Food that can Protect the Aging Brain

Posted on April 21, 2015


According to a 2014 AARP study, brain health is the second most important component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, after heart health. As the population ages, people are at an increased risk of experiencing cognitive issues such as decreased critical thinking, slower reaction time and recall, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, according to The Alzheimer's Association (, one in nine Americans aged 65 and older has the disease and in 2050, an American will develop the disease every 33 seconds.

Keeping both mentally and physically active is key to brain health. Nutrition may play a role as well. Here is a look at some ingredients and supplements that may help protect and sharpen aging brains.

Cocoa Flavanols

Cocoa flavanols have been linked to improved circulation and heart health, and preliminary research is showing a possible connection to memory improvement.

Mastroiacovo et al. (2014) provided evidence that regular cocoa flavanol consumption can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction, possibly through an improvement in insulin sensitivity. The double-blind, controlled, parallel-arm study involved 90 elderly subjects without clinical evidence of cognitive dysfunction who were randomly assigned to consume a beverage containing 993 mg (high flavanol), 520 mg (intermediate flavanol), or 48 mg (low flavanol) of cocoa flavanols every day for eight weeks.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Cutuli et al. (2014) showed that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) supplementation appeared to be a useful tool in health promotion and cognitive decline prevention during aging. Nineteen-month-old mice were given either n-3 PUFA mixture, olive oil, or no dietary supplement for 8 weeks. Aged mice supplemented with n-3 PUFA exhibited better object recognition memory, spatial and localizatory memory, and aversive response retention, without modifications in anxiety levels.


Walnuts are known for their heart health benefits, being a source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Researchers are also studying the effects of walnuts on brain function. Muthaiyah et al. (2014) suggested that dietary supplementation with walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.


Magnesium is related to brain health, and supplements are sometimes recommended for those who experience serious concussions. Magtein from AIDP, City of Industry, Calif. (,, is magnesium L-threonate, a unique form of magnesium. Animal studies have shown it to improve memory, recognition, and learning. The studies have also shown it to help maintain the health of the neuron cells and increase neural plasticity. Magtein delivers multiple benefits due to its ability to easily cross the blood brain barrier and increase brain synapses, according to AIDP. Food high in magnesium includes Kale, baby spinach and pumpkin seeds.


Blueberries are known to have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, boasting a high concentration of anthocyanins.

Krikorian et al. (2010) suggested that moderate-term blueberry supplementation can offer neurocognitive benefits. The researchers noted that anthocyanins have been associated with increased neuronal signaling in brain centers, mediating memory function as well as improved glucose disposal, benefits that would be expected to mitigate neurodegeneration. The researchers investigated the effects of daily consumption of wild blueberry juice on a sample of nine older adults with early memory changes. At 12 weeks, improved paired-associate learning and word list recall were observed.

Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues

Source material from Institute of Food Technologists