How to Keep Our Brains Sharp with Nutrition 

Posted By on Mar 21, 2014 |

Yesterday I attended a “Evidenced-Based Nutritional Strategies for the Aging Brain” seminar presented by Michael Lara, MD and hosted by IBP.  His credentials are: Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is in private practice in Psychiatry and Psychopharmacology.  He had some good information about maintaining our health through nutrition and supplements to keep our brain sharp and ways to help with depression and stress.  I will summarize the material and if you want to know more of what is behind what I share, go to his web site

What causes aging is inflammation in our tissues which puts stress on our bodies and we age.The results are age-related memory loss which can lead to mild cognitive impairment and sometimes Alzheimers. I was especially interested in the things I could do to prevent depression because research shows that depression leads to cognitive impairment. There are things we can do to treat mild to moderate depression with supplements, but when we are clinically depressed, research shows that taking an antidepressant is very beneficial. The things that we can do to keep our brains sharp is have a balanced diet, consistent exercise program, and healthy sleep habits. Become informed about what will work best for you.

Nutrients that can help us sleep better:

  • Magnesium, 400-800 mg/night (Magnesium Aspartate, citrate, lactate or            chloride)
  • Valerian. Taken in the form of extract or tea. (450 mg extract, 0.8 Valerian acid taken before bedtime) Valerian does not cause morning grogginess like zolpidem, eszopicione, or temazepam.

Things we can take to support neurotransmitter function:

Amino Acids:

  • L-Tyrosine is the amino acid precursor for dopamine and norepinephrine.  Enhances performance during acutely stressful activities. Does is 2 grams/day.
  • 5-HTP and L-phenylalanine are the amino acid precursors for serotonin synthesis.  5-HTP is helpful for decreasing appetite and insomnia at doses up to 900 mg daily.


  • Folic Acid; used to treat refractory depression. Dose 800 mcg/day
  • B12, Dose 500 mcg/day

Other supplements to enhance memory and learning;

  • Huperzine-A 50 mcg
  • N-acetylcysteine 600 mg/day
  • Bacopa, (Brahmi or Water Hyssop) has mild anti-anxiety effect. 300-450 mg/day

Obesity is now understood as a disease of inflammation. The more obese, the smaller the brain.

Anti-inflammatory Nutrients

  •  Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Dose needs to be 85% EPA and DHA to be effective. 2-4 grams of pharmaceutical grade daily  EPA and DHA protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, major depression, and other diseases of inflammation.

All these foods help with cognitive performance;

Polyphenols. These groups are among the strongest naturally occurring free radical neutralizers.

  • Catechins; Green and white tea, grapes, cocoa, lentils, berries (Cocoa; dark unsweetened forms containing at least 70% cacao, 10 grams a day)
  • Flavanones; Oranges, grpefruit, lemon
  • Flavanols; Green vegetables, apples, berries, onions
  • Anthocyanins; Berries, red grapes, wine
  • Reservatrol; Grape skin, red wine, nuts (supplement 100-500 mg daily)
  • Curcumin; Tumeric, mustard
  • antidepressant properties
  • Coumarin; Licorice, strawberries, apricots, cherries, cinnamon
  • Blood thinning properties.  Do not take with blood thinner medications.
  • Ellagic acid; Walnuts, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, guava, grapes
  • Tannic acid; Nettles, tea, berries
  • Gallic acid; Tea, mango, strawberries, rhubarb, soy
  • Caffeic acid; Blueberries, kiwi, plums, cherries, apples

Supplements to enhance cognitive performance:

  • 800 mg curcumin twice daily
  • 2 pinches of black pepper mixed in 1 TBSP of greek yogurt to enhance absorption of curcumin
  • 2 g pharmaceutical grade fish oil 2/day

Supplements to enhance energy:

  • Acelyl-1 Carnitine; 500 mg 2/day
  • Alpha-lipoic acid; 300 mg 2/day
  • Green Tea Extract 200-400 mg 2/day
  • B-Complex 2/day
  • Coenzyme Q10; 150 2/day 

Coenzyme Q10 serves as an electron carrier in the mitochondria where ATP synthesis occurs.  Lack of CoQ10 causes this process to slow, exulting in less available cellular energy.  Statin drugs deplete levels of CoQ10.

Other nutrients that support brain metabolism;

  •  Berberine is a plant alkaloid used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat hyperglycemia and diabetes. Doses range from 300-400 mg 3-4/day.
  •  Caffeine. Coffee is rich in antioxidants. A study of nearly 700 elderly men over a 10 year period found that consuming 3 cups of coffee was associated with a 4-fold slower rate of cognitive decline compared to subjects who did not drink coffee. Dose guidelines between 3-5 cups a day.
  •  Coconut Oil. Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). It has antimicrobial properties. MCTs also promote weight loss by increasing satiety and energy expenditure.  More recent studies show that MCTs improve mood and cognition.

Aerobic Training increases brain volume in aging humans.

  • Guidelines for aerobic training is 75% of maximum heart rate for a minimum of 30 minutes 5 times a day.

I hope this has been informative and remember before you start any new supplement and diet or exercise program, consult with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure it does not interfere with any medications you are taking and you are healthy enough for the change. Dr. Lara’s information is evidence bases on research.  If you want more information, visit Dr Mike Lara’s web site @

The information presented is of general nature. For specific advice, consult a specialist in your area.

Vickie Parker, LMFT, Online Counseling