In the decline of cognitive functions, increased oxidative stress, inflammatory processes and damage to the brain’s vasculature play an important role. In older age, the efficiency of neutralizing free radicals that mediate oxidative stress deteriorates, and (mental) stress, lack of sleep, or intensive study also strain our antioxidant system in both the elderly and the young. Scientifically formulated dietary antioxidants can slow down the aging of the brain, and in some cases stimulate brain functions.
The flavonoid and terpene active ingredients of Ginkgo biloba stimulated cerebral blood circulation, improving the brain’s oxygen and nutrient supply. Based on MRI scans of 50-70-year-old men, the situation has improved for the whole brain, most significantly in the parietal and occipital white matter. Ginkgo extract also directly protected neurons in a brain ischemia (brain hemorrhage) model induced in mice. From the results, it was concluded that the recovery from neurological damage of the aging brain may be worth supporting with natural antioxidants.
The brain is also stimulated by the extract of the bark of the coastal pine. According to a summary study, after 3 months of regular consumption, alertness and attention increased, as well as episodic memory, which is part of the long-term memory system, and memory related to spatial orientation. In parallel with these processes, markers indicating oxidative stress decreased by 30%.
More and more data is being collected about the positive effects of cocoa. Summarizing the data of 366 young people under the age of 25, periodic cocoa consumption improved cerebral blood circulation and oxygen supply, and regular cocoa consumption improved cognitive performance, i.e. the processing, understanding and application of new information. The effects are largely due to the flavonoid antioxidants found in cocoa, e.g. catechin and epicatechin are responsible.
Vitamins and minerals also contribute to proper memory. One of the most important vitamins for the brain is vitamin B6, its deficiency can lead to memory disorders and dementia-like conditions. Among the minerals, it was observed in the case of selenium that it was able to counteract short-term and long-term memory disorders caused by long-term sleep deprivation in animal experiments, reducing oxidative stress markers that accumulate in the brain.
Memory and learning are closely related. Based on research conducted with university students, students performed better after 2 months of coastal pine bark extract. They were able to pay attention more persistently, remember better, and solve tasks more skillfully. Interestingly, their well-being also improved, they were characterized by alertness, satisfaction, and reduced anxiety. They also performed better in the exams: while those who did not take the extract failed 10.7% of the tests, those who took the extract got it wrong only 6.25% of the time.
Daily consumption of cocoa in young adults improved cognitive performance: it was associated with more effective learning and memorization of what was said orally, as well as a longer attention span.
Ginkgo biloba extract was able to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety-related mental problems, both in younger and older patients. When examining the younger age group, the condition of those suffering from generalized anxiety and adjustment disorder accompanied by depressed mood also improved significantly according to the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, compared to the placebo control. The extract of the coastal pine had a mood-stabilizing and anxiety-relieving effect for those doing heavy mental work.
Antioxidants play an important role in keeping memory and brain functions healthy. It has been scientifically proven that people who consume a lot of vegetables and fruits, green tea, and other plant extracts have fewer memory problems. In addition, the probability of senile dementia and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease also decreases.
Among plant-derived antioxidants, flavonoids play a prominent role. The beneficial effect of flavonoids on the human body was discovered by our Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi by extracting them from red pepper and lemon juice. Their first use was to protect the integrity of blood vessels – which could also improve cognitive functions through the health of cerebral blood vessels.
In the nearly 100 years that have passed since then, we have already learned about the effects of flavonoids in detail. They help our brain in all four main processes of memory: they support the efficiency of memorization, the storage, recognition, and playback of memories.
The effect is achieved through both cellular and molecular interactions. They support the cells of the vessel wall (endothelial cells), proper cerebral blood circulation, and blood supply. In the hippocampus (the place where memory is stored in the brain), the creation of new neurons and the “maintenance” of existing neurons, as well as the adequacy of synaptic connections between cells, is supported through neurotrophic factors. The general anti-inflammatory effect of flavonoids is also involved in the protection of cognitive functions.
Our brain and nerve cells are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of oxidative free radicals. Our brain has a fast metabolism, it uses a lot of energy, for which it burns nutrients with the help of oxygen. During the process, many harmful free radicals are produced as a by-product of energy, which the cells neutralize with antioxidants. (Free radicals are unstable compounds that react with the molecules that make up cells, spoiling and damaging normal cell functions). Therefore, in an oxidative stress situation, which can be mental stress, intensive study, air pollution, or other influences, our brain, which already has to deal with a higher level of free radicals, has an even more difficult task.
In light of this, it is not surprising that our brain is one of our most rapidly aging organs, and one of the first signs of old age is therefore memory impairment and gradually developing dementia.
Most vegetables and fruits are full of antioxidants. Some are common, others are present in one plant at a time. Based on centuries-old, often millennia-old folk experiences and confirmed by scientific results, the special flavonoids and proanthocyanidins found in the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree, cocoa, or the bark of the pine tree support memory and sharp thinking, which can achieve a wide-ranging effect when combined with additional antioxidants.