Nutrition For The Ageing Brain

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

As we age, our bodies slow down—so does the brain. This is all part of the natural ageing process. Our brain is the epicentre for our body functions, including thinking, speech and memory. It is no surprise that our cognitive abilities would decline as we get older. Unfortunately, the ageing brain is also highly prone to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases which, in severe cases, may even cause death.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that neurodegenerative diseases would be the leading cause of death in the world after cardiovascular diseases by 2060. With the rapidly ageing population, it is important for the elderly population to maintain brain health to reduce the risks of being plagued by such diseases.

Lately, nootropic supplements have created a buzz as they promise improved cognitive performance, memory and concentration. Nootropics are compounds that can exert neuroprotective properties to preserve brain function and protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline. Sometimes referred to as ‘brain supplements’, nootropics work by altering the level of chemicals in the brain. These supplements can be synthetic or naturally sourced.

Riding the wave of natural lifestyles, this article will explore herbal nootropics to fight ageing:

  1. Ginkgo Biloba

Also known as the ‘living fossil’, Ginkgo is one of the oldest natural herbal remedy, initially used by the ancient Chinese thousands of years ago to treat illnesses like cough and colds. Today, Ginkgo biloba herbal supplements are increasingly popular due to their neuroprotective functions.

Studies have found that Ginkgo enhances memory and cognition in elderly patients. Conducted over a 20-year period, one study found that cognitive decline of elderly participants was lowered with intake of Ginkgo Biloba extract (Amieva, 2013). Acting as a powerful anti-oxidant, Ginkgo also reduces brain cell death caused by oxidative stress which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. A study using rat models showed that Ginkgo extract slows progression of dementia, demonstrating its potential to treat such diseases (Wang, 2013). Furthermore, Ginkgo also increases blood circulation which would deliver more nutrients to the brain and improve brain function (Mashayekh, 2011).

  1. Ginseng

Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) has long been associated with promoting longevity and is often referred to as the ‘cure-all miracle root’ in Chinese traditional medicine. Compounds called ginsenosides which are found in the roots of Panax ginseng are responsible for boosting brain function. Ginsenosides increases release of neurochemicals in the brain and improves blood circulation. This in turn, boosts an individual’s mental energy and enhances learning and memory (Kennedy, 2003). Evaluated over 2-years, treatment of elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease using ginseng extract showed that their symptoms were alleviated and cognitive functions were also improved (Heo, 2011).

  1. Arctic Root

Another ancient remedy is the Scandinavian herb, Rhodiola rosea, also known as the arctic root. Referred to as an adaptogen, the arctic root enhances endurance and helps the body adapt to stressful situations. Salidroside, an active compound extracted from the arctic root, gives its anti-depressant, anti-fatigue and neuroprotective properties. Its anti-oxidative effects have shown potential in improving learning and memory performance and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in rat models (Qu, 2009).

  1. Turmeric

Not only does turmeric give a kick of flavour in many curry dishes, this popular spice is also one of the most studied herbal remedy. The primary compound in turmeric—which also gives its yellow pigment—is curcumin. Studies have shown that curcumin prevents formation of plaques which are characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, stimulate repair of neural cells and may protect the brain from developing Parkinson’s disease (Shrikant, 2008). Curcumin is also an anti-depressant, increasing release of dopamine, the happy chemical in the brain.

  1. Fish Oil

Fish oil is a rich source for omega-3 fatty acids or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are essential for healthy brain development. DHA has many beneficial effects on the brain through maintaining proper neural connections and supporting neurotransmitter functions. Similar to Ginkgo biloba, its anti-oxidative stress and anti-inflammatory properties offers neuroprotection for the diseased brain (Tanaka, 2012). DHA improves memory, attention and cognitive functions and can delay the onset to dementia.

Perhaps, including nootropic foods in our daily diet could be a simple way to give our brain a little power boost, and at the same time, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases to maintain a healthier brain.


*References available upon request.


Further reading:
Vitafoods Asia: Healthy Ageing—Asia’s $205 Billion Nutraceuticals Market Opportunity
Dairy Alternative Trends Within Asia
Medical Nutrition—Truly Patient-Led To Support An Ageing Population