Nutraceuticals and Functional Food Supplements for Brain Health

Research has indicated ingredients such as Bacopa monniera extract, Huperzine A, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), green tea catechins, curcumin, vinpocetin, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and phosphatidylserine (PS) may play a role in supporting cognitive health and function.

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Nutraceuticals and Functional Food Supplements for Brain Health

Studies have demonstrated that proper nutrition in conjunction with physical, mental and social activities may have a greater benefit in maintaining or improving brain health and function. Balanced diet, appropriate nutrition, cognitive activity, social engagement and regular physical exercise can significantly attenuate brain health and function with advancing age, and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Furthermore, novel nutraceuticals exhibit significant protection against neurodegenerative diseases associated with exacerbated oxidative stress in the central nervous system.

Research studies on a number of phytopharmacuticals and medicinal plants have demonstrated the efficacy of Huperzine A, berry anthocyanins, trans-resveratrol, Ginkgo biloba, Bacopa monniera, Centenella asiatica, ginseng, vitamin B12, alpha lipoic acid, vinpocetine, tocotrienols and palm oil, selenium, black pepper, acetyl choline, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in boosting brain health and physical well-being. Consumption of marine fishes and general seafood has been recommended for long-term nutritional intervention to preserve mental health, hinder neurodegenerative processes and sustain cognitive capacities in humans. Omega-3 (n-3) and omega-6 (n-6) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), phosphatidylserine (PS) and marine antioxidants may help prevent the initiation and progression of many neurological disorders. Marine antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin (present in salmon, shrimp and lobster) have shown promising results against free radical-promoted neurodegenerative processes and cognition loss.

Advancing age can exhibit health-related challenges that take a toll emotionally, financially and physically. Furthermore, regular stress is a challenging problem. The age-related neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s disease affects many elderly people and there is no cure yet. At the International Conference of Alzheimer’s Association in 2014, a 2-year clinical trial on older adults at the risk of cognitive impairment demonstrated that a combination of physical activity, proper nutrition, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart-health risk factors slowed cognitive decline.1 In particular, novel nutraceuticals including resveratrol, curcumin and green tea catechins have the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease because of their anti-amyloidogenic, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.2 These novel nutraceuticals activate adaptive cellular stress responses, called “neurohormesis," and suppress disease processes. Furthermore, amyloid-induced pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease can also be partially protected or retarded by these novel dietary phytochemicals. Medicinal herbs and structurally diverse botanicals have been widely used in Asia for more than 2,000 years. Botanical extracts with anti-amyloidogenic activity, including green tea catechins, turmeric, Salvia miltiorrhiza, berry anthocyanins, and Panax ginseng have demonstrated significant efficacy in Alzheimer’s diseases.1,3,4  Furthermore, Indian spices including cinnamon, ginger, rosemary, sage, salvia herbs, black pepper, as well as Chinese celery, singly and in combination, exhibited highly promising neuroprotective efficacy against Alzheimer’s disease.

Vinpocetine is a vinca alkaloid that exhibits cerebral blood-flow enhancing and neuroprotective effects. Vinpocetine, a potent anti-inflammatory agent, has been demonstrated to treat cerebrovascular disorders including atherosclerosis and ischemic stroke. It improves neuronal plasticity and reduces the release of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines from endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle cells, macrophages and microglia by inhibiting the inhibitor of the NF-kB pathway.5

Huperzine A, a natural multifaceted pharmacological agent isolated from the Chinese folk medicine Huperzia serrata (Qian Ceng Ta), has demonstrated an ideal therapy for incurable degenerative brain diseases, as well as protecting the brain from free radical damage and maintaining or enhancing key neurotransmitter action and assisting the brain in functioning optimally. It is important to know that Huperzine A is a potent inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), and thus helps to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Huperzine A has also been demonstrated to protect the neurons against amyloid beta-induced free radical injury and mitochondrial dysfunction, as well as via the up-regulation of nerve growth factor and antagonizing N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors.6 Huperzine A also exerts as a potential disease-modifying agent for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders by significantly slowing down the course of neuronal death.

Bacopa monniera has been demonstrated as an Ayurvedic nerve tonic, indicating a potential role in helping prevent dementia and serving as a novel memory enhancer. Research studies demonstrated Bacopa monniera acts as a novel brain antioxidant, and favorably influences diverse neurotransmitters including serotonin, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), dopamine, acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid to execute the pharmacological effect to promote brain rejuvenation.7 Especially, 5-HT has demonstrated to fine-tune the neural plasticity, which is a substrate responsible for the key molecular restructuring associated with accelerated memory formation and functioning.

Curcumin, a novel polyphenolic antioxidant derived from the plant Curcuma longa, is widely used in India and Southeast Asia. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and neurodegenerative malignancies have demonstrated chronic inflammatory responses mediating through increased accumulation of cellular free radicals, and oxidative damage to lipids, DNA and proteins. Curcumin has demonstrated significant efficacy against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diverse neurological malignancies. Curcumin protects against these structurally diverse neurodegenerative diseases via regulation of transcription factors, cytokines and NF-kB activity.8

Parkinson's disease is another chronic and progressive movement disorder, affecting approximately 1 million people in the United States, with virtually no cure. Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells called neurons. Parkinson's primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. These dying neurons produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls movement and coordination. Ultimately, affected persons are unable to control movement normally. A number of nutraceutical antioxidants including epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG) from green tea, apple quercetin, curcumin, resveratrol, rosemary-derived phenolic diterpenes such as rosmarinic acid or carnosic acid, broccoli-derived organosulfur compounds including isothiocyanate and L-sulforaphane, and garlic-derived allicin have demonstrated neuroprotective activity in Parkinson’s disease.9 In Parkinson’s disease, these antioxidants provide protection by scavenging noxious free radicals via activation of Nrf2 transcription factor pathway and modulation of signal transduction cascade and gene expression.

A large body of evidence has indicated GABA has significant protective role in diverse neurological and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, neuropathic pain, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.10

Marine fishes and seafood including shrimp, crabs, lobster and salmon are excellent sources of the antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin. Also, astaxanthin-rich algal biomass, fish oil including omega-3 fatty acids (PUFAs) and krill oil have demonstrated a potential role in preserving memory, sustaining cognitive functions and preventing neuro-inflammatory, neuro-motor and neurodegenerative disorders in humans and animals.11

Researchers have demonstrated the beneficial effect of asiaticoside derived from Centenella asiatica in migraine and other neurological problems through 5-HT1A/1B medicated action.12

Overall, a number of nutraceutical and functional food supplements protect brain health and function against cognitive decline and boost its performance. Furthermore, selected nutraceutical and functional food supplements nourish the sub-cellular fractions of brain and enhance the activity of different neuronal receptors. Based on our extensive in-house research studies and peer-reviewed publications, we recommend selected optimal combination of ingredients which can attenuate and optimize the brain performance and function in a synergistic manner.

Looking for cognitive health ingredients? Visit SupplySide Storefronts to explore leading suppliers in this category. A free Digital Summit, Cognitive Health Chronicles, is also available for viewing on-demand.

Debasis Bagchi, Ph.D., MACN, CNS, MAIChE, is the chief science officer for Cepham Inc. He is also a professor in the department of pharmacological and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, and an adjunct faculty member at Houston’s Texas Southern University. Bagchi is the past chairman of the International Society of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (ISNFF), immediate past president of American College of Nutrition, and the past chair of the nutraceuticals and functional foods division of Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). He is a member of the study section and peer review committee of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has 303 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 25 books and numerous patents.

Since 2005, Anand Swaroop, Ph.D., has been the sitting president at Cepham Inc. Previously, he was executive director at Yag Mag Inc., an Indian pharmaceutical and nutraceutical manufacturer. Swaroop has nearly 20 years of experience in the natural products, food, organic chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredient industries. He possesses in-depth understanding of research protocols, supply chain management, business development, marketing research, strategic planning, product development, biotechnologies, life sciences and quality assurance (QA). Swaroop received his master’s degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Allahabad in India. In 2015, he became a fellow of the American College of Nutrition (FACN).


1 Kim J, Lee HJ, Lee KW. “Naturally occurring phytochemicals for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease." J Neurochemistry. 2010;112:1415-1430.

2 Hugel HM. “Brain food for Alzheimer-free ageing: focus on herbal medicines." Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;863:95-116.

3 Shin PH et al. “Antioxidant and cognitive promotion effects of anthocyanin-rich mulberry (Morus atropurpurea L.) on senescence-accelerated mice and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease." J Nutr Biochem. 2010;21:598-605.

4 Subedee L et al. “Preventive role of Indian black pepper in animal models of Alzheimer’s diseases." J Clin Diagn Res. 2015;9(4):FF01-4.

5 Zhang L, Yang L. “Anti-inflammatory effects of vinpocetine in atherosclerosis and ischemic stroke: a review of the literature." Molecules 2014;20:335-347.

6 Qian ZM, Ke Y. “Huperzine A: Is it an effective disease-modifying drug for Alzheimer’s disease?" Front Aging Neurosci. 2014;6:216.

7 Rajan KE, Preethi J, Singh HK. “Molecular and Functional Characterization of Bacopa monniera: A Retrospective Review." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;945217. doi: 10.1155/2015/945217.

8 Lee WH et al. “Curcumin and its derivatives: their application in neuropharmacology and neuroscience in the 21st century." Curr Neuropharmacol. 2013;11:338-378.

9 Kelsey NA, Wilkins HM, Linseman DA. “Nutraceutical antioxidants as novel neuroprotective agents." Molecules. 2010;15:7792-7814.

10 Shetty AK, Bates A. “Potential of GABA-ergic cell therapy for schizophrenia, neuropathic pain and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases." Brain Res. 2015;(15)00717-9. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2015.09.019.

11 Polotow TG et al. “Redox Status and Neuro Inflammation Indexes in Cerebellum and Motor Cortex of Wistar Rats Supplemented with Natural Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Astaxanthin: Fish Oil, Krill Oil, and Algal Biomass." Mar Drugs. 2015;13:6117-6137.

12 Bobade V et al. “Prophylactic effects of asiaticoside-based standardized extract of Centella asiatica (L.) Urban leaves on experimental migraine: Involvement of 5HT1A/1B receptors." Chin J Nat Med. 2015;13(4):274-82.

About the Author(s)

Anand Swaroop

Anand Swaroop, Ph.D., is a biochemist and president of the evidence-based nutritional ingredient supplier Cepham. In 2020, Swaroop co-founded Nutrify Today, a one-stop business development platform for the natural products industry that helps facilitate and launch innovative, evidence-based nutraceutical business ideas worldwide. He earned a Master of Science degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Allahabad in India.

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