell membranes and cell signaling and are valuable in maintaining memory and cognitive functions. The latest innovation in this market has seen the introduction of Omega-3 rich oil from Krill. Krill is an excellent source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids bound to phospholipids as well as the antioxidant astaxanthin. Natures Aid Krill Oil 500mg is eco-harvested and is 100% traceable. Visit www.naturesaid.co.uk for further details. RSP £22.50 for 60 capsules.