Mental sharpness depends on a complex series of biological actions. In theory, nourishing several cognitive pathways with varied neuro-nutrients might help to multiply brain health benefits. When designing a nutritional support program for common cognitive issues like spotty memory, slow thinking, brain fog and degenerative brain concerns, taking a diverse mix of brain-supportive nutrients might be the smartest strategy. But which neuro-nutrients should you start with?
The following four “must-have” brain nutrients, found in ProHealth’s Think Clear™ brain health supplement, present a solid nutritional starting point for your brain health regimen. Chosen for their research, popularity and potential, these four neuro-nutrients may also have complementary activities that boost brain health even further. They are:
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
Source: Fish, algae, mother’s milk
Brain benefits: Helps create fresh brain cells; protects against cognitive decline
Throughout infancy and early childhood, young minds depend on the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA for healthy brain development-that’s why it is found in mother’s milk.1 In addition to serving as an important building block for fresh new brain cells, DHA has a lesser-known role that may be just as important for mental clarity: It helps to maintain brain cell membranes.2,3
While some think of brain cell membranes as static, they are actually dynamic players in healthy cognitive function. DHA helps their brain-supportive activities, including:4
- Promoting brain cell regeneration
- “Fertilizing” new brain cells with growth factor
- Supporting brain cell flexibility and fluidity
- Keeping harmful toxins out of brain cells
- Helping to soothe brain cell inflammation
These brain-supportive activities may partly explain why higher DHA intakes have been associated with reduced risk for age-related cognitive decline.
The problem? DHA intakes are generally low among Americans, and low DHA status is associated with greater risk for cognitive decline and degenerative brain issues.5,6 This correlation compelled scientists to investigate how DHA might help with degenerative brain concerns, with some early research yielding promising results:
- One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 485 subjects found that taking DHA from algae seemed to be associated with improved learning and memory performance. These results led researchers to suggest DHA may have a beneficial role for helping with age-related cognitive decline.7
Source: Leaf extract of a “living fossil” tree
Brain benefits: Mostly memory; may help with age-related cognitive concerns
Ginkgo’s famous association with sharp memory has been linked to its natural vasodilator effects: It seems to relax cerebral blood vessels and encourage circulation to the brain.8 By encouraging cerebral blood flow, Ginkgo helps nourish the brain with neuro-nutrients and oxygen for energy, which may explain its reputation for revitalizing memory and mental performance. Besides its circulatory benefits, Ginkgo has been suggested to offer antioxidant activity and neurotransmitter support to the brain.
In use for thousands of years, ginkgo biloba might just be the most popular brain health herb of all time. Despite this long history and overwhelming popularity, scientific validation for ginkgo remains in early, but promising, stages:
- A 2002 meta-analysis of studies on Ginkgo for cognitive impairment and dementia seemed to yield mixed results: Researchers linked ginkgo to benefits for cognition, mood and daily living, but also pointed out some of the trials they used were not well-designed. Researchers concluded, “…there is promising evidence of improvement in cognition and function associated with Ginkgo.”9
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Source: Chinese club moss
Brain Benefit: Boosts the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
Huperzine-A is an alkaloid that is extracted from the Traditional Chinese wellness herb Club moss (Huperzia serrata) in a lab setting. Huperzine-A is considered an important brain nutrient because it seems to raise brain levels of acetylcholine: A neurotransmitter for mental processing. No one knows exactly how Huperzine-A boosts acetylcholine, but early animal research suggests it may block enzymes called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEI) that attack and degrade the neurotransmitter.10
Healthy acetylcholine may be important for both current mental performance and long-range brain health due to its cognition-critical biological activities:
- Acetylcholine activates neurons involved in memory and new learning11
- Degenerative brain symptoms have been tied to low acetylcholine levels12
Like Ginkgo, the Chinese club moss that supplies Huperzine-A has been used in Asian folk health practices for centuries. It has also been the subject of extensive study in Asia, with some clinical trials suggesting Huperzine-A shows promise for Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and other degenerative brain concerns.
- One meta-analysis evaluated eight clinical investigations on Huperzine-A and Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia patients. After analyzing the data, researchers reported Huperzine-A seemed to improve mental state and daily living in those with vascular dementia while improving memory quotient in Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers concluded Huperzine-A could “significantly improve cognitive performance” in these populations. 13
Source: Periwinkle plant
Brain Benefits: Energized memory & sharp mental performance
Vinpocetine is a compound that is synthesized from the periwinkle (Vinca Minor) plant, a creeping vine with purple-blue flowers. Similar to ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine is considered a vasodilator that helps to promote healthy circulation to the brain. Studies suggest vinpocetine may influence cerebral oxygenation, thereby supporting healthy metabolism and peak energy levels in the brain. Vinpocetine is also an antioxidant, helping to shield the brain from the damaging effects of free radicals.
With these beneficial activities, vinpocetine has been widely researched for its ability to support various aspects of brain health. Some early research has returned results that seem to validate vinpocetine’s potential:
- One early and small study on vinpocetine found that participants taking 40 mg’s of vinpocetine experienced “significantly improved” performance on the Sternberg Memory Scanning Test (SMST). The study yielded another more surprising result: Vinpocetine worked fast. Subjects displayed memory improvement after only two days of vinpocetine supplementation.14
- Another meta-analysis of research investigated studies on how vinpocetine might help patients with cerebro-vascular concerns. Researchers concluded vinpocetine seemed to boost brain blood flow and brain metabolism in cerebrovascular patients, suggesting it may significantly improve cognitive achievement and quality of life.15
Think Clear™ Cognitive Complex
ProHealth’s Think Clear Cognitive Complex unites the legendary power of these top four brain health nutrients into one supplement, supplying:
- DHA: As Martek® DHA Powder from vegetarian algae oil
- Ginkgo Biloba: Leaf extract standardized to 24% Ginkgoflavonglycosides
- Huperzine A: Isolated active ingredient from Chinese club moss
- Vinpocetine: Carefully lab-extracted from periwinkle plant
Looking to up your DHA, ginkgo, Huperzine-A and vinpocetine? ProHealth’s Think Clear helps to contribute towards ideal intake of these time-tested brain health nutrients—building a strong nutritional foundation for optimizing healthy cognitive function.
- Karin Yurko-Mauro, Deanna McCarthy, Dror Rom, Edward B. Nelson, Alan S. Ryan, Andrew Blackwell, Norman Salem Jr., Mary Stedman. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s and Dementia, 2010; 6 (6): 456
- Yurko-Mauro. Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2010 May;7(3):190-6.
- Kris-Etherton, et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the food chain in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 1, 179S-188S, January 2000.
- Yurko-Mauro K. Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2010 May;7(3):190-6.
- Chen X, Salwinski S, Lee TJ. Extracts of Ginkgo biloba and ginsenosides exert cerebral vasorelaxation via a nitric oxide pathway. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1997 Dec; 24(12):958-9.
- Birks J, Grimley EV, Van Dongen M. Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2002;(4)CD003120
- Wang H, Tang XC. Anticholinesterase effects of huperzine A, E2020, and tacrine in rats. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1998 Jan; 19(1):27-30.
- Michael E. Hasselmo. The Role of Acetylcholine in Learning and Memory. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2006 Dec; 16(6): 710–715.
- Xing S. H., Zhu C. X., Zhang R., An L. (2014). Huperzine a in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: a meta-analysis. Evid. Based Complement Alternat. Med. 2014, 363985.10.1155/2014/363985
- Subhan Z, Hindmarch I. Psychopharmacological effects of vinpocetine in normal healthy volunteers. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1985;28(5):567-71.
- Edit Bagoly, Gergely Fehér, László Szapáry. The role of vinpocetine in the treatment of cerebrovascular diseases based on human studies. Orv Hetil. 2007 Jul 22;148(29):1353-8.