Every July, we highlight brain health and mental health, but the truth is that these are crucial facets of our wellness all year long. Taking care of our brains and our mental health can mean many different things. It can mean wearing a helmet when we ride our bikes. It can mean prioritizing our sleep, so we get enough shut-eye. It can mean regularly speaking with a therapist. It might also mean taking carefully selected supplements.
The following research snippets highlight recent studies about natural health products for our brains and mental health. As always, check with your health care practitioner before taking any new supplement, to make sure it’s right for you.
By now, we’re not surprised there’s an intricate connection between our brains and our guts, nor are we shocked to learn probiotics may play a helpful role. But new research continues to give us more insight into this fascinating connection.
A 2022 review published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria) predicts the development of conditions such as cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and depression. The researchers also noted that “different psychobiotics, mainly dietary fibers and probiotics of the Lactobacillus family, improved different cognitive functions such as cognitive performance …”
Another supplement we’re all likely familiar with is omega-3 fatty acids. Many of us don’t get enough of these essential fatty acids through our diets, such as from flaxseed or oily fish. That’s where supplements can step in.
A recent systematic review of studies from 2010 to 2022 aimed to assess the effects of omega-3 on brain functions. According to the study authors, omega-3 supplements were well tolerated and appeared to help improve learning, memory, and cognitive well-being, as well as blood flow in the brain.
The Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha has recently been studied for its potential role in managing anxiety and stress—two conditions that so many of us struggle with. A review published in 2022 examined 12 randomized clinical trials involving 1,002 participants between the ages of 25 and 48. Ashwagandha was found to help reduce anxiety and stress levels, in comparison to placebos. However, further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Who doesn’t love blueberries? In addition to being a wonderful food, blueberries are also being studied by scientists in their supplement form (such as freeze-dried powder) for potential dementia risk reduction.
Published in Nutrients, this randomized, controlled trial included men and women aged 50 to 65 with subjective cognitive decline. Those who consumed blueberry supplements exhibited improved executive ability, leading the researchers to suggest that blueberry supplementation may help protect against cognitive decline (when introduced early for those who are at risk).
So many more supplements
It doesn’t end there! A recent review highlighted even more natural health products that may help us ward off neurological diseases and brain aging, including phospholipids, GABA, n-acetylcysteine (NAC), magnesium, curcumin, resveratrol, and Bacopa monnieri. However, more research needs to be done. The study authors also highlight the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet.