- Aug 23, 2021
5 science-backed supplements that can help keep your mind & body sharp as you age
I'm not a doctor, so take everything I say in this article with a grain of salt, but I have to admit I'm skeptical when it comes to most of the vitamins and supplements you'll find littering the shelves in a typical pharmacy. In most cases, I suspect eating a balanced diet (and possibly supplementing that with a multivitamin) is enough to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need.
That said, there are a few supplements that have some science behind them when it comes to general wellbeing, cognitive function, and brain health, and you may not be getting enough of them even if you live a relatively healthy lifestyle. Here are five that I think are worth discussing with your GP, especially as you get older.
1. Fish oil
Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health. Several studies have found that omega-3 supplementation can improve cognitive function and mood. According to Healthline, people with depression or a mild decline in brain function should consider taking omega-3s from fish oil, as they may see improvements in their symptoms and brain function.
Another study showed that habitual use of fish oil seems to be associated with a lower risk of all cause and CVD (cardiovascular disease) mortality.
Although it's possible to get these omega-3s from eating fish, taking a supplement is an easy way to make sure you're getting enough.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for bone health, but it may also be good for brain health, mood, and autoimmune disorders. A recent study conducted by the Journal of Gerontology suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for late-life depression, particularly among women.If you don't spend much time outside, you may want to consider taking a supplement.
Even if you do spend a lot of time in the sun, the rate at which we can absorb vitamin D decreases as we age. The Mayo clinic notes that the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years.
Circumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric, and it has a variety of health benefits. A recent study published by Cambridge University Press noted that circumin improves hippocampal function in healthy older adults (the hippocampus is a region of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory). The same study also showed numerous improvements in mood.
In addition, a study from 2010 shows that circumin has significant anti-inflammatory properties. The study concludes that "Curcumin can counteract the pro-inflammatory state which is believed to participate in many age-related diseases."
Following on from its anti-inflammatory properties, it may also be useful for relieving joint pain and arthritis. An article published by By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, of Harvard notes that 'curcumin might be effective for osteoarthritis of the knee', though the Doctor makes a point of saying that he'd like to see more and longer-term studies in osteoarthritis and other types of joint disease, as well as more extensive testing of its safety, before recommending it.
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is important for energy levels, red blood cell production, and nervous system function. It can be found in foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. However, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing vitamin B12 from food sources. This can lead to a deficiency, which can cause fatigue, anemia, and neurological problems.
An article from the Australian Government's Health Direct website notes that a B12 deficiency can be responsible for a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, ranging from memory loss and tiredness, to visual disturbances and tingling in the hands and feet.
If you think you might be deficient in vitamin B12, it's worth talking to your GP about supplementation. They may also recommend you have your B12 levels checked with a blood test.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (usually bacteria) that are similar to the ones that naturally live in our gut. They have a variety of health benefits, including improving digestive function and boosting immunity.
A recent meta-analysis (a 'study of studies') found some evidence to suggest that probiotics improved cognitive performance in Alzheimer's Disease or Mild Cognitive Impairment patients, possibly through decreasing levels of inflammatory and oxidative biomarkers, though it also noted that the amount of current evidence was still 'insufficient'.
Probiotics can be found in some foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, but they can also be taken in supplement form.
So there you have it, folks. 5 supplements that, according to scientific research, could improve your mind and body as you age. Again, I'm not a doctor, so please speak to your GP before starting to take any of these supplements, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or you're taking other medications.