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What the Experts Say Are the Best Supplements for Your Brain

Written by Sherry Christiansen
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated April 10, 2023

Maintaining optimal brain health encompasses several areas of self-care, including adhering to a healthy diet and lifestyle, managing stress, and socializing regularly. Taking dietary supplements can help promote brain health, but how do consumers know which supplements are worth the investment?

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Top supplements for brain health

Medical experts maintain that several dietary supplements and vitamins are considered an important part of a brain-healthy diet. One such expert, Dr. Richard Isaacson, a Harvard-trained neurologist and the author of Alzheimer’s Treatment, Alzheimer’s Prevention, recommends the following supplements for cognitive health.

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1. Fish Oil

There have been many studies on fish oil supplements and their impact on brain health. One study found that using specific types of fish oils may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Omega 3 fatty acids, primarily docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA), are recommended by the experts. Keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal and there are many different grades, doses and sources of fish oil. The right type of fish oil, in the correct dosage, is vital for optimal results.
Here’s what to aim for:
  • At least 250 mg of DHA in each capsule, with a daily total of at least 1,000–1,500 mg
  • 600 mg per day of EPA
Fish oil supplements should only be taken under the supervision of a health care provider. They should be taken with a meal and plenty of water. Start with a low dose and gradually build up to the maximum dose (as tolerated) that is recommended by a physician.
Fish oil is safe for most people, but it may affect bleeding, so it must be taken with caution for those on coumadin or other anticoagulants. It’s vital to consult with a health care provider to have regular blood work checked.
In addition to promoting brain health, fish oil is also thought to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol. So, this supplement works in more than one way to help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

2. Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12

High levels of an amino acid called homocysteine are thought to make the brain more vulnerable to beta-amyloid (a toxic substance which is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s). Homocysteine comes from the normal metabolism of protein from meat sources. An abnormally high level of homocysteine, along with low folic acid levels, has been associated with heart disease and possibly a higher risk for dementia.
An Oxford University study suggested that lowering homocysteine levels by supplementing with B vitamins may help fight against Alzheimer’s. Study participants ages 70 and older with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment were either given high doses of folic acid, B6, and B12, or they were given placebo pills. After two years, the researchers discovered that “the rate of brain shrinkage in people receiving the B vitamins was 30% lower than in those taking the placebo and the effect was greatest in those who had the highest levels of homocysteine,” according to Dr. Isaacson’s book.
Based on the studies, 800 mcg of folic acid, 20 mg of B6, and 500 mcg of B12 per day are the best supplements for  brain health. But again, be sure to consult with a health care provider before taking any type of dietary supplement.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D may protect the brain against cognitive decline and dementia. It’s estimate that over half of people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin D. There are several reasons for this common vitamin deficiency, including the lack of exposure to the sun —which the body requires to produce vitamin D. As people age, the ability to synthesize (produce) and absorb vitamin D is reduced. Obesity also lowers a person’s available vitamin D, because this fat-soluble vitamin gets trapped in fat tissue.
A 2014 study, published in the journal Neurology, indicated that people who were extremely low in vitamin D were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. If a person is unable to spend 10-15 minutes in direct sunlight each day, vitamin D supplementation of 1,000-2,000 I.U. per day, or more, may be required. As with all other supplements, vitamin D must be taken only with the approval and supervision of a physician since blood tests and monitoring may be necessary.
Further studies are required to completely understand the role of vitamin D in brain health.

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How to select dietary supplements for brain health

There are several grades of dietary supplements available. The highest and most recommended is pharmaceutical grade. Getting prescription supplements usually helps to guarantee the highest quality products. If it’s not possible to find pharmaceutical grade products, select the highest possible grade level.
Here are some additional guidelines to ensure that supplements are of the highest quality available:
  1. Always read labels. Avoid products with ingredients such as artificial coloring, preservatives, or other components that could be harmful, such as corn, dairy, gluten, or soybeans.
  2. Check to see if the product must be refrigerated.
  3. Ensure products are protected from light with proper packaging (such as amber colored glass).
  4. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements advises consumers to look for quality assurance seals from independent quality testing organizations like ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
  5. Make sure the container is vacuum sealed and tamper-proof for maximum freshness and safety of the product.
Unlike medications, supplements are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Furthermore, supplements can interact with medications. It’s important to consult an expert such as a physician or registered dietitian before buying or taking any dietary supplements.


Meet the Author
Sherry Christiansen

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.