Omega-3 fatty acids and brain health

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the relationship between consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and some physical measures of the brain that have been linked to “brain health” and “cognitive health.” This research was a bit different from many other studies of omega-3 fatty acids and potential health benefits, because most other studies have looked for relationships between dietary intake of these compounds (found especially in deep water fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel) and major health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease or depression. The JAHA article, on the other hand, narrowed the focus by examining measurable small-scale physical changes in the brain over a period as long as five years.

The results: people with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels showed a significantly lower number of the small-scale physical brain changes that may be associated with brain dysfunction or cognitive decline.
The study authors concluded that, among the older men and women who were the study’s subjects, higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, “and in particular DHA, were associated with specific findings consistent with better brain health.”

Our comment: a fascinating study, because it adds another level of evidence contributing to the already widely accepted view that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for your brain, and indeed may provide important help in maintaining brain function as you age.

See the NYBC catalog for a selection of fatty acids, and note especially the Nordic Naturals Pro Omega choices, which are excellent quality fish oil supplements, containing the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids studied in the JAHA article:


Of special interest is the Jarrow supplement Max DHA, which provides an enhanced dose of the omega-3 fatty acid often associated with brain health:

MAX DHA (Jarrow)


Virtanen JK, Siscovick DS, Lemaitre RN, Longstreth WT, Spiegelman D, Rimm EB, King IB, & Mozaffarian D (2013). Circulating omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2 (5) PMID: 24113325

Mediterranean diet may also benefit your brain, not just your heart

After last year’s widely reported finding that the Mediterranean Diet (fish, poultry, olive oil, fruits, nuts and whole grains, with little meat and dairy) indeed benefits cardiovascular health, now here’s a new study, published in the April 30, 2013 issue of the journal Neurology, and taken up by our hometown newspaper the New York Times, in their online blog “Well”:

Researchers prospectively followed 17,478 mentally healthy men and women 45 and older, gathering data on diet from food questionnaires, and testing mental function with a well-validated six-item screening tool. They ranked their adherence to the Mediterranean diet on a 10-point scale, dividing the group into low adherence and high adherence. […]
During a four-year follow-up, 1,248 people became cognitively impaired. But those with high adherence to the diet were 19 percent less likely to be among them. This association persisted even after controlling for almost two dozen demographic, environmental and vascular risk factors, and held true for both African-Americans and whites.

Low Vitamin B12 Linked to Cognitive Decline

We’ve seen much information in recent years about the relationship between the B vitamins, especially B12, and cognitive function. But a new study fills in details about the mechanisms connecting low B12 levels and declining cognitive health. And one of the study’s authors has suggested that, while there is already a general recommendation for older adults to supplement with B12, there may be cause to advise middle age adults to do the same.

The mechanisms of cognitive decline associated with low levels of B12 include brain atrophy and cerebral infarcts (=blood flow blockage leading to tissue death). Other recent research has suggested that supplementing with B12 may slow brain atrophy as we age, so the current study linking low B12 levels to greater degrees of brain atrophy is not a big surprise.

The Institute of Medicine, an organization that establishes recommended daily allowances for vitamins, currently advises older adults to supplement with Vitamin B12, since seniors frequently are deficient in the vitamin due to declining ability to absorb nutrients. But according to one of the current study’s authors, it may make sense to screen adults for B12 deficiency even before they reach senior status, and address early signs of deficiency with supplementation.

NYBC stocks Vitamin B12 as in a highly absorbable form:


Also available is the B-complex:
B-right (Jarrow)

For more information about the B12 research on cognitive decline, see:

NYBC’s BrainPower Multi-Pak – low-cost “Ultramind Solution”

NYBC’s Low-Cost Alternative to the Pricey “Ultramind Solution”

The UltraMind Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman is one of many recent books that attempt to translate the piles of research from the last few decades about nutrition and brain function into useful guidelines for improving and maintaining good mental functioning and psychological well-being.

The Ultramind Solution contends that changing your diet–your “nutritional intake”–can often make a huge difference with conditions like depression, memory impairment, or “brain fog.” Dr. Hyman’s recommendations focus both on weeding out elements that harm the system (too much sugar, poorly chosen carbs, alcohol, cigarettes), and sticking to a menu of what’s good, especially what’s good for brain function: 1) omega fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, flaxseed); 2) amino acid sources (nuts, lean meats); 3) high-quality carbs (for example, beans, peas, and lentils); 4) phyto-nutrients (plant foods containing antioxidants and other helpful substances, like blueberries, cilantro, etc.).

Finally, Dr. Hyman observes that, since more than 90% of Americans don’t get adequate nutrients from food (a finding from an often-cited US government survey), many people realistically will need to supplement in several key categories: 1) a multivitamin; 2) fish oil (omega fatty acids); 3) Calcium/Magnesium; 3) Vitamin D; 4) B complex vitamins; 5) probiotics (for good absorption of nutrients).

And yes, you can even go to the ”Ultramind” online store, where you can purchase a kit containing these supplements. The problem is that, at $121.50 for a month’s supply, this package is way overpriced. But never fear—NYBC, as a nonprofit supplements co-op, can offer an alternative that’s a close equivalent (or slightly better), but at only $90 for a month’s supply ($80 if you sign up for a $5 minimum annual membership in the co-op).

Here’s NYBC’s BrainPower Multi-Pak:

    Multivitamin: Added Protection without Iron (Douglas)
    Fish oil: Max DHA (Jarrow)
    Calcium/magnesium/Vitamin D: Ultra Bone Up (Jarrow)
    B: Methyl B-12 (other B vitamins included in the multi)
    Probiotic: Ultra Jarrodophilus

By the way, you can purchase any of these items individually at NYBC if you like. Again–at lower prices than in the “Ultramind” store.

Supplements for the Brain (and Nerves)

“For Your Peace of Mind…”

Recent research on supplements for memory, cognition and other neurological functions
You may remember (we hope you remember!) the Scarecrow’s petition to the Wizard of Oz for a brain. Be advised–we at NYBC do not stock new brains, so don’t come to us with that request.

However, we do follow the sometimes startling new research on supplements, brain function and related neurological issues. In this department, there’s special cause for concern for people with HIV. According to a Canadian study released in 2010, in a group of 1615 people receiving treatment for HIV during the decade 1998-2008, one fourth had neurological problems, including memory loss, cognitive impairment and peripheral neuropathy. Of course being worried about brain function–and neurological function in general–is not unique to people with HIV. As people age, they are more likely to experience memory loss or forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s. And the nerve condition called peripheral neuropathy (pain, tingling in the feet and hands) is found not just in people with HIV, but also among the growing population with Type 2 diabetes.

Now, on to what we see as some of the most valuable recent findings about supplements and brain or neurological function:

B vitamins can be considered a foundation because they are needed in so many processes essential to the brain’s operation, from energy supply and healthy blood flow, to the formation of neurotransmitters (=chemical messengers of neurologic information from one cell to another). Furthermore, there is evidence that several groups of people, including those over 60 and those with HIV, have a greater risk for Vitamin B deficiencies. So supplementing with a B complex vitamin is a sensible start to cognitive health. More specifically, there is good research linking deficiency of vitamins B12 and B6 to mood disorders like depression—and depression earlier in life is associated with higher risk of dementia in later life. Last, there is also some evidence that B vitamins may reduce stroke risk in older people.

Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) support cognitive health in a variety of ways. In 2008, UCLA researchers reported on a lab study showing that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, together with exercise, improved cognitive function. This caught our attention, because there is wide agreement that regular exercise strongly supports brain function as we age, and here the suggestion is that omega-3 fatty acids multiply that known benefit. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil has also been linked to lower risk of depression—another plus. And still more: recent research found that omega-3 fatty acids block the development of retinopathy, a chief cause of blindness as we age. (The retina of the eye is actually part of the brain–it is full of nerve cells essential for vision.) All in all, the neurological benefits of omega-3 fatty acids seem both wide-ranging and quite convincing, so it’s high on our recommended list.

The amino acid acetylcarnitine has shown benefit for brain function in a number of studies with humans. In the last decade, acetylcarnitine has also been investigated for peripheral neuropathy in people with HIV. (Some recommend using it with evening primrose oil and Vitamin C.) A 2008 study found that acetylcarnitine influences a chemical process in the brain that triggers Alzheimer’s, so researchers are continuing to puzzle out how this supplement produces its neurological benefits.

Antioxidants. There’s much suggestive research about how antioxidants counter destructive oxidative processes in the brain, thus blocking memory loss and cognitive decline. For example, a 2003 report found that the antioxidant combination alpha lipoic acid and NAC reversed memory loss in aged laboratory mice. And there’s also been a lot of attention to the combination acetylcarnitine and alpha lipoic acid for memory impairment. Furthermore, other antioxidants such as curcumin are under study for their potential to fight the processes that lead to declining brain function.

Acetylcholine. The first neurotransmitter to be identified, acetylcholine is closely associated with memory, with lower levels linked to memory loss. NYBC currently stocks two combination supplements that support acetylcholine levels in the brain, while also providing other nutrients for neurological function: Neuro Optimizer (Jarrow), which includes acetylcholine enhancers, acetylcarnitine, and alpha lipoic acid; and Think Clearly (SuperNutrition), which includes B vitamins, as well as acetylcholine enhancers and a botanical traditionally used for cognitive support, ginkgo biloba.

Resveratrol. In the past decade, there has been intense scientific interest in this compound, most famously found in red wine. While some research ventures have hoped to find in resveratrol a life-extending supplement (a capacity demonstrated in animal studies), others have focused on its therapeutic value for conditions like diabetes or cognitive decline. For example, Cornell researchers reported in 2009 that resveratrol reduced the kind of plaque formation in animal brains that causes Alzheimer’s. And a year later another lab investigation, this one at Johns Hopkins, found that a moderate dose of the compound protected animal brains from stroke damage.

Ginkgo biloba, a botanical derived from Earth’s most ancient tree species, has been widely used for cognitive function. In the late 1990s, two reviews of dozens of ginkgo studies concluded that it could improve symptoms of dementia. However, a long-term trial of ginkgo published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 found that the supplement did not prevent development of dementia in a group of more than 3000 older people who had normal cognitive function at the start of the research. One possible conclusion: ginkgo may help symptoms of cognitive decline, but doesn’t address underlying causes.

NYBC’s RECOMMENDATIONS: A B complex supplement (like Jarrow’s B-right) and fish oil (like Jarrow’s Max DHA) are foundations for maintaining cognitive health, especially important for people with HIV or people over 60. There is some evidence for acetylcarnitine, alpha lipoic and acetylcholine supplementation for memory impairment and possibly for cognitive decline. Acetylcarnitine and other supplements can be used to address peripheral neuropathy. And stay tuned for emerging research on preserving brain function with compounds like resveratrol, NAC and curcumin.

Be here now!

Does your mind wander a lot? This CAN be a good thing as it can be a way of roaming around the world and generating new ideas.

But on a day-to-day basis, recent research suggests that nearly half our waking hours can be spent with a mind that wanders into areas that result in unhappiness. It is intriguing research and underscores the potential value of mindfulness meditation. Click on this sentence to read a fascinating review of the research.

Meditation is very simple–and very difficult. You just sit and breathe. And the more you practice it, the easier it gets. Like exercise, you just have to make time for it. There are many techniques but they revolve mostly around sitting quietly, in a relaxed way, focusing on the breath. Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on the breath and simply allow the thoughts of the mind to arise (the agitation, the distractions, the concerns, the joys) and simply return to thinking about the breath.

Walking and exercising can also be opportunities to meditate. Concentrate on simply being here now…the more you do it, the more the practice becomes a part of your life. And gradually, one’s outlook can shift, relax, and create a greater sense of happiness.

It would be great if this was something we taught from early childhood. Like gym class or art or social studies–a time just to relax and create a happy habit. (Other research shows you have to give it a few months to create a new good habit!)

Symptoms common, often ignored by docs

A recent report underscored the myriad symptoms and problems facing significant numbers of people living with HIV. The study involved 751 patients enrolled in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study, undertaken between 1999 and 2000. Commonly reported symptoms included fatigue (71%), difficulty sleeping, depression, muscle aches and diarrhea (each reported by 60% of the respondents). Over 50% of patients reported headache, difficulty remembering, tingling hands or feet (neuropathy), weight loss and body shape changes.

The worry is that some may be associated with meds and this may reduce adherence to drug schedules. This can lead to resistance, etc. Which is why we at NYBC take very seriously the methods and means that may be available to manage some of these side effects. Diarrhea has been managed in studies that investigated agents like calcium and glutamine. Acetylcarnitine has some benefit for nuke-related neuropathy. You can review our literature on what we know (and need to learn more) about such interventions along with the different symptoms and side effects people experience and how they can be managed.

The study included about 54% African American. The study noted that healthcare providers often don’t recognize these as important symptoms. Perhaps this is why there is a strong racist element within American health care, one that arises out of blindness and ignorance as much as any overt hostility.

The second aspect of such care is that many people, of every ethnicity, are economically impoverished. So how can many people access sometimes costly, nearly always out-of-pocket agents like acetylcarnitine? NYBC is working on ways to make this possible, though we will need additional help to assure such access. State-run programs like ADAP and Medicaid can help in some states–but many of these programs are facing cuts due to tight budgets. Tight budgets induced by banks getting a socialized bailout for their malfeasance while Americans suffer?

So political activism will remain a key component in any comprehensive effort to provide care and treatment that includes the types of agents NYBC investigates and makes available. Ongoing research into dietary supplements and the ways in which they may improve health outcomes, enhance adherence to medications, reduce side effects and lower the burden of public costs by reducing morbidity and mortality are keenly needed.