Fortifications and Minerals / Fats, Oils, Omegas / R&D

Ingredients to Boost the Brains of Baby Boomers

Omega-3s, tart cherries, phospholipids can keep cognition sharp in old age.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

Brain ImageIt’s said that, for seniors, the difference between forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s Disease can be reduced to a simple equation: If you don’t remember where you put your keys, you are forgetful; if you don’t remember what function keys serve, that’s Alzheimer’s.

This year, the first baby boomers started turning 70. And while “better-for-you” foods and beverages are filling shelves to help us avoid cancer and heart disease, or to provide energy to allow us to keep up with the millennials trying to take away our jobs, the need to focus on brain health and cognitive performance has become inescapable.

There’s good news, however. Not only are many of the ingredients targeting our bodily woes good for our brains, too, research and ingredient technology have come together to make available a number of new or rediscovered ingredients from traditional Eastern medicine that help tired brains work better, longer.

Antioxidants and omega lipids probably are primary candidates for the all-purpose senior health category. While antioxidants, such as those that are richest in leafy greens and red, dark red and purple fruits and vegetables, are best known for protection against cancer and heart disease, their action in keeping the circulatory system clean means that the transport system working to bring oxygen to the brain is functioning at its peak. Omegas, well-established as critical to nerve and brain tissue development in fetuses and growing children, also work well for the aging brain.

The role of omegas in senior cognitive function was reaffirmed in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof-of-concept study published just this February in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. For the study, the researchers treated 44 healthy older adults aged 50-75 years (overlaying the 1946-1964 timespan of Baby Boomers) with 2.2g of long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids for a period of 26 weeks.

They then assessed object-location memory to evaluate the impact of omega-3s on both learning and memory formation. Testing before and after omega-3 intervention, results showed omegas to “exert positive effects on memory functions in healthy older adults,” leading the researchers to confirm that supplemental omega-3s could help “maintain cognitive functions into old age.”

A leading cause of forgetfulness and faltering cognition is a result of chronic sleep deficit. Today’s 50-65 year olds are also a part of what’s called the “Bridge Generation.” They find themselves caring for kids at home as well as aging parents, all while holding down at least one full-time job. (This at a time when most working Americans are making less money than they did a decade ago.)

The National Sleep Foundation, among other researchers, reported that 40 percent of Americans are not getting enough sleep, and that “the amount of sleep the average person logs each night has been steadily decreasing over the past century.” Sleep deprivation and chronic stress deliver a one-two knock-out punch to cognitive health.

To address this, many beverage makers have been targeting both stress and sleep issues. Beverages made with the juice of tart cherries is one example. Tart cherries are high in melatonin, the so-called “sleep hormone.” It’s known to help synchronize the circadian rhythms of sleep, shortening the time to sleep onset in some persons as well as improving the quality of sleep.

Hollywood, Fla.-based Dream Products' ( Dreamwater “shots” make use of melatonin and two other natural sleep and stress combatters, (GABA) and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). GABA is gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmission regulator that helps control brain activity. 5-HTP is a precursor of both melatonin and serotonin, the latter countering anxiety and depression.

The phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PS) is a naturally derived compound well-noted for its role in memory and cognition. It is in particularly high concentration in brain and nerve tissue and fundamental for nerve cell and synaptic function, including nerve signal transmission and activity. PS has been recognized for decades as helping to mitigate mental, cognitive and behavioral decline secondary to neurodegenerative conditions, including age-related cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s.

Phosphatidic acid (PA), a key component of and precursor to PS, is found in nerve cell membranes and has a direct impact on nerve cell function, as well as acting as signaling compound. Combined into a single complex, PS and PA were shown in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of chronically high-stressed subjects to reduce stress and improve cognitive function at levels of 400mg each daily. Lipogen Ltd. (, Haifa, Israel, makes its PS+PA ingredient to provide the perfect daily amount of the complex for stressed out, cognitively compromised adults.