The nutrient combo that can reduce brain aging by 40 percent
We all know there are rarely “magic bullet” solutions to health and healing—whether a single drug or even a single nutrient.
No nutrient works in isolation from other nutrients. In fact, an important new study shows that a good way to protect against age-related brain wasting and dementia is to ensure you get enough B vitamins and omega-3s—at the same time.
This nutrient combo is so effective, it slowed down brain atrophy in people with mild cognitive impairment by an average of 40 percent.
I’ll tell you more about this exciting study in a minute, but first, let’s examine why so many doctors and researchers still seem to act like nutrients operate in a void in our bodies and brains, independent of other nutrients.
Why you don’t take nutrients one at a time
Of course, it’s very complex to analyze the interactive effects of different nutrients in a single study. As I point out in my report “Classified Cancer Answers,” one of the biggest failings of the National Cancer Institute’s diet and cancer research program 30 years ago was the insistence by an old-time surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Rhoads, (who was chairman of the National Cancer Advisory Board) that nutrients must be studied only one at a time.
This approach may have worked for the Barber of Seville. In one of the most famous arias in opera, he told customers to line up for a shave and a haircut one at a time: “una la volta, una la volta, una la volta, per carita.” But when it comes to government cancer research, they went down the wrong “rhoads” and it was the American public that really got taken to the barbershop… and scalped.
Nothing in the human body works by Dr. Rhoads’ ridiculous “one-at-a-time” rule—but rather in a series of balanced, synergistic, and synchronized actions. We tried to get around this old doctor’s ill-informed dictum by developing a design for cancer studies so that several different nutrients could be analyzed at once. But our approach was used more in theory than in practice.
While the mainstream still fumbles along trying to understand the importance of balanced nutrients for cancer and other chronic diseases, it has equally big problems understanding nutrition and the brain.
For example, we all know the importance of B vitamins for general health and for the brain and nervous tissue. In Europe, they call B vitamins “neuro-vitamins.” Likewise, we all know the importance of omega-3 essential fats (typically from fish oil) for heart health, immune function, and brain and nervous tissue.
But we didn’t know precisely how these two key nutrients work together in the brain. Which leads me to the new study.
A one-two nutrient punch against dementia
Researchers from Oxford University analyzed data from 168 people age 70 or older. All of the study participants had mild cognitive impairment.
The researchers found that the people who took daily vitamin B supplements (B6, B12, and folate) only had a reduction in brain wasting if they also had high omega-3 blood levels.1
On the other hand, the people with low levels of omega-3s showed no brain benefits from taking B vitamins.
Researchers suggested that one way B vitamins and omega-3s together may benefit the brain is by lowering levels of a key amino acid known as homocysteine. Interestingly, this is the same way B vitamins help protect our hearts and blood vessels as well. (For another way to lower homocysteine, see page X).
Optimum ways to get your Bs and 3s
The best way to get the healthiest balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is through both your diet and dietary supplements.
For Bs, that means eating eggs, fish and other seafood, and meat at least twice a week. And taking a high-quality B-complex supplement that includes at least 50 mg each of thiamine, riboflavin (B2), niacin/niacinamide (B6), and pantothenic acid, plus at least 200 mcg of folic acid/folate, 12 mcg of B12, and 100 mcg of biotin.
Eating two servings of fish a week will also give you omega-3s. And I recommend 1 to 2 grams of fish oil supplements per day as well.
1“Brain atrophy in cognitively impaired elderly: the importance of long-chain ω-3 fatty acids and B vitamin status in a randomized controlled trial.” Am J Clin Nutr July 2015 vol. 102 no. 1 215-221.