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Vitamins for brain health? Experts answer your questions.

Are you taking vitamins because you think they will help your memory or keep you sharp? Do you know the facts from the myths about supplements? Get answers to your questions from our expert panelists! To participate, simply ask a question by reply post! (Ends June 26.)

 

This month, AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) released its new report, The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements (download available).  Now is the time to join our online discussion with our brain health experts who can set the record straight and provide you with tips and recommendations. Our expert panel includes:

 

  • Sarah Lock, Senior Vice President, Policy and Brain Health, AARP, Executive Director, Global Council on Brain Health @SarahLenzLock 
  • Paul Coates, Ph.D., former director of the Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH @PaulCoates 
  • Howard Fillit, M.D., Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation @HowardFillit 

 

Both Dr. Coates and Dr. Fillit served as contributors to the report. We’ll cover topics such as:

 

  • Americans take a lot of supplements for their brain health and spend billions each year on them.  Is it worth it?
  • How do you know if supplements are safe?
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@AARPLynne wrote:

@HowardFillit, what should someone look for when buying any type of supplement to make sure that they are safe and contain quality ingredients? 


@AARPLynne, thank you for your question about what to look for when buying a supplement.  Safety can be a concern as the quality of ingredients in supplements can vary.  Unlike drugs, the ingredients in supplements are not reviewed for their purity and content by government agencies before being sold.  Some supplements may contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label.  Therefore, if you choose to take a supplement, you may wish to look for unbiased verification of its quality.  You can look for products that have been tested by independent third parties such as: ConsumerLab, Labdoor, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia.  You may also wish to research whether a supplement's benefits are supported by high-quality research by visiting reputable sites including the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, and our CognitiveVitality website.

 

Howard Fillit, MD

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@AARPLynne wrote:

@HowardFillit, what are some common health conditions/causes of vitamin deficiency that our audience should be aware of as they age?


@AARPLynne, thank you for your question about health conditions associated with vitamin deficiency.  There are several vitamins that can become deficient depending on health conditions.

 

Vitamin B12:  Although most people get plenty of vitamin B12 from foods (e.g., meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals), older adults may become deficient in this vitamin as our ability to absorb this vitamin decreases with age.  Also, people with celiac disease or other illnesses of the small intestine, and those who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.  To learn more about vitamin B12 deficiency, please visit our blog post on this topic.

 

Vitamin B6:  Although most people get enough vitamin B6 from their diets (e.g., poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes, and some fruits), people with kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and several other autoimmune disorders sometimes have low vitamin B6 levels.  Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency can include numbness/tingling in the hands and feet, confusion, and a weakened immune system. 

 

Vitamin D:  Vitamin D can come from food (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fortified milk), or produced by our skin when exposed to sunlight.  The skin’s ability to produce vitamin D can decline with age, so vitamin D deficiency can be common in older adults.  People who are obese can also be at an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency.  Your doctor may also advise you to take vitamin D (and calcium) supplements if you are at a high risk for osteoporosis.  For more information on vitamin D, see our vitamin D rating page on CognitiveVitality.

 

If you are concerned about vitamin deficiencies, talk to your doctor—a simple blood test can tell you whether you have enough of these vitamins. 

 

Howard Fillit, MD

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It is so great that so many AARP Community members engaged in the discussion about brain health supplements.  We know lots of people take at least one dietary supplement for brain health reasons – so putting the evidence out there for people to know what works and what doesn’t, along with what we need to know more about, feels like it resonated with you!  Thanks for participating. 

 

We also know that people of all ages take supplements, but the older you are the more likely you are to take them.  The bottom line is that many more people are taking these dietary supplements than are necessary, so we hope people take a sensible approach.  Only take vitamins if you are deficient in them and you aren’t able to absorb them from food.  Make sure you look for trusted markers of quality assurance if you have to take them.  And for all those products out there claiming they can improve memory or halt dementia be very skeptical.   Make sure there is independent proof it works and actually contains what the label says before you part with your hard earned money.  So far, the independent experts of the GCBH haven’t found sufficiently reliable evidence to recommend any.  Healthy lifestyle habits like keeping physically and socially active, eating a balanced healthy diet and getting enough quality sleep have far more evidence of effectiveness.    

* * *
Did you know? In 2016, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) lawyers filed suit on behalf of consumers over the labeling and marketing of CVS’s Algal-900 DHA—a dietary supplement which claimed to be “clinically shown” to improve memory.  CPSI said that “the FTC had concluded that the industry-conducted study relied on by CVS cannot, in fact, be used to justify memory-boosting claims." And studies have shown that DHA is no better than a placebo at improving cognitive function. The court has now given preliminary approval to a settlement. To learn more, visit http://www.cvsdhasettlement.com/.

 

Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Expert Brain Health
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Good morning everyone! Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your final thoughts as we close the topic. This concludes the special event with brain health experts Howard Fillit, M.D. (@HowardFillit), Paul Coates, Ph.D. (@PaulCoates) and our very own Sarah Lock (@SarahLenzLock). Thank you all for being here for the lively discussion!

We welcome your continued participation in the Brain Health forum here on AARP.org. In addition, please visit our Health channel on AARP.org where you'll find a wide range of information and resources such as healthy living, conditions/treatments, brain health and more. 

Here's a takeaway resource for participants: Check out a handy infographic developed by AARP to summarize the Global Council’s 30-page in-depth report for all consumers considering whether to take supplements for their brain health. Click here to open (PDF).

 

If you'd like to see more events like this one, please let us know by giving this post a Kudos!

 

Best wishes and be well! -AARPLynne

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@HowardFillit, what are some common health conditions/causes of vitamin deficiency that our audience should be aware of as they age?

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@AARPLynne wrote:

@HowardFillit, what are some common health conditions/causes of vitamin deficiency that our audience should be aware of as they age?


@AARPLynne, thank you for your question about health conditions associated with vitamin deficiency.  There are several vitamins that can become deficient depending on health conditions.

 

Vitamin B12:  Although most people get plenty of vitamin B12 from foods (e.g., meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals), older adults may become deficient in this vitamin as our ability to absorb this vitamin decreases with age.  Also, people with celiac disease or other illnesses of the small intestine, and those who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.  To learn more about vitamin B12 deficiency, please visit our blog post on this topic.

 

Vitamin B6:  Although most people get enough vitamin B6 from their diets (e.g., poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes, and some fruits), people with kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and several other autoimmune disorders sometimes have low vitamin B6 levels.  Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency can include numbness/tingling in the hands and feet, confusion, and a weakened immune system. 

 

Vitamin D:  Vitamin D can come from food (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fortified milk), or produced by our skin when exposed to sunlight.  The skin’s ability to produce vitamin D can decline with age, so vitamin D deficiency can be common in older adults.  People who are obese can also be at an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency.  Your doctor may also advise you to take vitamin D (and calcium) supplements if you are at a high risk for osteoporosis.  For more information on vitamin D, see our vitamin D rating page on CognitiveVitality.

 

If you are concerned about vitamin deficiencies, talk to your doctor—a simple blood test can tell you whether you have enough of these vitamins. 

 

Howard Fillit, MD

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@HowardFillit, what should someone look for when buying any type of supplement to make sure that they are safe and contain quality ingredients? 

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@AARPLynne wrote:

@HowardFillit, what should someone look for when buying any type of supplement to make sure that they are safe and contain quality ingredients? 


@AARPLynne, thank you for your question about what to look for when buying a supplement.  Safety can be a concern as the quality of ingredients in supplements can vary.  Unlike drugs, the ingredients in supplements are not reviewed for their purity and content by government agencies before being sold.  Some supplements may contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label.  Therefore, if you choose to take a supplement, you may wish to look for unbiased verification of its quality.  You can look for products that have been tested by independent third parties such as: ConsumerLab, Labdoor, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia.  You may also wish to research whether a supplement's benefits are supported by high-quality research by visiting reputable sites including the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, and our CognitiveVitality website.

 

Howard Fillit, MD

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@Eeyore60, thank you for your question about Purzanthin Ultra.  Although I cannot comment on the specific brand/product, I can tell you a little bit about its ingredient, astaxanthin.  Astaxanthin is found in marine algae and in animals that eat those algae, such as salmon and lobster.  It is thought to have antioxidant properties.  However, three high-quality clinical trials (double-blind, placebo-controlled) that have been carried out to date have failed to show that astaxanthin supplements improve cognitive functions in people.  Also, because clinical studies testing astaxanthin have all been short-term (up to 12 weeks), we currently lack safety information for long-term use.  As such, the GCBH does not endorse astaxanthin supplements due to the lack of sufficiently reliable evidence to support their use.

 

On a more positive note, you can get astaxanthin from your diet, such as from salmon and lobsters.  Did you know that salmon, lobsters, and flamingos get their pink and red colors from the astaxanthin they ingest (from algae, fish, and other marine animals)?  Salmon has the additional benefit of being rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D!

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@HowardFillit, thank you for getting back to me so quickly.

 

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purzanthin ultra is this any good for brain health

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I wish AARP would do an article for us common folk , on how to detect  Bias in so called scientific studies..  Just because a new scientific research paper says one thing does not make it a fact!!  New scientific research is being continualy updated changing the scientific paradigm  of past research. Also I believe AARP needs to educate the public on questioning all so called scientific research as to whether it maybe biased toward one out come or another due to economic considerations...  Not saying this research study was sponsored by Big Pharma or not, but that the general public needs to take all scientific research with the proverbial " grain of salt"...  For example the title of  this article may suggest some bias against supplements for brain health.. You could have titled the same article  DHA and BVitamins may help cognition for elderly patients, instead the article title annouces to "Pan All supplements for cognitive support"    This to me suggests the possiblity of some type of bias in the article, maybe even in the research..Personally I only act when I see a number research papers on a topic agreeing on a similar outcome..  

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@robertl151850 wrote:

I wish AARP would do an article for us common folk , on how to detect  Bias in so called scientific studies..   . . .  ..Personally I only act when I see a number research papers on a topic agreeing on a similar outcome..  


Dear Robert:  please check out the full report.  The point of the GCBH is to do exactly what you are suggesting which is to summarize the evidence in various countries and from different sources.  The GCBH attempts to fairly and succinctly provide consumers with what the weight of current scientifc evidence says about a particular issue relating to its impact on cognitive health.  In this case, we show the relative strength of evidence for frequently used supplements for brain health and explain the difference between types of studies that exist.  With regards to supplements -- although there are many on the market, most don't have sufficient evidence establishing effectiveness of the supplment to improve brain health.  We point out the exceptions, like Vitamin B12, for example, for the relatively small percentage of people with a deficiency.  But the article and title provides the overall gist - in a very short space -- that unfortunately most don't have good evidence sufficiently reliable that the experts are able to recommend them.   You may not agree with the recommendations in the end, but you will see that the point is to layout what the "number of research papers" say on the topic.

https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/brain_health/2019/06/gcbh-supplements-report-english.do...

Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Expert Brain Health
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Who wrote this article? The FDA? Pharmaceutical industry?

 

I have been taking supplements for more than 40 YEARS! My program has evolved over these years, and I credit it - along with eating almost entirely organic - with my pretty good health at the age of 74. I take NO MEDICATION WHATSOEVER, don’t own even a bottle of aspirin.

 

This work-in-progress program - which I intend to continue to the day I die - has helped me to solve numerous health problems that more doctors than I can remember thought to solve with drugs. They failed. I wasn’t sick because I had a DRUG deficiency! Nutritional deficiencies - even sub-clinical - can wreak havoc and illness in the body.

 

Wellness is NOT the name of the game for physicians, hospitals, and drug companies. After all, illness pays their bills. If we all were well, they’d go bankrupt.

 

In MANY MANY ways I came to understand that my health was in MY hands. One example. For YEARS I suffered miserably from IBS. I went from one doctor to another. No one could help me. Then I discovered the book WHEAT BELLY written by a cardiologist. In it he explored the connection between gluten consumption and various health issues, including IBS. So, when I finished the book, I eliminated all foods containing gluten - wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Within a few weeks, no more IBS. This was more than a decade ago. I eat nothing with gluten and there has been no recurrance of the IBS.

 

The supermarket is NOT your friend. It is filled with chemicalized, genetically modified garbage that LOOKS like food but isn’t. The body WANTS to be well. HEALTH is the default. But the FRANKENFOOD people are buying and eating is killing them. 

 

Nutrition is powerful medicine and supplements are an wonderful tool. Knowledge is power. Teach yourself what you need to know. I did it and so can anyone. 

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Thank You!
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@mk46725882 wrote:

"Who wrote this article? The FDA? Pharmaceutical industry?  I have been taking supplements for more than 40 YEARS!  ...

Nutrition is powerful medicine and supplements are an wonderful tool. Knowledge is power. Teach yourself what you need to know. I did it and so can anyone. "


Dear @mk46725882 -- so glad to learn that you have had good results managing your IBS as many struggle with this.  I am also really happy to hear that you are in great health and totally agree people need knowlede to manage their own health.  This report was only providing information about evidence on brain health supplements.  In answer to your question who wrote the report, it was neither the pharmaceutical industry NOR the FDA, although we are very grateful for the FTC's & FDA's terrific help in reviewing the report's description of the federal regulatory rules of the supplement industry.  We are also very glad to see these agencies taking action against companies which falsely claim that their dietary supplement can cure dementia.  We list all the authors on page 22 of the report and provide information about potential conflicts of interest on page 27 -- although we found none.  The scientists, doctors, and researchers who served as our primary issue experts contributed their time and effort to come together to reach consensus and issue recommendations in order to provide a summary of the current weight of scientific evidence available for popular supplements commonly marketed for brain health.  You can find that list and their affiliations at this website:  https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/global-council-on-brain-health/supplements/

Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Expert Brain Health
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I agree, have had similar experiences with IBS, and doctors didn’t help. I’m now better thanks to diet and probiotics!

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Don't forget vitamin D as well, has shown efficacy in improving brain health.  MD's aren't necessarily the experts on nutrition.  It's not even part of their curriculum.  Plus, you have to look at who funds the research and who benefits from the results.  Yes, people spend on supplements without knowing their benefit, but if you look at the Krebs Cycle, there are a lot of nutirients necessary for the production of energy and metabolism, and for which the typical American diet is often woefully lacking.  So, taking a broad spectrum multi-vitamin is probably a good idea for insurance.  We don't often eat well.  Plus, stress, coffee, alcohol, and even water leach vitamins and nutrients from our bodies. Don't see many kudos for this article, though it's ironic that today I received an email from Kaiser Permanente suggesting the use of Omega 3's, and vitamins B-12 and D for better brain health.  

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@allanm254435 wrote:

"Don't forget vitamin D as well, has shown efficacy in improving brain health.  . . . it's ironic that today I received an email from Kaiser Permanente suggesting the use of Omega 3's, and vitamins B-12 and D for better brain health. "

 

Dear Allan @allanm254435  the report goes into detail about B12 and Omega 3's and Vitamin D.  Please note that Vit. D is used for many other health purposes beyond brain health and this report is not advising on these issues, but the evidence is not conclusive for Vit. D effectiveness for brain health.  

Here is what the report says:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D comes from food sources or when sunlight stimulates the body to make it. It is important for calcium absorption and nervous system function, and helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are among the best food sources, and liver, cheese and egg yolks contain it in smaller amounts. Some foods such as milk and cereal often have added vitamin D. The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, although sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. One common recommendation is that older people get 15 minutes of sunshine on unexposed arms and legs three times a week. Note that sunscreen does block vitamin D absorption. Older people, those with dark skin, people who are obese and those who don’t get direct sun exposure are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplementation is sometimes recommended for reducing the rate of bone loss in the elderly or strengthening bone health. For example, post-menopausal women are frequently advised to take vitamin D and calcium for prevention of osteoporosis. The 2019 AARP survey found that 46 percent of Americans 50 and older are taking vitamin D, and 43 percent are taking it for bone health.

 

Although some (but not all) studies have linked low levels of vitamin D to memory problems and dementia, and a few small studies suggest that taking vitamin D may improve some brain function, overall, there is not enough evidence to say that taking vitamin D pills can protect against dementia or to recommend taking it to improve or protect memory.

 

For more information, see the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements’ fact sheet on vitamin D and Cognitive Vitality’s vitamin D rating.

 

 

Life Stage

Recommended Amount

Adults 19-70 years

600 IU

Adults 71 years and older

800 IU

  

Source: Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine


 

Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Expert Brain Health
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I expected better from AARP. This article was hatched out of old school, medical bias toward supplements and laced with generalities. No specific products nor ingredients where even discussed. For over three years I have used  a product that is the results of more than 20 years of research at Princeton University Labs. It stopped and reversed the cognitive decline I was experience. It has done so and more for many, many happy users. With so much time and money being spent to effect a cure for the horrible ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, how can GCBH afford to be so close minded?

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@td4053 wrote:

I expected better from AARP. This article was hatched out of old school, medical bias toward supplements and laced with generalities.  . . . how can GCBH afford to be so close minded?

 

Dear @td4053 Thanks for your response.  I am sorry you think so.  The author of the article had very little space to briefly summarize a 30 page report so she could only only hit the major points. The report took many months to put together, and while we don't cover EVERYTHING about brain health supplements, there is a lot more in there than generalities!  Many of the report contributors have spent a lifetime studying the issues and hale from all over the world looking for the scientific evidence to prove efficacy of supplements so I certainly disagree with you about bias.  AARP brought the GCBH together so adults everywhere can benefit from their collective consensus and we make the information available for free to everyone to judge for themselves.  AARP set up this forum so that members of the online community can join the discussion.  You can see that many people have a lot to say on this topic.  Really glad you took the time to join in.     


 

Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Expert Brain Health
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Dear Sarah (@SarahLenzLock),

Dear Paul (@PaulCoates),

Dear Howard (@HowardFillit),

 

Very informative study and amazing work done by all the participants.

 

I'd like to ask a few questions:

 

1. Getting all necessary nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, from food is certainly the best solution. However some vitamins (e.g. some vitamins B) and minerals (e.g. Magnesium) are difficult to obtain in sufficient amount from food, not to say that with age the absorption of nutrients often decreases, and the modern lifestyle not contributing to a regular healthy nutrition either. (And not to say about the food overall becoming less nutritious due to soil depletion because of intensive farming and other factors.) Visiting health care providers regularly just to check on this may not be realistic for most people. Health care providers often wouldn't even recommend any tests or any supplementation unless there are some alarming obvious symptoms and they may not make a call that such test / supplementation is necessary.

 

This being said, would you say that voluntarily (without checking on if you need those vitamins) personal judgement of consumers and daily consumption of 100% natural vitamins and supplements, which are most critical for mental health, in doses less that RDI (because we do get some vitamins and minerals from food) may be a reasonable approach? I'm talking about high quality vitamins and minerals derived from food and not containing any synthetic ingredients. Wouldn't such daily supplementation be a reasonable addition to a healthy, yet naturally limited, modern diet? To give you an example, say 50% of RDI for Vitamins B5, B6, B9 and B12, and something like 200 mg of Magnesium.

 

Personally I stay away from synthetic supplements because of the way they are produced, them being isolated synthetic compounds and their low bioavailability.

------------------------------

 

2. For a moment, let's forget about Alzheimer's and other mental diseases and disorders, and even "brain health", and simply look for healthier alternatives to stimulants, such as caffeine, sugar, some other ingredients of energy drinks, alcohol and others. Only for short-term and possibly medium-term effect on better focus, short-term memory, alertness, mood, etc.

 

Certain popular supplements that claim to prevent or reverse Alzheimer's are certainly going too far. However, what about (a) other supplements not mentioned in your study and (b) short- and medium-term effect of some of them, which actually have stronger scientific evidence, on memory/concentration/mood/alertness, as alternatives to stimulants?

 

To give you an example, in your report you mentioned you've listed some popular brain supplement and analyzed them. To my knowledge, they all have weak scientific evidence in the first place, such as:

 

CoQ10 - very unstable, can be of very low quality, no strong scientific evidence, as a result is likely to have almost zero bioavailability.

 

Ginkgo biloba - no scientific evidence to support the widespread historic claims. Moreover, placebo-controlled studies have shown no difference with placebo on brain performance.

 

ALA - used mostly for diabetes and may have some other health benefits, yet without a strong scientific evidence for the latter. Claims that it in some way benefits brain health don't seem to have foundation.

 

However there are some other, much more interesting supplements that have a strong scientific evidence and are more clear what they do, for example Acetyl-L-carnitine or Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus). I've been all over PubMed and only found positive scientific evidence of their effect on brain performance and some degree mental health (again, let's leave Alzheimer's and other serious brain disorders out of this).

 

Would you say that there is a much higher possibility that such supplements may actually be beneficial for brain performance and brain health, compared to most of the supplements mentioned in your study? As a better and healthier alternative to stimulants.

 

What do you think about these two supplements, or do you perhaps know others that have not perfect, but at least strong scientific evidence for their effect on the brain?

 

I'm quite conflicted about Bacopa monnieri, couldn't find a sound proof for its performance or failure to perform.

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3. Approaching this discussion on supplementation from the perspective of neurotransmitter support. Especially to target serotonin (mood), acetylcholine (learning, memory) and norepinephrine (focus). Leaving GABA and glutamate, which are a very controversial topic when it comes to supplementation.

 

What is your opinion on neurotransmitter support by the following (or other) compounds / supplements to influence the positive effect on the brain?

 

Amino acids Glycine and Theanine that are claimed to increase the levels of serotonin; and Theanine possibly decreasing levels of norepinephrine by releasing it.

 

ALCAR may have support not only energy, but also neurotransmitter biosynthesis in the brain.

 

Citicoline and/or Alpha GPC - can these compounds increase acetylcholine levels?

 

Vitamins B6 and especially B5 are known to contribute to synthesis of acetylcholine.

------------------------------

 

Thank you,

 

Paul R.

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I am interested in the studies on amino acids and brain health. I would like to know more about L-serene in particular and its effect on the brain in an Alzheimer's study I came across. Can't remember who was doing the study, but it sounded intriguing. 

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@MarylouD497081 wrote:

I am interested in the studies on amino acids and brain health. I would like to know more about L-serene in particular and its effect on the brain in an Alzheimer's study I came across. Can't remember who was doing the study, but it sounded intriguing. 


@MarylouD497081, thank you for your question about L-serine.  We get this question a lot and we have a CognitiveVitality rating page for L-serine in case you are interested in taking a look: https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/ratings/l-serine


So far, L-serine (an amino acid) may be beneficial in two conditions based on available evidence.  One is if you have been exposed to a neurotoxin called BMAA and the other is if you have a specific condition called hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 1.  The clinical trial in Alzheimer’s disease that you mention is ongoing so we don’t have the verdict yet for Alzheimer’s.


BMAA (beta-methylamino-L-alanine) is a neurotoxin produced by bacteria in marine and freshwater environments—its levels are high in certain aquatic organisms as well as in organisms that feed on these species.  The most famous example of exposure to BMAA is the Chamorro people of Guam, who consumed bats that had high levels of BMAA—these people had high incidences of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson’s disease.  BMAA is neurotoxic because it can be mistaken by cellular machinery for the amino acid L-serine and be misincorporated into proteins, leading to protein misfolding, aggregation, and cell death.  In a study in vervets that were fed BMAA, co-treatment with L-serine reduced levels of a form of protein aggregation called neurofibrillary tangles.  So if you are exposed to the neurotoxin BMAA, then L-serine treatment may be helpful, because having excess L-serine in the system will compete with and prevent the incorporation of BMAA into proteins. 


The other example where L-serine may potentially be beneficial is in patients who have a specific condition called hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 1.  Earlier this year, results from a small study was published in the journal Neurology (http://n.neurology.org/content/92/4/e359.abstract).  It was a small study of 16 patients and high-dose L-serine treatment appeared safe and preliminary data indicated that it is possibly effective at slowing disease worsening.  The hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 1 is caused by mutations in a gene (SPTLC1 gene) encoding an enzyme (serine palmitoyltransferase) that catalyzes the reaction of palmitoyl-CoA with serine to form sphinganine.  Mutations in this SPTLC1 gene result in reduced affinity for L-serine, leading to reactions of palmitoyl-CoA with two other amino acids, alanine and glycine, the products of which form neurotoxic sphingolipids.  The rationale for this trial was to supplement large amounts of L-serine so that the enzyme can correctly catalyze the reaction of palmitoyl-CoA with L-serine.  Again, L-serine treatment was used to compete with the other amino acids alanine and glycine to prevent the formation of neurotoxic chemicals. 


With regards to Alzheimer’s disease, it is not clear yet whether L-serine would be beneficial.  L-serine levels in the fluid that bathes the brain (cerebral spinal fluid) are not significantly different between Alzheimer’s disease patients versus healthy controls.  L-serine levels were also not associated with cognitive functions/scores.  The clinical trial you mention for Alzheimer’s disease is currently taking place at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and you can find its details here: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03062449 


They are currently recruiting participants and their estimated clinical trial completion is in August 2019, so we will learn if it is beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease once their results are announced.  

 

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Yes, that is the study I had seen and I appreciate the additional information.  While some of the info is very complex, I will read what you referenced and share it with my brother who is very interested in this to the point of taking L-serine and I am skeptical. 

Thanks again,

Mary Lou

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I find the "evidence review" of the "report" to be ludicrous. 

It takes aarp would publish such **.

 

BTW, Ginko has been used in China for centuries.  

I personally can tell the difference when using it.

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I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for bluegreenfoods supplements.

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Thanks for broadening the discussion, Paul!

Blanket statements of “No Benefits”, etc. is not good journalism, nor thorough work by the GCBH!

Here’s my input:

FocusFactor has a patented formula that is clinically tested. 

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FocusFactor did nothing for me. I tried a lot of vitamins and herbs. Finally broke down and talked to my doctor about a prescription. I was prescribed Adderall and that has had the best results so far. Wish I’ve taken it years ago. 

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@PaulR427193 thank you for your very thoughtful questions.

1. We agree that absorption of some vitamins becomes more difficult for some people as they age and were quite careful to point out as you do the B vitamins as an example. We hope to inspire people to ask their health care providers about possible deficiencies if they suspect they may have some. But personal judgment about levels of vitamins in your blood is not an adequate substitute for actual testing. For most people in the U.S. supplementation is not necessary. Our report goes into detail about the exceptions, and the reasons why or why not certain types of people with certain conditions may be an exception to the general rule not to routinely supplement.

 

2. We chose the supplements we named in the study because these are among the most popularly used for brain health. The scope of our evaluation was looking at products that are thought to impact memory and focus and which are discussed in the general consumer literature. None of my colleagues discussed or even mentioned Acetyl-L-carnitine or Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus) because they are neither widely used or well-studied . Same for Bacopa monnieri.

 

3. Neurotransmitter support is a big area unto itself and we did not go into this area which of course is theoretically possible to boost brain function. But these compounds require far greater investigation into safety and effectiveness before they could be responsibly recommended, and would likely fall into the category of prescription drugs rather than supplements.

 

Paul Coates

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Dear Dr. Coates,

Thank you very much your reply.

It seems you might have misunderstood my questions and for better clarity I thought I'd elaborate on them and where they are coming from.

1. The examples I gave were not random. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12, as well as Magnesium are all related to brain activities and are known not to be derived from daily food in sufficient amount. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but many sources say the majority of population only gets roughly half of them from the food they eat. Therefore my question was if supplementation with natural, whole-food grade of those nutrients in half of RDI dosage is a reasonable approach. If you have other sources saying that statistically most people obtain them in sufficient amount from normal nutrition, please kindly share those sources. 

Going to a health care provider just to check on the vitamin consumption is not something everyone can afford, both time-wise and financially. It also means such healthcare provider should be both an MD and nutritionist. The conventional approach addresses nutrient deficiency, aging related problems, including mental health for 60+ year old people and more from the perspective of if the diet should be changed to slow down or partially reverse the obvious negative processes, and / or to prescribe drugs. However instead of fixing the problems, it may be beneficial to prevent them at early stage and help a wider population take better care of their health already in their late 20's, when the aging processes first start and when vitamin and mineral deficiency is common as well due to the modern life style and not always healthy nutrition choices.

As a result, people just go for quick fixes with stimulants, non-prescription drugs or prescription drugs when the mental health problems have already occurred and are too obvious to ignore. There must be a better solution.

2. Just two examples of the compounds Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Lion's mane are certainly not unknown or not researched well, especially the former. I gave these example because there is a very strong scientific evidence for their efficiency and was hoping we could have a deeper discussion on them and other promising compounds. Yes, many of the supplements outlined in your report are among most widely used for allegedly improving memory and focus, yet they are exactly those that have been widely disproved by various placebo-controlled studies in vivo as not having their claimed health benefits, or simply not having any studies backing up the marketing claims.

Wouldn't it be beneficial for everyone to extend the study you've initiated, so that the GCBH report wouldn't be the final word from your organization on dietary supplements, but instead a beginning of something really valuable and regularily updated (based on new research findigns) in its coverage for the global community?

3. To my knowledge and I'm not new to this subject, neurotransmitter support is not a separate or adjacent topic, but an integral part of what constitutes brain health, memory, focus, mood and other mental activity. Prescription drug treatment is not really something applicable here, unless we are talking about mental diseases or disorders. Need for anti-depressants and other drugs that fix mental disorders is something we need to avoid in advance through healthy lifestyle choices.

Just to make sure we are on the same page, when we say "brain health" we basically imply (a) various aspects of neurons, how they function, their life span and other biochemical processes on their cellular level, (b) communication between neurons through neurotransmitters, which constitutes what we know is brain activity.

It is critical to have neurotransmitters and the basic neuroscience considered as an integral part of the discussion.

----

I actually represent a group of independent researchers and scientists, who have been researching the subject of brain health out of professional passion (without any affiliation to any related business). We completely agree that the source of vitamins and other nutrients should ideally come from well balanced (and possibly organic) food, physical exercise and enough sleep. We've been looking at the topic of dietary supplements as an interesting and full of potential, yet unfortunately quite messy and misleading. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to find the GCBH report / research published a few days ago, as it is in line with what we've been looking into as well, and we've hoped to connect with you for a productive discussion.

As for dietary supplements, yes there are many misleading, based purely on cultural and historical believes, coming from other fields (such as cosmetics) and automatically applied to nutrition by marketers or/and after quick insufficient studies. Most processes of how those isolates influence such complex mechanisms as those in our brain, are not even well understood, done in vitro or in very limited clinical studies, and there is still plenty of room for assumptions, theories and quick preliminary conclusions. When it comes to brain health, there is a further level of complexity related not only to nutrition, but neuroscience, processes within neurons and communication between them through neurotransmitters, other chemical processes within the brain, which all constitutes what we call brain performance and brain health. 

Many misleading supplement claims have already been disproved by the research done by the international scientific community, if we look closer at the available research data. The beauty of such continuous research is the foundation for the scientific progress and new findings that may discover, disprove or confirm what hasn't been researched well in the past.

We've come exactly to the same conclusions on those dietary supplements outlined in your report. At the same time, we've also found some strong scientific evidence for other dietary supplements, with some scientific studies and new information coming out nearly on daily basis. It may also not be fair to call all dietary supplements unnecessary, because it is a very wide category that includes amino acids, wholefood vitamins and super foods (e.g. spirulina, kale), plant extracts with beneficial active ingredients with scientifically proven efficacy, other natural powdered mixes of berries / nuts to add into your own whole grain cereals (to avoid fortified, overloaded with sugar cereals), common sports supplements with strong scientific proof, etc.

There are actually not so many dietary supplements and compounds that are claimed to contribute to cognitive health or performance and it wouldn't take much time to list them and go through them. Apart from those mentioned in your report. Wouldn't it be worth to review them as well, for the sake of covering the subject completely and assuming a possibility that there are positive effects of some of them on mental health? If we ignore them and close the topic, and don't go any further from here, we'll just let the misleading claims, unethical marketing practices, consumer's confusion, stimulants (like coffee and energy drinks) dominate the area of brain health / energy / performance.

The caffeine's activity and its insane global consumption alone should be alarming. How many people know the exact effect of caffeine on our brain, that it fools our adenosine receptors and not let the nerve cells naturally rest, that is causes neuron firing and the release of adrenaline, that it temporarily increases dopamine levels just like an addiction drug, that when the caffeine-induced adrenaline wears off, we face fatigue and even depression, and that caffeine stays in our blood for hours, so if we consume it late afternoon, it'll still be in our blood when we go to bed, and may prevent to go into a deep sleep, which is important for quality sleep and as a result for many aspects of our health, brain health included.

A mass majority of population has no idea about this. It would be natural to explore better solutions through dietary supplements with strong scientific efficacy on brain cell health and healthy neurotransmitter activity in natural way, and not as aggressive stimulants like caffeine. Even if not for dementia prevention, but at least as a better brain supplement than all the stimulants most people take on daily basis unaware of their health harms. 

We hope we could continue this discussion either in this forum or through a more private conversation, and jointly look into this subject to find a better solution.

Look forward to the continued discussion with you and other members of GCBH.

Paul R.

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