supplements for aging brains
supplements for aging brains

Multivitamins and Memory: How Supplements Can Protect Aging Brains

Posted on May 15, 2024 by M. Elizabeth Swenor, D.O.

It’s no secret that brain health and memory can decline with age. Eating right, exercising, maintaining strong social connections and getting quality sleep may help ward off age-related memory loss. But research suggests that older adults may also benefit from a supplement.

Unfortunately, our need for nutrients increases at the same time in life that the body’s ability to absorb them decreases. That’s why taking some supplements, including a multivitamin designed for older adults, may help slow the natural cognitive decline that happens with age.

Why Nutrients Matter As We Get Older

As you enter your 50s, 60s and beyond, a variety of factors converge to make hitting your target quotas for necessary nutrients increasingly difficult, including:

  • Hormonal shifts
  • Changes in the microbiome
  • Diminished ability to smell and taste
  • Reduced stomach acid required to digest and absorb nutrients

Aging also often brings physical ailments that require daily medication, which can further interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and metabolize nutrients.

With all these changes happening simultaneously, older adults often get caught in a vicious cycle of nutrient insufficiency. You may not be getting the key nutrients required to combat the inflammation that occurs with aging.

Which Nutrients Support The Brain?

A healthy diet boasting plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein may meet your nutrient needs during your younger years. Unfortunately, once you reach middle age, it can be difficult to get critical nutrients from food alone. That’s where a high-quality supplement may help fill the gaps.

A recent study found that adults over 60 who took a daily multivitamin were less likely to experience memory loss than those who didn’t take supplements. While it isn’t clear which combination of nutrients in the multivitamin might be responsible, research suggests the following nutrients are important for memory and brain function:

  • Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in reducing the inflammation linked with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment. Many multivitamins include omega-3s, but it’s best to get this important nutrient from a fish oil supplement (1,000 mg daily).
  • Protein: Protein is a critical building block for all the body’s functions, including thinking, memory and cognition. Taking a multivitamin designed for older adults can help ensure you get all 12 essential amino acids, the building blocks the body requires to make protein.
  • Vitamin D: Our ability to metabolize vitamin D from sunlight decreases as we get older. This nutrient isn’t only required for optimal cognition, it can also help enhance mood. Aim for 600 to 800 IU daily and look for supplements that contain vitamin D (cholecalciferol), an active form easier to absorb than its vitamin D2 counterpart.
  • Vitamin B12: Studies show that even a mild vitamin B12 deficiency can increase the risk of dementia in older adults. Look for a supplement that has at least 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is responsible for over 300 reactions in the body, some of which support brain function. The recommended daily intake for people over 50 is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women.

Who Needs To Supplement For Brain Health?

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Nutrient needs vary depending on genetics, health status, age and other factors. But after age 50, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how you can best support your brain health. Blood tests can check your levels of critical nutrients.

Other people who should consider getting their nutrient status tested include:

Once you uncover any deficiencies, you can work with your physician to adjust your diet or supplement accordingly. If you’re over 55, you might also consider taking a high-quality multivitamin.

Shopping For Supplements

Whether you need a specific nutrient, or you’re searching for a multivitamin that covers all the bases, it’s important to remember that not all supplements are created equal. And unlike prescription medications, supplements are not subject to Food and Drug Administration safety standards.

Since many supplement companies have inconsistent manufacturing practices, it’s important to look for the following certifications on supplement labels:

  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)
  • National Sanitation Foundation (NSF®)

But before you start shopping for supplements, talk to your doctor about testing your nutrient levels. Then, if you have deficiencies, ask your doctor to recommend a high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade supplement.

Dr. M. Elizabeth Swenor leads the functional and lifestyle medicine team at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Bloomfield Township. Learn more about Dr. Swenor and read her articles here.

Categories : FeelWell

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