Hack my brain – 5 Great Supplements for Supercharging Your Brain
OCTOBER 20, 2015 by DR. HEATHER MODAY, MD
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my patients concerns their brain function – brain fog, lack of concentration, failing memory etc. Sure many of us around 40 start to get concerned about forgetting where we parked our car, or someone’s name, or – oh yeah, “did I tell you this story already?”
Now a lot of that comes from the fact that we are all multitasking on autopilot and therefore we rarely think when we are doing routine things. It’s like sleepwalking – except that we are awake.
However, is that all it is?
There are many reasons for the brain related symptoms listed above, but one of the big ones is oxidative stress. In other words: free radical damage to the brain resulting in DNA damage and chronic inflammation. So what causes free radical production in the brain? Many things -including:
• Pollution in air, water, and soil.
• Industrial cooking oils heavy in Omega-6 fatty acids.
• Cigarette smoke – first, second and third hand.
• Too much sugar
• Excessive alcohol
• Chronic emotional and physical stress
• Microbial imbalance, including bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Especially in the gut.
• Drugs, including pharmaceuticals
• Lack of sleep
So obviously reducing all these things is paramount to reducing brain fog, memory issues, and accelerated brain aging. However if you are getting 8 hours of restorative sleep a night, your adrenal stress hormones are balanced, you are eating a low sugar, gluten free, nutrient-rich diet and you are still struggling with some mental clarity- there is still hope. Obviously we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes life’s demands, or our own imperfect genetics makes it necessary to “hack” our biology a little.
Although there are many brain boosting supplements and nutriceuticals to choose from, these are some of my favorites:
1) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)– By this time we have all heard of the numerous wonderful benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and krill oils and some forms of algae. However Omega-3 fatty acids include both DHA and EPA (eico-sapentaenoic acid) often in wildly different ratios. Although EPA has its own wonderful benefits, it is DHA that has shown the most brain protective benefits. DHA is extremely important in the brain development of infants, and has been shown to decrease mild age-related cognitive decline. It was also found in this study to improve reaction time and memory in young adults and possibly prevent Alzheimers disease. How does it do this? Several ways-
DHA increased levels of BDNF (brain derived growth factor which increases the birth of neurons in the brain. It is also a major component of brain membranes, keeping them fluid, and is essential for proper cell signaling in the brain. Most people don’t get enough DHA in their diet and if you have an issue with any memory issues, or are concerned about dementia as you age, a daily dose of DHA of about 800- 1000 mg should do the trick. (Of note, Krill is actually a fairly poor source of DHA so stick with Fish oil or algae if you can’t eat fish.)
2) Magnesium threonate– By this time you have likely heard of all the great benefits of Magnesium such as decreasing heart disease, allergies and other chronic diseases while helping with chronic muscle pain and insomnia. In addition, several studies show that elevating magnesium in the brain has also been found to improve spatial and associative memory in rats. A new compound called Magnesium L-threonate (MagTein) was developed by researchers at MIT and has been shown to be more effective at raising brain levels of magnesium as compared to other forms of Magnesium. It is estimated that about 80% of Americans are deficient in Magnesium anyway so supplementation is crucial for most people. Aim for about 1000 mg of Magnesium Threonate daily.
3) The phospholipids phosphatidylserine (PS) and Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (GPC) – Our brain is about 50% fat, and much of this is comprised of phospholipids which are the backbone of all the membranes of the cells in our brain. As we age these membranes become rigid and neuronal transmission declines. Supplementation with PS has been shown to sharpen memory, slow cognitive decline and even improve mood by protecting against mental and physical stress. )
Choline is a necessary nutrient that is found in high amounts in eggs and other animal products and is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is an essential neurotransmitter involved in memory, cognition, sleep, and neuromuscular control and acetylcholine declines with age. Choline is also responsible for synthesizing phosphatidylcholine (PC), a component of the membrane of every cell in your body, including brain cells. A specific supplement called Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (GPC), supplies choline to the brain but is more effective at increasing acetylcholine and PC levels. Supplementation with GPC at 1200 mg daily has been shown to improve memory and cognition in alzheimers patients as well as younger adults, as well as help brain recovery after strokes, coma and brain injury.
4+5) L-theanine + caffeine– L- theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea. It has been found to reduce stress, improve cognition, improve attention and decrease anxiety. Theanine also balances neurotransmitters in the brain and suppresses the negative effects that stress has on the brain. In addition, combining theanine and caffeine as it’s found naturally in green tea has a synergistic effect and helps focus attention during a demanding task. So a few cups of green tea throughout the day may do the trick, or if you hate the taste of green tea, then take 200 mg of theanine with a cup of coffee or black tea (about 80-100 mg) will do as well.
These are just a few ways to fend off the forgetfulness and keep your mind as sharp as possible.