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DHA and Folic Acid for the Brain

A friend and subscriber recently emailed me to say that he has been taking DHA and folic acid to improve his brain function, and with very good results. That motivated me to investigate the two dietary supplements, and this is what I found.

DHA and the Brain

DHA is docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid which is found in abundance in fish and other seafood. The evidence for it's usefulness as a supplement outside of normal consumption of fish is still somewhat weak, but keep in mind that it is a relatively safe substance and that anything which is proved useful by science was useful before the proof came.

What is clear from the research is that a deficiency of DHA is associated with cognitive decline. There also is evidence of increased neural cell death when DHA is lacking. Studies show that the cerebral cortex of severely depressed patients are often depleted of DHA. It seems likely then, that if a person is deficient, supplementation could have noticeable good effects.

Folic Acid and the Brain

Folic acid is also known as vitamin B9, folicin and--in it's natural state--folate. This substance has more evidence for its beneficial effects on the brain. In one study, more than 800 subjects over 50-years-old took 800 micrograms daily. Compared to those ho took a placebo they were found to have improved their short-term memory, mental agility, and verbal fluency (reported in The Lancet January 20, 2007).

If you don't like taking nutritional supplements you can get your folate from a variety of foods. Here's a short list of some that are highest in folate:

fresh beans
peas
lentils
spinach
asparagus
turnip greens
baker's yeast
sunflower seeds
liver

Given their relative safety, taking DHA and folic acid for your brain seems like reasonable self-experimentation. But check with your doctor before starting.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DHA
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folic_acid


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