French researchers say they found a definite link between vitamins and cognitive performance in maturing adults. There is clear evidence that getting sufficient amounts of important nutrients can help to boost thinking- and memory skills as people get older, said Dr. Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot of the University of Paris, the lead author of the study.
New Evidence That Vitamin Supplements
Can Aid Both the Body and the Mind
For the research, 4,500 French men and women between the age of 45 and 60 were randomly split into two groups. One half was given a daily dose of vitamin- and mineral supplements, the other a nutrient-free placebo. After eight years, the researchers stopped assigning pills and left it up to each individual to continue taking supplements or not. Another six years later, both groups were invited back for a series of memory tests. Those included word- and number quizzes to measure different types of mental activities. Most participants performed similarly in a number of tests, however, those who had taken the supplements did better when it came to long-term memory performance in comparison to those who were given the placebo.
The researchers involved in the study were quick to caution against overreaching conclusions. “Our results have to be considered carefully,” wrote the authors of the final report, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Higher cognitive performance may indeed be based on a better diet, however, it may also be the case that people who have better thinking skills adhere to better eating habits as well, which may include taking vitamin supplements. At this point, it is hard to tell which one is the chicken and which one the egg.
Critics of the study report have warned that relying on vitamin supplements as mental performance enhancer is not warranted. “Boosting brainpower requires more than just taking a pill every day,” said Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University in Boston. “Vitamins and minerals are important for memory, but they are not the only thing. The most important thing is eating a healthy diet, being active and keeping your brain sharp,” she said.
Still, there is general agreement among nutrition experts that taking vitamin supplements can bridge the gap if eating a balanced diet is not always possible. People who travel and dine out a lot or who rely mostly on take-out and TV dinners can certainly benefit from taking supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Which foods are good for your brain?
Research has shown that foods high in antioxidants (chemicals that eliminate so-called “free radicals” causing cell deterioration) can slow down age-related loss of memory, motor coordination and balance. Good food sources of antioxidants are apples, berries, cherries, prunes, grapes, raisins, and also dark-green leafy greens like spinach. Similar benefits can be derived from foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. They include seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, and also walnuts and flax seed oil. Complex carbohydrates are also helpful. Peanuts, dried fruits, dried beans, whole grain breads and oat bran cereal are all good providers of complex carbohydrates. Selenium, a mineral found in grains, garlic, meat, seafood and some nuts is known as a “mood-enhancer.” Ginkgo Biloba is believed to improve memory by increasing blood circulation to the brain.
But most instrumental for keeping the brain healthy is a sufficient supply of B vitamins,
especially B6, B12 and Folic Acid (B9). They are readily available through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, except for B12, which is only found in animal products. Taking B vitamin supplements can help prevent deficiencies.
Which foods are detrimental for your brain?
Certain types of fat are unhealthy, including for the brain. Polyunsaturated fats can cause chronic inflammation in the brain tissue. They are also harmful to the blood vessels and can inhibit blood circulation. These fats include safflower-, sunflower- and corn oils. Unfortunately, these oils are present in many processed foods. Even worse are the hydrogenated vegetable oils, the so-called trans fats.
Sugar is another menace for the brain. High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, which imbalances the glucose level in the blood. Processed foods as well as sodas are typical sources of sugar, and so are simple carbohydrates, such as refined baked goods, white rice, pasta and the likes. Some food scientists believe that white potatoes should also be used only sparingly or altogether avoided for the same reasons.
The bottom line is that a balanced diet provides the best protection against age-related diseases, including those affecting the brain. Supplements can offer additional benefits, but they are no substitute.