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Once considered the territory of advanced old age, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are slowly but surely making their presence known among younger Australians. Here are natural remedies to prevent problems before they start.
Co enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an enzyme found in every cell in the body. It plays an important role in intracellular energy production and acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and protect blood vessels and throughout the body. A large Japanese study found lower serum CoQ10 levels were associated with a greater risk of dementia, while other studies have shown that it can help to improve cerebral energy and symptoms in supranuclear palsy and Parkinson’s disease.
Ginkgo This magnificent, long-living tree with heart-shaped leaves has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It is renowned for its potent effect on circulation and brain health. A 2012 study found that taking ginkgo for 24 weeks improved cognition, mood, mental function and quality of life in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It has also been shown to improve the ability to perform demanding cognitive tasks among healthy middle-aged volunteers, indicating its potential as a cognitive enhancing supplement.
Bacopa This has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to protect brain health and promote mental clarity. Animal studies show that it has antioxidant, cell-protective effects and increases cerebral blood flow. In 2008, an Australian randomised, doubleblind, placebo-controlled trial showed that 300mg of bacopa per day, for 12 weeks, improved memory and decreased depression and anxiety in healthy, older adults. An Indian study found it improved self-control, restlessness, learning problems, attention deficit, impulsivity, and psychiatric problems in a group of participants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Rosemary The phrase “rosemary for remembrance” is no coincidence, and this humble backyard herb has been proven to enhance cerebral circulation and memory in several clinical trials. One study found that even short-term administration of 750mg of rosemary leaf powder improved the speed of memory in the hours following administration in a group of older adults, while smelling the essential oil improved the overall cognitive performance, alertness and mood among healthy volunteers.
Omega-3s Omega-3 essential fatty acids from fish and seafood have a range of benefits for brain health. They have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, support cell membranes and neurological health, including the brain. They also help maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and protect against cardiovascular disease. This may be a key factor in the success of the Mediterranean diet in protecting brain health. A 2005 Italian study found that consuming 4 grams of fish oil daily (1,600mg EPA and 800mg of DHA) improved mood and concentration in healthy adults, while other studies have demonstrated that eating fresh fish, even just once a week, was associated with a decreased the incidence of dementia.
Phosphatidyl serine (PS) This is an essential brain nutrient, vital for the healthy function of nerve cells and myelin, which covers the nerves. Various animal studies have shown that it crosses the blood-brain barrier, and slows or even prevents damage to neurological tissue. It has a beneficial effect on neurotransmitter release and neurotransmitter receptor concentrations in the brain. Human studies have shown that it supports cognitive function, including the formation of short-term memory, and also helps to consolidate long-term memory and create new memories, enhance concentration, recall and attention, and support reaction times and healthy reflexes.
B group vitamins play an essential role in brain health, especially folate and vitamins B12 and B6 which are vital co-factors in the methylation pathway, which is involved in energy production in the cells and DNA replication and repair. When folate intake is inadequate homocysteine levels rise, which is associated with an increased risk of damage to blood vessels and atherosclerosis. Many studies have investigated the impact of these nutrients on the development of dementia. One large Italian study followed the progress of over 800 elderly participants and found that those that developed dementia were more likely to have low serum folate levels and elevated homocysteine.
The Mediterranean diet A meta-analysis of the available studies has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which is in rich in plant foods, fibre, whole grains and seafood, is the best nutritional intervention to protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is likely due to its plentiful supply of folate, B group vitamins, omega 3 essential fatty acids, fibre, minerals and broad range of antioxidants and polyphenols, which all combine to protect the brain against oxidative damage while supporting cardiovascular and metabolic health.