Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of our society more than the potential of losing our mental acuity as we age. It seems we hear every day of how this affliction devastates the lives of the victims and the psychological well being of those caring for them. Baby Boomers and others, alike, list loss of mental awareness as the top bogeyman in their collective closets.
What’s so dastardly about this affliction is its stealth. Everyone occasionally forgets where they put their car keys or remembers to return a phone call. Is that a reason to fear these little moments of forgetfulness as something going ‘bump’ in the night? Are they really something that can only be seen in our peripheral vision?
We all worry that someday our memory might fail us to an even greater degree. Losing cognitive function has become one of the greatest concerns of adults in our country, even more so than losing physical abilities. As research dives into the reasons behind the mental decline, one thing is clear. Antioxidants play a significant role in the maintenance of healthy brain function.
The Free Radical Culprits
It appears that the same free radicals that can damage our bodies also play a large role in the age-related decrease in brain function. Free radicals are oxidized compounds that are looking for electrons. Their quest to gain electrons leads them to the most electron-rich parts of our cells – our DNA. They damage our cells, tissues, organs and eventually our entire system by these hit-and-run thefts.
Neuroscience researchers say this cellular devastation appears to play a role in many of the diseases of our modern world, and it is the main reason we are encouraged to eat a diet rich in antioxidants. Plant-based antioxidant nutrients can protect the body from the assault of free radicals by offering up sacrificial electrons. The antioxidant’s electrons satisfy the free radicals, which are then neutralized and no longer able to damage vital cells.
Left unchecked, free radicals can damage the healthy tissue in our brains and lead to a range of issues, such as a lack of mental focus, memory loss, foggy thinking and difficulty learning new tasks.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
Fortunately, we can take many actions to protect our brains from free radical damage and the associated consequences. Antioxidants are found widely in our food supply in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, red wine and green tea. Eating a diet high in fresh (preferably organic) produce is a great way to provide your brain with the antioxidants it needs for optimum function.
A veteran scientist with 25 years’ experience in neuroscience research said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has long recognized the benefit of antioxidant-rich diets. Numerous studies over the years highlight have identified foods abundant with antioxidants. Some of these foods, such as walnuts, blackberries and grape juice, can produce a 20 percent improvement in memory in some people.
“But it appears that most people do not consume the optimum amount of antioxidants in their diets,” said Lucien Thompson, head of the neuroscience program in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Consequently, many Americans consume dietary supplements to add antioxidants to compensate. But this alone may not be sufficient.”
Supplementation May Help
Although a diet high in antioxidants is ideal, most us fail to achieve that with our eat-on-the-go lifestyles. That is where supplementation can provide added benefits. In addition, finding the right supplemental support for healthy brain function can ensure that you are consuming nutrients that actually cross the blood-brain barrier to have the desired benefit of working directly on the cells of the brain. Not all nutrients affect the brain because of this discriminating barrier between our blood supply and our delicate brain tissue.
While modern research revealed the power of antioxidants, history tells us that there are several herbs that have been used for centuries to help people sharpen their focus and maintain their mental clarity.
One of the most well-known herbs for enhancing mental focus is bacopa. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years as a brain tonic to enhance learning, memory and concentration. Research confirms that bacopa does, in fact, assist in the learning process and helps to reduce the effects of stress on the brain.*
Another herb worth investigating comes from the ancient Ginkgo biloba tree, which has been called the ‘memory tree’ because of Ginkgo’s reputation for supporting cognitive function. Studies show that Ginkgo supports mental clarity and normal memory function. It appears to do this by acting as an antioxidant and supporting healthy circulation. Exciting research also indicates that ginkgo might assist in the process of making new nerve cells in the brain and decrease the amount of age-related plaque that accumulate in the brain tissue.*
A Product that May Help
RBC Life Sciences has introduced a product, NeuroBright, that combines the company’s unique super-antioxidant* Microhydrin with 11 legendary antioxidant herbs to support healthy brain function. The company's news release speaks more about the product.Dr. Thompson, the researcher who conducted animal studies on NeuroBright, said typically 25 percent of any control group of rats (which were studied) is identified as slow learners. When the animals took NeuroBright, memory and learning improved by up to 50 percent. In fact, NeuroBright completely eliminated the slow learners, he said. Every animal exhibited improved learning and memory.
We all encounter various levels of forgetfulness. So, it’s probably best not to read danger in every one of those instances. But it might be prudent, given all the research indicating that antioxidants are good for brain function, to be practicing a little preventative maintenance every chance we get.
Carolyn Marocco, N.D., is a nutritionist and naturopath who writes and speaks on health and nutrition in addition to running a private practice in the Dallas, Texas, area.