Herbs and nutrients for the ageing brain

As you get older, it becomes more and more important to look after your brain health. A nutritious diet and active lifestyle are vital to keeping your grey matter firing, and these nutritional and herbal supplements may also help.

Ginkgo for memory, concentration and learning

Taking a high-potency Ginkgo supplement may help to improve your cognitive functioning in several ways, including enhancing concentration, memory function and the ability to learn new skills and retain information.

The brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress (free radical damage) due to its high levels of metabolic activity, and in part, the effects of Ginkgo are considered due to its potent antioxidant effects on the brain’s blood vessels.

In addition, Ginkgo enhances cerebral circulation (blood flow to the brain, eyes and ears) via several mechanisms, including reducing the viscosity (thickness) of the blood and helping to keep the blood vessels dilated.

Brahmi enhances memory in older people

Ginkgo is often combined with memory tonic herbs, including the Ayurvedic herb Brahmi (also known as Bacopa), which has traditionally been taken in old age to enhance the memory and promote intellectual functioning.

In a clinical study involving people with an average age of 63 years, taking a standardised extract of Brahmi for 12 weeks improved several components of working memory (the aspect of memory that’s responsible for the retention and processing of information) including attention span, memory quality and memory speed1.

Green tea promotes alertness and healthy ageing

In China, Green Tea has been widely consumed for thousands of years, and is traditionally attributed with an ability to boost alertness and promote healthy ageing.

It’s a rich source of a group of antioxidant compounds called catechins, the most important of which is epigallo-catechin-gallate (EGCG), which has protective effects on the nervous system, including the brain.

Green Tea also contains a unique amino acid called theanine. Theanine helps to improve alertness and reduce mental fatigue, and research has shown it to promote brainwave activities associated with improved focus and reduced vulnerability to distraction. At the same time, it may help to promote a relaxed state of mind.

Fish oil helps maintain brain health

Research suggests that people who consume large quantities of fish are likely to enjoy better brain health as they get older than those who rarely or never consume fish.

The protective effects on brain health are attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (especially docosahexaenoic acid, DHA), which play an important role in brain function, helping to maintain the structure, function and integrity of the neurones.

Omega-3 fatty acids often need to be taken in high doses in order to be effective, so when choosing a fish oil supplement, look for a formula that’s highly concentrated. The inclusion of an antioxidant such as astaxanthin is also valuable.

  1. Peth-Nui T, et al. Effects of 12-week Bacopa monnieri consumption on attention, cognitive processing, working memory, and functions of both cholinergic and monoaminergic systems in healthy elderly volunteers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2012;ID 606424:1-10