These 4 Neuroprotective Nutrients Can Help Reduce Your Dementia Risk
And one of the places to start is with your nutrition. Eating a well-balanced Mediterranean diet is a great choice for protecting your brain, but some specific nutrients and compounds may be especially protective for brain health. And getting a therapeutic dose of those nutrients often requires a high-quality supplement.
Let's break down four brain-critical nutrients you should be getting daily to help protect against dementia:
Citicoline is the supplemental form of CDP-choline—a compound naturally produced in the brain and obtained from foods.
However, the only foods with an appreciable amount of CDP-choline are liver and organ meats. And supplementing with this compound is a promising prevention tactic for cognitive decline.
Researchers of a 2023 study reviewed and pooled data from clinical trials on the use of citicoline on measures of cognitive function in people with signs of dementia or who already had a dementia or Alzheimer's diagnosis. Overall, results showed that citicoline on its own or used in addition to standard therapy was effective at preventing or slowing cognitive decline2.
There are a few reasons this compound in particular may be so beneficial. For starters, citicoline has been shown to:
- Help maintain the integrity of neuronal cell membranes.
- Modulate healthy levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine
- Protect the brain from oxidative stress
- Enhance cellular energy in the brain
To get the most out of citicoline, look for a supplement with the clinically researched, full-potency dose of 500 milligrams.
Vitamin D is most notable for its role in bone health. But it has a whole-body effect. There are vitamin D receptors located in neurons and cells throughout the brain, and the nutrient is essential for protecting the nervous system.
But most people don't get enough vitamin D in their day-to-day lives—either from food or the sun. In fact, vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency (measured through a blood test) affect about 50% of the world's population.
Researchers of a 2023 review of studies published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia focused on the relationship between vitamin D insufficiency and cognitive function in adults free of any prior brain health concerns.
Overall, they evaluated nine studies of almost 70,000 people and found that vitamin D insufficiency was linked to impaired executive function and processing speed. Five of the studies also connected vitamin D deficiency to dementia risk.
As most people don't get enough vitamin D, supplementing is often a smart choice. To move from insufficient to adequate to optimal vitamin D levels often requires a daily dose of 5,000 IU vitamin D. Here are our top picks.
Just like people associate vitamin D with bone health, fish oil often gets wrapped up with heart health. And yes, fish oil's heart health benefits are well established at this point, but its omega-3 fatty acids are also vital for the brain—especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Over the years, many population-wide studies have reported that low levels of omega-3s or fish consumption are correlated with a higher risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or age-related cognitive decline. Whereas studies now indicate that upping your fish intake may reduce your risk of dementia by 40 to 50%4.
A 2022 study that followed over 210,000 adults (over 60 years old) found that taking a fish oil supplement was linked to a lower risk of all dementia (but not Alzheimer's disease). Some details were lacking like how much people were supplementing with, and the participants weren't racially diverse.
We certainly have thoughts on how much omega-3 you need to see meaningful health changes, and if you're on the lookout for a new high-quality supplement, check out our dietitian-vetted choices here.
Resveratrol is a beneficial plant compound found in grapes, blueberries, and dark chocolate.
This compound is a potent antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain barrier (aka actually reach and exert an impact on the brain).
Vascular dementia is the result of a lack of blood flow to part of the brain. And enhancing blood flow is a potentially exciting prevention tactic for cognitive decline.
A two-year study involving 125 postmenopausal women found that daily resveratrol supplementation (of 150 milligrams) improved cognition and verbal memory (the ability to recall words).
When considering a supplement with resveratrol, you should look for the clinically relevant dose (i.e., the amount shown to provide health benefits in clinical studies) of 75 to 150 milligrams.
What you eat can influence your cognitive function now and your brain health down the road. And while following a healthy diet (like the MIND or Mediterranean) should be your foundation, integrating targeted supplements for brain health in particular can help further protect your cognition.
Citicoline, vitamin D, omega-3s, and resveratrol are just a handful of the ingredients to look out for. For a full list of our favorite supplements for mental clarity, acuity, memory, and neuronal function, check out this list.
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and mindbodygreen's supplements editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.