Years of research into supplements that enhance brain function have only proven that there isn’t a magic bullet to ward off dementia, stay sharp, or otherwise improve cognition. Even some of the old standbys, long believed to be good for brain health—like gingko biloba and DHEA—have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Fortunately, there’s proof that dietary and lifestyle changes can affect how well your brain works. To keep your brain humming like a well-oiled machine, sink your teeth into these easy and edible approaches to brain health.
Subtract the Substances that Don’t do a Brain Good
Substances like alcohol, illicit or recreational drugs, and nicotine not only do nothing to improve cognition, they may also make your brain less healthy. A little alcohol may be good for you, but more certainly isn’t better. In fact, according to a 2008 study published in the Annals of Neurology, excessive alcohol consumption causes parts of the brain to wither, which can cause memory loss and other cognitive issues.
Many people think about nicotine and smoking as a lung or heart issue, but researchers are investigating claims that it causes a lack of blood flow to the cerebrum. To keep your brain healthy, the first step is to stop flooding your body with toxic substances.
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Add the Good Stuff that Supports Brain Health
Research supports the Mediterranean diet as a winner in warding off dementia. You can fine-tune the cognition-enhancing benefits of this eating plan by breaking out specific nutrients to ensure you consume plenty of the foods that deliver the most brain-strengthening bang for the buck.
1. Antioxidants to “ACE” Brain Health
Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants, which reduce your risk of heart disease and ensure your brain is oxygenated. But why eat Brussels sprouts instead of popping a multivitamin? Simple. Food contains micronutrients, fiber, and other components that contribute to your overall health. Eat these antioxidants to help your brain function effectively:
- Berries, especially blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and raspberries
- Citrus fruits (ask your provider about potential interactions between grapefruit and any prescription medications you’re taking)
- Cruciferous vegetables including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon
- Walnuts and sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ and wheat germ oil
2. B Vitamins to De-Stress Your Cranium
This vitamin group, which includes folate, B6, and B12, helps brain function in various ways. In particular, getting adequate B vitamins helps your brain respond appropriately to stress. Get your daily B dose via:
- Chickpeas and other legumes for vitamin B6
- Dark green, leafy vegetables for folate
- Fish, poultry, and meat for B12
3. Vitamin D for Your Neurons
You hear about Vitamin D in relation to helping build strong bones, but this essential nutrient also plays a crucial role in cellular health—including brain cells. To get vitamin D, the following is helpful:
- Cod liver oil
- Moderate sun exposure
- Vitamin D supplements
- Wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel
4. Choline for Your Memory
Choline, an essential micronutrient found in a number of vegetables and lean proteins, plays an important role in the function of neurotransmitters. In short, choline can help your memory. Remember to consume plenty of:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Soybeans—whole beans or minimally processed soy foods like tempeh or tofu
If You Choose to Supplement
If you decide to use supplements for key brain nutrients, be sure to source your vitamins carefully. Ask where the omega-3s in a caplet came from to ensure they originate from a sustainable, uncontaminated source. Look for third-party validation regarding production methods and consistent potency.