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Nourishing Your Brain

    Margaret Cantwell

October 2019

8 great nutrients that will keep your brain from short-circuiting


The human body runs on nutrients including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and water.


Without them, our different body systems and organs couldn’t do the jobs they do to keep us running.


That’s why when it comes to optimum health your focus should be on balanced nutrition — mostly from whole food sources — but also from supplements to get those nutrients that are becoming depleted from the soil and some food sources.


There’s no shortfall of advice out there about what vitamins you should take and how much, not just for overall health, but for specific health needs as well.


But as we age, most of us begin to focus on the nutrition that will help us gracefully enter our senior years. And a huge part of that puzzle is keeping a strong brain, capable of firing on all cylinders.


If that’s where you are now, let me tell you what science now knows about eight specific nutrients you want swimming in your bloodstream if you want to keep your brain connections and your cognition strong — and the amazing way these nutrients work together.


A team of nutrients supports your brain


For starters, the research that has revealed this brief list of specific nutrients linked to better brain health is different from previous studies.


Instead of gathering a large group of people and asking them questions about what food they ate and then having them take a memory test, the researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looked for patterns of nutrient “biomarkers” in the participants’ blood to measure nutrient intake. No room for error or assumptions there.


Then, the team also used functional magnetic resonance imaging to actually look at the brain’s various networks and carefully evaluate the efficiency with which they performed, in each human subject.


According to U. of I. psychology professor Aron Barbey, “The basic question we were asking was whether diet and nutrition are associated with healthy brain aging. And instead of inferring brain health from a cognitive test, we directly examined the brain using high-resolution brain imaging.”


The bloodwork and scans allowed researchers to identify a robust link between higher levels of several nutrient biomarkers in the blood and enhanced performance on specific cognitive tests.


These nutrients, which appeared to work synergistically, included:


  •     Omega-3 fatty acids
  •     Omega-6 fatty acids
  •     Carotenoids
  •     Lycopene
  •     Riboflavin
  •     Folate
  •     Vitamin B12
  •     Vitamin D


But, perhaps most interesting, was that they saw different nutrient “patterns” among these eight that appeared to moderate the efficiency in different brain networks. For example, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids paralleled the positive relationship between a healthy frontoparietal network — the part of the brain that serves as a hub for brain-wide communication — and general intelligence.


Further — the part we’ve all been waiting for — they identified a specific nutrient pattern that was linked to better functional brain network efficiency. In other words — the nutrients that helped the different regions of the brains connect and work best.


That pattern consisted of omega-3s, omega-6s, and carotene.


Were these findings just a fluke? No chance…


To test the stability of the nutrient-biomarker patterns over time, the researchers invited 40 participants back for a second analysis roughly two years after the first tests. And guess what? Similar nutrient patterns were still there, keeping those brain connections going.


Using the great 8 to power-up your brain


We’ve reached a point where science is really getting to the nitty-gritty of aging. Isn’t it great that we can now have this information and put it to use?


The researchers surmised that this study likely provides the most accurate snapshot of how the body processes these nutrients and how they impact the brain.


So, now that you have that information, all you need do is get them circulating in your body, so you can sit back and reap the benefits.


Here are some tips on how to best do that:


  • Supplement your omega-3s. Most likely you have plenty of omega-6s floating around. The American diet is heavier in omega-6s, to begin with. So, eat more fatty fish, like salmon or take a quality fish or krill oil supplement to ensure you get essential fatty acid omega-3.
  • Don’t skimp on vitamin D. Most manufacturers labels recommend just 400 IU daily for bone health. Dr. Cutler and other knowledgeable integrative physicians, as well as The Vitamin D Council, recommend at least 5,000 IU daily.
  • Don’t be afraid of B12. In the past year, some research came out linking it to lung cancer. Those studies were done on male smokers who supplemented B12. Sublingual tablets are a great way to get B12 into your bloodstream quickly.
  • Folate, or B9, now obvious from this study, isn’t just for moms-to-be. Your body needs at least 400 mcg of folate per day.
  • Riboflavin, if you take a supplement, is best absorbed if taken with food. That way you’ll get 60 percent of it, versus only 15 percent on an empty stomach. The best food sources are liver, beef and dairy products.
  • Find carotenoids and lycopene in colorful foods. Eat the rainbow! If enjoying raw or in salads, add some olive oil to help with nutrient absorption.


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