Antioxidants’ reputation has been built up, and broken down by scientific research. Although some studies have found great health benefits after subjects took supplements with antioxidants, others did not find these health benefits of these supplements – and even warn for taking too many antioxidants. On the other hand, many researchers and health experts point to the many benefits of having a diet with high antioxidant levels. How can you make sure you get enough of these vitamins for memory? (more…)
FOCUSfactor has crammed a lot of vitamins in their memory supplements
There are no preservatives, artificial colorings and the likes in these memory supplements
The full ingredients list:
Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, biotin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, potassium, proprietary formula including: (diemethylaminoethanol (as DMAE bitartrate) L-glutamine, Bacopin® (Bacopa monnieri extract; leaf), L-pyroglutamic acid, phosphatidylserine, docosahexaenoic acid concentrate (15% DHA from fish body oil), choline (as choline bitartrate), inositol, N-acetyltyrosine, bilberry fruit standardized extract (25% anthocyanosides), gamma-aminobutyric acid, grape skin extract and Activin™, (grape seed extract), vinpocetine, Trace-Lyte™ electrolyte concentrate, huperzine A (extract of huperzia serrata; whole plant), boron (as boron citrate), and vanadium (as vanadyle sulfate).
Articles on vitamins C and E (popular memory supplements) usually result in an epic war story. Main characters are the antioxidants and the free radicals. Battle field: the human body.
In these Hollywood-like tales, the free radicals are the main enemies of the human body. It is never clear where exactly they come from, but they are out there. Somehow they ninja themselves into our bodies and start beating the living daylights out of the neurons in our brain.
Luckily the body is assisted by an army of Silverster Stallones and Steven Seagals. The cell bodyguards fight the free radicals under the code name ‘antioxidants’.
It’s a frightening clash, and it’s based on a true story. But what are the facts and what is dramatized for Hollywood? And where do these free radicals come from? And do the antioxidants need help from memory supplements?
Let’s first analyze ‘the enemy’. Free radicals are natural by-products of oxidation, the body’s burning of fuel to produce energy. Free radicals are not just ‘bad’, they are also generated and used by our immune cells in carrying out their tasks to maintain a healthy body. There is evidence though that free radical damage within cells is involved in degenerative diseases and cancers.
Here is where the antioxidants, for example from memory supplements, come in. The antioxidants make sure that fuel is burned in such a way that no or very little radicals are ‘set free’ to damage cells; the antioxidants protect the cells while the engine is burning.
Memory supplements protect cells
There are processes that increase the production of free radicals, so-called oxidative stress. When there is too much oxidative stress, and not enough antioxidant intake, the protection of the cells in our body is lowered. A few examples of factors that increase oxidative stress are smoking, alcohol, drugs, and environmental pollution.
Since it is hard to avoid all these factors that increase oxidative stress, our body needs antioxidants, like vitamin C and E. These vitamins for memory can be found in foods such as blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, nuts, seeds, and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. And in memory supplements.
Memory supplements containing vitamins C and E delay cognitive decline
For a lot of people these days, the fruits and vegetables that have high vitamin C and E are not part of their diet. One long-term health study (reported in the journal Neurology) has shown that vitamin E and vitamin C supplements have a protective effect against memory problems and loss of mental alertness. Another study, known as the Cache County study, concluded that the intake from food and memory supplements with vitamin C, vitamin E and carotene may delay cognitive decline in elderly.
Although the results of these studies are appealing, there are other studies that find very little - or no - effect for memory supplements with vitamin C and vitamin E on memory. One study found that people with diabetes or vascular diseases should be careful taking these type of memory supplements and these people particularly are advised to consult a doctor before taking a vitamin C or vitamin E supplement.
As with other memory supplements, vitamin C and vitamin E (and also beta carotene) can be beneficial and assist your body to stay healthy. The best way is to make sure you get enough of these vitamins for memory from your diet, so Silvester and Steven have enough help to battle those free radicals.
Every now and then another article on memory supplements with B vitamins is published. For example, researchers from the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging (OPTIMA) recently found that the mild memory problems suffered by healthy people stop getting worse when they take memory supplements with B vitamins. Moreover, the brains of those who take the B-vitamin supplement appear to shrink at a significant lower rate than those in the placebo group.
These types of results have caused a flood of articles on the B vitamin family, and their stardom has resulted in a tsunami of companies offering memory supplements with the vitamins as the main ingredient. But some companies got, let’s say, a little bit too excited and overestimated the effects of B vitamins in their advertisements. In this post I will focus on the scientific evidence for the effects of B vitamins in memory supplements.
There are more than twenty different types of B vitamins, but who is who in the zoo? For memory, the main ones are B6 (pyridoxide), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (commonly cyanocobalamin in memory supplements). These were also the ingredients of the memory supplements in the OPTIMA-study.
Research: memory supplements with B vitamins slow brain shrinkage
Raised homocysteine, an amino acid in the brain, has been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the elderly. If homocysteine levels go up, an increased intake of B vitamins can bring these levels down – and slow brain shrinkage, as the OPTIMA-study shows. How reducing homocysteine exactly affects brain shrinkage is a topic of future scientific research.
One interesting finding in the OPTIMA-study was that if a person had a higher level homocysteine, he or she would benefit more from the memory supplements. In the people with more homocysteine the vitamins slowed brain shrinkage by 50 per cent. However, the memory supplements had no effect on the brains of people with healthy homocysteine levels.
What foods contain B-vitamins?
Vitamin B12 is found in meat and fish, while B9 and B6 can be found in asparagus, lentils and beans. Other good sources of B vitamins are spinach and other dark, leafy greens; broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons, leeks, soybeans and other citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits.
How much do you need?
The US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adult males and females between 19 and 50 years is according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 1.3 mg Males over 50 years need 1.7 mg. while females in the same age category should take 1.5 mg. Pregnant women need more, 1.9 mg and lactating women 2 mg.
The subjects in the OPTIMA-study, who were all over 70 years, took three types of vitamin B (folic acid, B6 and B12) all in doses far in excess of the RDA: 0.8 mg of folic acid (twice the RDA), 0.5 mg of B12 (250 times the RDA) and 20 mg of B6 (12 times the RDA).
When should you consider taking memory supplements with B-vitamins?
Getting enough vitamin B12 can be tricky as you get older because you don’t absorb it as efficiently, says professor David Smith, who is also a co-author of the OPTIMA-study. “Vegetarians who don’t have any milk or fish are also likely to become deficient. I believe it makes sense for those groups to take a supplement,” says the professor.
Getting enough of the other vitamin B’s is not a problem if you eat reasonably well. However, according to professor Smith, ‘there is evidence that the elderly don’t eat the right food to keep their B vitamin levels up and it is likely that homocysteine rises naturally with age and at the same time we become less efficient at absorbing B vitamins from the diet’. So these people might benefit from memory supplements with B vitamins.
At the same time professor Smith warns that more experiments need to be done before it can be concluded that the memory supplements used in the study can slow or prevent Alzheimer’s. Professor Smith: “So I wouldn’t recommend that anyone getting a bit older and beginning to be worried about memory lapses should rush out and buy vitamin B supplements without seeing a doctor.”
One of the memory supplements that is used most in scientific studies is the good ol’ cup of coffee. It not only makes sure that the subjects in a study are awake – which is quite an accomplishment during some amazingly boring tests – but these memory supplements also boost concentration, mood and memory.
I never used to drink coffee – let’s be honest, that taste needs a lot of sugar and milk. However, after reading a couple of studies where the subjects on caffeine outperformed the control subjects, I always made sure I had a pot of coffee before I started studying for a test.
And it worked: my grades improved.
Memory supplements like caffeine boost concentration, mood and memory
I was probably the last one to find out about the benefits of coffee: caffeine appears to be the number 1 drug consumed in the United States and Europe. American adults, for example, drink more than 300mg of caffeine a day in their lattes, colas and teas. While a normal dose of caffeine is considered 100mg a day – one cup of coffee. This doesn’t mean that someone who drinks 3, 4 or, like some of my friends, 8 cups of coffee a day, is 3, 4 or 8 times as sharp, clever or happy as someone who drinks just one cup. The benefits of caffeine have its limits and continued exposure these memory supplements results in a tolerance for the drug. Not only needs a heavy coffee drinker more caffeine to boost their brain power, withdrawal can also result in a drop in blood pressure which can result in headaches.
What are the effects of a latte, macchiato or memory supplements with caffeine on the brain?
Caffeine stimulates nerve cells in the brain, which release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). This hormone increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles. Along other pathways in the brain, caffeine also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical through which the brain cells communicate. Dopamine is known to be important in learning.
Coffee, cola and tea are also memory supplements
But you don’t have to look on a neuronal level to see the effects of caffeine in the brain. In studies that used fMRI scanners, which make pictures of the brain while the subject is performing a task, it was shown that brain areas that are involved in retaining information were more active after caffeine intake. In other words, caffeine does not only make one more alert, coffee, cola and tea are also memory supplements.
Because of this close link between memory and caffeine, researchers have started to explore whether there is a relationship between memory loss, a major symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, and caffeine intake. First studies show indeed that middle-aged people who drink moderate amounts of coffee significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, it is still too early to come up with a conclusive answer whether memory supplements like caffeine can protect against Alzheimer’s disease. In energy drinks for example, caffeine seems to lose its memory effect.