6 Best Ingredients For Brain Health

September 1st, 2021

If you are looking to include in your diet compounds to nourish your brain, you came to the right place; In this article, we explore six interesting ingredients that may improve your brain health

6 ingredients for brain health

What is a healthy brain?

The brain. This massive network of firing neurons is the center of each decision we make on a daily basis and in life. It consumes up to 20% of our total oxygen each day, while only accounting for 2% of our total body weight – underlining its importance [1]. Alongside oxygen, it also requires plenty of nutrients to keep processes running at all times, both when awake or sleeping.

A well-known nutritious diet that packs a variety of nutrients is the Mediterranean diet – often described as a diet that supports a well-functioning brain. This is due to the wide variation of key nutrient-providing foods such as seafood, fruits and vegetables, olives and olive oil, nuts, beans and wine.

Supplementing your diet for optimal brain health

As healthy as a diet can be, every diet can still be supplemented with supplements, and more specifically dedicated ingredients. Although the Italians consume the Mediterranean diet, they also consume a lot of supplements: the Italian supplements market remains by far and large the biggest in Europe. Yet, also for individuals living in other parts of the world, with different food options, supplements can be a useful asset to optimize their diet.

In this article we take a deep dive into 6 of the best ingredients that you should be looking for on the label of supplements, that can aid you in sustaining a healthy brain:

1. Berry Anthocyanins
Anthocyanins are a group of compounds that belong to the flavonoid family. They are renowned for giving fruits and vegetables their vibrant dark blue/purple colours. Blueberries, raspberries and acai berries contain high amounts of anthocyanins but are all dwarfed by Aronia berries (also known as chokeberries), which contain by far and large the highest amounts of anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins exhibit their biological effects mainly through their strong antioxidant activity. By increasing perfusion to the brain and also improving neurotransmitter levels, anthocyanins aid in improving cognitive functions, notably executive & working memory, psychomotor speed, and attention [2,3].

Read more about the health benefits of Aronia berries


2. Phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that forms the inner side of the cell membrane – a fatty layer that makes up the layer of human cells. As a supplement, PS or intermediates like citicoline are widely available and found in multiple products on the market.

Orally consumed PS is absorbed efficiently by the human intestinal system and crosses the blood-brain barrier. PS is the main phospholipid in the brain and is involved in the protection of nerve cells and aids in relaying information from one neuronal cell to the other. These key functions of PS lead to roles for this compound in a multitude of cognitive functions, amongst others: long-term memory, concentration, problem solving and locomotor functions [4].


3. Choline
Choline is an essential nutrient that acts as a precursor to phospholipids (Phosphatidylcholine), acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) and betaine (involved in amino acid metabolism). Choline levels may be low in lactating and pregnant women, older and younger individuals [5], so adequate choline intake for these populations is advised.

Dietary choline intake correlates with cognitive function and choline-containing compounds have been linked with a reduction in vascular dementia [6]. Of course, choline levels need to remain optimal to have sufficient building blocks for acetylcholine, the chief neurotransmitter for relaying information from one neuron to the other.


4. Resveratrol
Resveratrol is a polyphenol predominantly found in grapes, and as a result, in wine. It has been linked to the promotion of health by exerting neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and beneficial cardiovascular effects.

When we look at the cognitive benefits that resveratrol brings for a healthy brain, it improves blood flow in the frontal cortex; providing this decision-making area with more nutrients and oxygen. Resveratrol protects the brain from reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are formed as a by-product of the high energy and oxygen consumption of neurons. It scavenges the free radicals, protecting against damage to neurons and associated tissues [7].


5. Docosahexaenoic Acid
Abbreviated as DHA, this compound is a long-chain highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is found predominantly in fish, krill and algae, but also widely available in supplement formats as fish oil, krill oil or algae oil. All of these sources also often contain the complementary eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

DHA affects key neurological processes like neurotransmitter release, gene expression, signal transduction and differentiation of neurons. Especially the frontal lobes, which are responsible for executive functions like attention, planning and problem solving, are sensitive to DHA levels. Keeping DHA levels in check is key to cognitive performance, with researchers indicating that dietary DHA intake is required to maintain sufficient brain DHA levels [8].


6. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba extracts (GBE) come from the dried leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree. Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures have used extracts from this tree in their traditional medicines. GBEs have been linked to improving cognitive function and decelerating cognitive decline. This is due to their strong antioxidative activities, ability to improve neurotransmitter levels and neuroprotection potential.

GBEs have been used to treat dementia, with significant efficacy being demonstrated at high daily doses of >240mg. Yet, also for healthy people, GBEs might be a useful ingredient for enhancing blood flow to the brain combined with an anti-oxidant effect [9].