From the impact of dementia on women to the ‘long COVID’ syndrome experienced by many coronavirus patients, Jo Caird makes a mind map of the brain health sector.
We’ve got used to the idea that we need to look after our bodies if we’re to maintain good health, particularly as we get older. Public health campaigns have successfully raised awareness of conditions such as heart disease and obesity. We may not all eat as many portions of fruit and vegetables as we should, or take as much exercise as is ideal, but most of us are now at least aware of the risks of leading an unhealthy lifestyle.But one aspect of wellbeing that’s yet to achieve the same level of public awareness is brain health.
That’s troubling, given the enormous impact that neurological disorders and challenges have on our lives, especially as we age. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that these conditions are the leading cause of disability globally and the second greatest cause of death, accounting for nine million deaths per year.
Brain health – at this stage still an emerging concept in medical science – has no universally agreed definition, but it is generally understood to mean the ability to perform mental and physical processes to an average level and maintain normal social interactions, as well as remaining free from disease.
Though there are neurological conditions and traumas that affect children and younger people, it’s primarily as we age that brain health becomes more of an issue. As a country with an ageing population, the UK is facing increasing challenges in this area. These can take many forms, but dementia – the symptoms of which include memory loss, confusion, and issues with speech and understanding – is a leading culprit.
The Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK estimate that as many as one in 14 people over 65 and one in six people over 80 suffer from the condition. The 850,000 or so who currently have dementia in the UK is projected to rise to over one million by 2025 and two million by 2051.
A head start
This issue is particularly acute for women, who suffer disproportionately from dementia; there are currently 618,576 women living with dementia in the UK, according to the findings of Dr Nisa Aslam, presented within a Schwabe Nature’s Way report entitled Nutrient Starved?
The reasons for this discrepancy are not yet fully understood, but it is thought that women’s longer life expectancies, along with the impact of falling levels of oestrogen as they age, might have an impact.
The good news is that just as we can tackle the causes of heart disease or gastrointestinal troubles by eating more healthily, it seems that opting for nutrient-rich foods can positively influence brain health outcomes too, in both men and women.
The Food for the Brain Foundation – a charity working to raise awareness of the importance of optimal nutrition for mental health – recommends ‘five key nutrition steps that have been identified as the pillars of brain health’. “We believe that diet is absolutely key to maintaining brain health,” says spokeswoman Anastasia Smith, before outlining the benefits of omega-3 (found in fish, nuts and seeds); antioxidants (found in fruit, vegetables, tea, red wine and dark chocolate); following a low glycaemic load (GL) diet; limiting coffee intake; and keeping homocysteine levels in check with inexpensive B vitamins.
“Homocysteine is a neurotoxin capable of directly damaging the medial temporal lobe, which is the area of the brain that rapidly degenerates in Alzheimer’s disease,” she explains.
Drinking coffee is a no-no because it raises homocysteine levels and promotes the excretion of protective B vitamins. Keeping blood sugar levels balanced with a low GL diet can help preserve memory, as can consuming plenty of antioxidants.
Habit of a lifetime
Eating a balanced diet is a simple way of optimizing your chances for future brain health, but it can be difficult to embed new habits, particularly later in life. It’s a situation retailer Natalie Stubbs at Falmouth’s The Natural Store encounters all the time with her customers.
“When we’re older, some of our dietary choices have been going on for a long time. And we’ve got generational differences, even on things like hydration, which we’ve come to know is important for brain function,” she says.
This anecdotal evidence is borne out by the data. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey – an annual survey carried out by Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency – found that intake of antioxidant-rich fruit and veg actually fell by almost a third in ten years in the 19 to 64 age group. There was a significant decline in intakes of other crucial nutrients too, across all ages.
While work goes on to educate people on the importance of diet for brain health, supplements offer a relatively easy fix in the short term, at least for those who have access to them. This can be beneficial in terms of future health outcomes but also as a way to treat the symptoms of cognitive decline, several studies show.
Supplementing with B vitamins and folic acid – at levels far higher than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) – appears to actually slow or stop cognitive decline in those already suffering from dementia. And a recent small study by Bournemouth University and the University of Roehampton found that supplementing with omega-3 fish oil improved cognition in a group of post-menopausal women. Another nutrient that has been linked to the prevention of dementia or improvements in cognitive function is vitamin D.
Stubbs’ customers are ‘aware of brain health’, she says, often coming in at the point when they’re ‘struggling’ with some element of cognitive function: memory loss, for example. Customers vary hugely when it comes to their preferred method of delivery for supplements and herbal remedies, Stubbs explains, but those products that state their purpose on the packaging tend to be a winner with older people. “It can help give that confidence to a product.”
Tools for treatment
While we don’t yet know at what stage the ground-work is laid for the deterioration of brain health in later life, it seems shrewd to err on the side of caution and embed good nutrition as early as possible.
“A varied diet with a wide range of vitamins is crucial to help support good brain health and development for children, including iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin A, B5 and B6,” says Matthew Wilson, nutritionist at the vitamin, mineral and supplement manufacturer ParkAcre.
“Vitamin A is especially important … while a deficiency is rare, people are more likely to suffer from a lack of vitamin A which can have detrimental consequences. I would recommend that parents with children who have allergies, ethical diets or other dietary restrictions should always consider a vitamin A supplementation as an option.”
The Food for the Brain Foundation steers clear of directly recommending supplements for children on its website, but lays out the facts around RDAs of vitamins, minerals and essential fats, giving parents the tools they need to make an informed choice.
When it comes to older children and young people, Stubbs regularly talks to customers seeking supplements that might help with sharpness and focus to assist with studying for exams.
In the emerging field of brain health, not only is new scientific research confirming the potential of age-old remedies, but ground-breaking work is being done to treat traumatic brain injuries by replenishing deficient hormones. Who knows what surprises the next few years might hold?
In summer 2020, Viridian Nutrition launched Peak Focus, a supplement designed to support optimal concentration. Among its 100% natural ingredients is lemon balm, a herb that the company named its Ingredient of the Year for 2020.
Native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia, lemon balm is now grown around the world and widely used to relieve stress, anxiety and insomnia, and boost cognitive function. Studies suggest that a daily 600mg dose of the herb can improve mood and stress tolerance, alongside enhancing cognitive performance.
Sage is another important ingredient in Peak Focus, with pre-publication data from the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University reporting a statistically significant enhancement in cognitive markers among healthy adults in response to the first dose and the cumulative dose over 28 days of 600mg of common and Spanish sage. In-vitro studies suggest that compounds in sage can help support the health of neurotransmitters that perform functions such as memory, memory recall, knowledge acquisition and problem solving.
“In recent years lemon balm and sage have attracted research interest,” says Jenny Carson, technical manager, Viridian. “This is especially so in trials that investigated their effects on brain function. Data shows that the herbs influenced beneficial action in the brain which makes them the perfect partners.”
Recovering from COVID
There’s a lot we don’t know about the long-term impacts of COVID-19. Many people suffering from so-called ‘long COVID’ are doing so in silence, making it hard to assess the number affected and to what degree.
What we do know is that among the extremely diverse range of symptoms that continue long after active infection has gone, some are more common than others. Cognitive dysfunction, aka ‘brain fog’, was reported by 55.4% of respondents to a recent large-scale survey of long COVID patients.
The form that this cognitive dysfunction takes – and its severity – varies from person to person, but often includes memory loss and difficulties thinking and staying focused on
a particular task. Many sufferers report being unable to return to work or accomplish simple tasks like cooking.
What’s causing this impact is still puzzling scientists. It’s certainly the case that a large proportion of COVID-19 patients will experience some neurological symptoms during the course of their active infection. Who will go on to develop longer-term issues is unknown, though it appears that those with more severe disease have a higher chance of experiencing long-term brain fog.
The links between COVID-19 and ongoing neurological symptoms are still being investigated and this research is likely to continue for years to come as the scientific, medical and wellness communities grapple with the impacts of the novel coronavirus.
Bio-Kult Migréa & Bio-Kult Mind
Bio-Kult Migréa is an advanced multi-action live bacteria formulation that targets both the digestive tract and the head and has been formulated with magnesium and vitamin B6, both of which contribute to normal functioning of the nervous system, and reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Vitamin B6 contributes towards the normal function of the immune system and has been shown to help protect against inflammation. Vitamin B6 also contributes to the regulation of hormone activity.
Bio-Kult Mind is the latest addition to the Bio-Kult Gut Brain Range. Bio-Kult Mind is an advanced multi-action formulation designed to target cognitive function, containing live bacteria Bacillus subtilis PXN® 21®, bioavailable flavonoids, grape and wild blueberry extracts, and zinc. Zinc contributes to normal cognitive function and the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Zinc also contributes to the normal function of the immune system.
The Bio-Kult range does not need to be refrigerated and each of our unique bacteria strains are encapsulated during the freeze drying process, which aids in their survival through the low acidity of the stomach.
Vitamin D3 4000iu
Vitamin D3 4000iu is the newest addition to our vitamin D range. It is a high strength vegan vitamin D3, providing 4000iu vitamin D per capsule for immune and bone support.
• Effective –vitamin D helps form and maintain strong bones, helps maintain blood levels of calcium and phosphorus and is required for the normal functioning of the immune system.
• Optimum support – our highest strength vitamin D, providing 4000iu vitamin D3 in a simple, one a day capsule
• Advanced – our vegan D3 is sourced from algae
• No unnecessary additives
• Environmentally friendly – recyclable packaging
• Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
Turmeric Extract with Lutein, Rosemary, Vitamin B12 and Zinc
Lamberts Healthcare Ltd
Tel: : 01892 554313
E-mail: [email protected]
Lamberts® TurMemoric is based on the latest nutritional research. We have combined our premium turmeric extract, standardised to provide 95% curcumins, with lutein, which is an important dietary carotenoid. Interest in lutein has grown beyond eye health, with the discovery that it is the main carotenoid concentrated in the brain. Researchers have discovered a link between lutein accumulation and areas of the brain rich in fatty acids, suggesting its role as an antioxidant. Rosemary extract is included to preserve the active constituents plus we’ve added vitamin B12 for normal neurological and psychological functions, plus zinc for normal cognitive function.
THEENK TEA is an award-winning 21-day Ayurvedic herbal program designed to naturally support a healthy brain function and mental wellbeing. Each box is packed with 12 herbal nootropics, adaptogens and stimulants divided into 3 functional blends for mornings, afternoons and evenings. THEENK TEA is the first product of its kind on the market and it’s been developed to support one of the most important organs in the human body – the brain. THEENK TEA has been designed to help maintain balanced energy levels, improve focus, relieve stress and help achieve a good night’s sleep.
Bee calm & Bee rested
Studies show lack of sleep and high stress levels can negatively impact our health as well as the immune system. Bee calm stress support & Bee rested sleep supplements are formulated by nutritionists blending nutrients with proven benefits. These research-based formulas are formulated by nutritionists and combine highest quality plant-based ingredients to help ease tension, agitation and low mood and to improve sleep (helping you nod off faster and wake up less in the night). They are concentrated so fewer capsules are required. Capsules may be opened into juices & more.
Patrick Holford’s Essentials4Vegans is a combination of the four nutrients that are hardest to get on a vegan diet. Taking two vegecaps a day provides these four nutrients in optimal amounts: Vitamin B12 10µg, Vitamin D3, derived from lichen, 1000iu (25µg), Omega-3 DHA 250mg, Choline 200mg. Taken together with the Optimum Nutrition Formula comprehensively covers all nutrients required for optimal health, supported by a wholefood diet. His NEW book Optimum Nutrition for Vegans (Piatkus) shows you how to achieve optimum nutrition on a vegan diet plus 100 delicious, easy recipes to nourish body and brain. Both are available from www.holfordirect.com
Supports a healthy brain 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 £19.99 for 60 tablets. Contact HealthAid Ltd on 020 8426 3400 for purchase and stockist information or visit www.healthaid.co.uk
MENTAL PERFORMANCE – The brain is the largest and most important part of your nervous system. It receives and coordinates signals from your sens¬es, movement and memory.
New Nordic™ developed Clear Brain and it’s based on a natural extract combination, vitamins and minerals to support brain performance. The content of iodine contributes to normal cognitive functions. Pantothenic acid contributes to normal mental performance. Ri¬boflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and B12 reduces fatigue and con¬tribute to the normal function of the nervous system.
Dr Stuarts Ginkgo Plus
Tel: 01782 567100 / 01159 767217
A motivating herbal infusion including spearmint, lemongrass and ginkgo to help focus the mind. Ginkgo Plus is part of the iconic Dr Stuart’s range created by Dr Malcolm Stuart. An award-winning innovative range of herbal teas. Dr Stuart’s uses herbs of the highest quality, picked from the most prized parts of the plants.
Alive! Ultra Women’s 50+ Wholefood Plus
Alive! Ultra Women’s 50+ Wholefood Plus multivitamins are specially balanced for women over fifty and contain 25 essential vitamins and minerals to support normal energy, immunity, bones, hormones and hair and skin. Packed full of additional botanicals it also contains cranberry extract and a unique Daily Greens blend of 13 botanicals, including spirulina and kelp. Flax Lignans and a Digestive Enzyme blend are also included in this high-strength multivitamin solution. And as with all Alive! multivitamins it also contains a blend of 26 whole fruit and vegetable powders. Suitable for vegetarians. RRP £24.99 for a 2-month supply (60 one-a-day tablets).
SYNAPTAID is a first-of-its kind supplement for supporting brain function and combating processes known to cause ‘cognitive impairment’.
The ‘brains’ behind SYNAPTAID is Dr John Briffa, a practising medical doctor, journalist and author with 30 years’ experience in natural medicine. SYNAPTAID contains a blend of 8 botanicals and nutrients, each of which has a role to play in supporting and assisting memory, concentration and mood. Just one of SYNAPTAID’s active ingredients is Lion’s Mane. This medicinal mushroom has several supporting actions in the brain, including boosting ‘nerve growth factors’ that can stimulate regeneration of brain cells. Lion’s Mane has been found to significantly improve brain function in individuals suffering from ‘cognitive impairment’ in just a few weeks. A new Synaptaid animated video will be appearing on social media platforms featuring Dr John Briffa this year driving additional demand to Health stores.
Good Health Naturally’s Brainpower™, is a potent combination of liposomal curcumin with resveratrol, both widely recognised for their powerful brain health benefits. The ‘liposome’ technology uses phosphatidylcholine to deliver the ingredients to the head and brain area within minutes, and includes a high concentration of curcumin 200mg and resveratrol 75mg in each serving (6ml). With its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, this unique combination is highly recommended for those seeking to naturally support their brain health, including memory, cognition and mood. Pleasant tasting off the spoon or mixed into liquids, for convenience and flexible dosing. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Brain Support Multi
Tel: 01327 878050
Brain Support Multi is a specific multivitamin and mineral formulation featuring a blend of 22 nutrients including supportive vitamins to promote brain health and function, together with bioavailable minerals and selected phytonutrients. Featuring natural brahmi extract at a therapeutic level and a high dose of choline. Additionally, Brain Support Multi contains iodine, iron and zinc which all contribute to normal cognitive function. Formulated by Viridian’s nutrition experts to provide the nutritional building blocks for normal brain activity. 100% active ingredients with no fillers, binders or nasties. Vegan, palm oil free, against animal testing, ethically made.
GABA with L’theanine and Ashwagandha
Good Health Naturally’s GABA with L’theanine and Ashwagandha, a highly bioavailable liquid liposomal product, offers powerful nervous system support. The advanced ‘liposome’ technology uses phosphatidylcholine to deliver the ingredients into cells faster and more efficiently, than capsules or tablets. Not found anywhere else, this unique combination is suitable for those wishing to promote a more calm and relaxed body, during periods of anxiety, stress and mental strain. Also ideal for those seeking to support a more restful night’s sleep. Pleasant tasting straight off the spoon or mixed into liquids, for convenience and flexible dosing. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.