To B or Not to B?
Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia. Approximately 50 million are living
with dementia globally, and that number is estimated to triple in 2050, according to the World Health Organization. There is no cure or treatment for dementia, so it comes as no surprise that there is a quest for a magic pill to prevent cognitive decline or cure dementia.
According to the AARP’s Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey, 25 percent of adults age 50 and older consume vitamins and supplements to enhance their memory and improve brain health.
The aging population is one of the reasons why vitamin consumption is skyrocketing (among other reasons such as being self-diagnosis and increased consumer awareness for preventative healthcare). In 2018, the global vitamin market was valued at USD5.1B, and it is expected to almost double to USD10.12B in 2026.
According to Richard S. Isaacson, M.D., Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program, people don’t believe “Alzheimer’s” and “prevention” belong in the same sentence since there is no cure or treatment for the disease. However, he compared Alzheimer’s to a heart attack or stroke. “While one can exercise, eat right, and do all the right things, a heart attack or stroke can’t be prevented 100 percent, only the risk is reduced,” said Dr. Isaacson. “It is the same with Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. Mylea Charvat, CEO and founder of Savonix, believes, “Effective dementia prevention can transform the future global health outlook and vastly improve the quality of life as we continue to live longer.” She said to do this we need to make lifestyle changes and incorporate a healthy diet [in tandem with getting enough sleep, social interaction, and exercise] not later in life but to start right now.
Studies have indeed shown a healthy lifestyle does prevent cognitive decline. The Lancet Commission determined about one-third of dementia cases worldwide may be preventable through changes in modifiable lifestyle factors such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and quitting smoking.
Eat a Brain Healthy Diet
So, what does one eat to prevent cognitive decline? There’s evidence that the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets can help improve cognitive function. What do these diets have in common? They contain foods with large amounts of vitamin B, E and omega-3 fatty acids.
The average adult brain accounts for about 20 percent of calories consumed. This equates to about 400 calories daily (based on a 2000 calorie diet). So, why not choose brain healthy foods with vitamins like B, D, E to help fuel your concentration daily, as well as to improve your memory and cognitive health in the long term?
Vitamin B: An Oxford study suggested vitamins B6, B9 and B12 help breakdown homocysteine, which has been associated with a higher risk of dementia. B vitamins also help produce energy needed to develop new brain cells. According to Dr. Isaacson’s book Alzheimer’s Treatment, Alzheimer’s Prevention, “…the rate of brain shrinkage in people receiving the B vitamins was 30 percent lower than in those taking the placebo and the effect was greatest in those who had the highest levels of homocysteine.”
Vitamin D: Helps with the absorption of calcium and promotes bone growth, as well as protect the brain against cognitive decline. In study published in the medical journal Neurology, people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia and those who were severely deficient had a 125 percent increased risk compared to participants with normal levels of vitamin D.
“We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising—we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” said study author David J. Llewellyn, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom.
Vitamin E: An antioxidant, vitamin E is associated with lowering the risk of dementia by reducing oxidative stress, according to the Archives of Neurology. Oxidative stress is damage to cells from oxygen exposure and believed to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
Foods Rich in Brain-Healthy Vitamins
Supplementing with Vitamins
While eating a brain-healthy diet is ideal and encouraged, it isn’t always feasible in the real world and many take multivitamins to supplement deficiencies in their diet. However, views on vitamin consumption and their effects are mixed.
According to Dr. Isaacson, studies have failed in the past because they’ve been conducted on people who are heterogeneous, “…with all of these supplements and vitamins, depending on your genetics, depending on your blood test results, and depending on other factors, they may or may not preferentially work or not work.”
Although he is a believer that vitamins should always be taken from real foods first, Dr. Isaacson is a big advocate for vitamin B complex and also recommends taking omega-3 fatty acids but says everyone is different. He is quick to remind us that it’s not a one-size-fits-all thinking but more about precision medicine, that is, treating a person as their own individual.
While there are studies out there showing the promising effects of multivitamins and nutritional products on memory improvement and cognitive health1,2,3, more research still needs to be done.
Assessing Cognitive Health and Brain Health Behaviors
Equipped with information about eating healthy–and changing lifestyle behaviors–for better brain health, how does one know the impact on cognition?
We provide assessment tools to test cognition remotely, in the privacy of your own home, on any mobile device. Upon completion of the 30 minute test, users immediately receive a Personal Summary Report (PSR) to view test results within the mobile application.
A lifestyle questionnaire is also included as part of the assessment, which surveys users on their lifestyle habits (e.g. diet, smoking, exercise) that correlate to brain function. Answers are integrated into the PSR, making it a comprehensive report on brain health and brain health behaviors.
With the PSR, users are able to connect their everyday actions to their cognitive health and make better decisions – they receive helpful tips on how to change their habits to improve brain health. Users are encouraged to share the PSR with their physician for further advice and consultation if they have any concerns.
An excerpt of the PSR is shown below
Appraising the brain’s energy budget https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC124895/
Livingston, G., Sommerlad, A., Orgeta, V., Costafreda, S. G., Huntley, J., Ames, D., … & Cooper, C. (2017). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet, 390(10113), 2673-2734. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31363-6/fulltext#seccestitle70
David O. Kennedy. Nutrients. 2016 Feb; 8(2): 68. Published online 2016 Jan 28. doi: 10.3390/nu8020068
B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review
Elizabeth E. Devore; Francine Grodstein; Frank J. A. van Rooij; Albert Hofman; Meir J. Stampfer; Jacqueline C. M. Witteman; Monique M. B. Breteler. Dietary Antioxidants and Long-term Risk of Dementia. Arch Neurol, 2010; 67 (7): 819-825 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/800716
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s monthly teleconference Alzheimer’s Talks transcript: January 2018.
Harris E, Macpherson H, Vitetta L, Kirk J, Sali A, Pipingas A. Effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers in older men: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2012;27(4):370–377. doi:10.1002/hup.2236
Macpherson H, Silberstein R, Pipingas A. Neurocognitive effects of multivitamin supplementation on the steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) measure of brain activity in elderly women. Physiol Behav. 2012;107(3):346–354. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.006
Summers, William K. et al. ‘Complex Antioxidant Blend Improves Memory in Community-Dwelling Seniors’. 7 Jan. 2010 : 429 – 439. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad01229