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The Health Blog: Brain & Memory

Brain and Memory Supplements

Here we'll try delve a bit deeper into the effects of different superfoods, supplements, and amino acids. We also cover common health issues and the natural- and prescription free supplements you may consider as a complement. We strive to cover both the benefits and side-effects of nutritional supplements.

brain & memory supplements

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba or maidenhair is a tree native to China that has been used in traditional eastern medicine for a variety of conditions for thousands of years. However, modern research has primarily been focused on ginkgo extract made from the leaves. Particularly ginkgo biloba supplements are associated with health claims and uses, most of which focus on brain function and blood circulation.

Benefits

Contains Powerful Antioxidants. Ginkgo’s antioxidant content may be the reason behind many of its health claims as it contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, which are compounds known for their strong antioxidant effects. Antioxidants combat or neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, which are highly reactive particles that are produced in the body during normal metabolic functions, such as converting food to energy or detoxification. The effect of the free radicals is to also damage healthy tissues, which contributes to accelerated aging and disease development.

May Help Fight Inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury or invasion by a foreign substance. In the inflammatory response, various components of the immune system are recruited to fight against the foreign invader or heal the injured area. Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory response even when there is no illness or injury present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA.

Years of animal and test-tube research shows that ginkgo extract can reduce markers of inflammation in both human and animal cells in a variety of disease states. Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract has shown to reduce inflammation include: arthritis, irritable bowel disease (IBD), cancer, heart disease, and stroke. While this data is encouraging, human studies are needed before drawing concrete conclusions about ginkgo’s role in treating these complex diseases.

Improving Circulation and Heart Health. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo seeds were used to open “channels” of energy to different organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, brain and lungs. Ginkgo’s apparent ability to increase blood flow to various parts of the body may be the origin of many of its supposed benefits.

One study in people with heart disease who supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in levels of circulating nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating blood vessels. Similarly, another study showed the same effect in older adults who were treated with ginkgo extract. Additional research also points to ginkgo’s protective effects on heart health, brain health and stroke prevention. There are multiple potential explanations for this, one of which may be the anti-inflammatory compounds present in the plant. However, more research is needed to fully understand how ginkgo affects circulation and heart and brain health.

May Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Dementia. Ginkgo has been repeatedly evaluated for its ability to reduce anxiety, stress and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline associated with aging. Overall, research results are inconsistent in this area. Some studies show a marked reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in people with dementia using ginkgo, but others fail to replicate this result. A review of 21 studies revealed that when used in conjunction with conventional medicine, ginkgo extract may increase functional capabilities in those with mild Alzheimer’s. Another review evaluated four studies and found a significant reduction in a spectrum of symptoms associated with dementia when ginkgo was used for 22–24 weeks.

These positive results could be related to the role that ginkgo may play in improving blood flow to the brain, especially as it relates to vascular types of dementia. Overall, it’s too soon to definitively state or refute ginkgo’s role in treating dementia, but recent research is beginning to make this piece clearer.

May Improve Brain Function and Well-Being. There is some speculation that ginkgo may enhance brain function in healthy individuals. A handful of small studies support the notion that supplementing with ginkgo may increase mental performance and perceived well-being. Results from studies like these have given rise to claims linking ginkgo to improved memory, focus and attention span. However, a large review of research on this relationship concluded that supplementing with ginkgo did not result in any measurable improvements in memory, executive function or attention capacity.

May Reduce Anxiety. Some research indicates that supplementing with ginkgo may reduce symptoms of anxiety. A handful of animal studies have observed reductions in anxiety symptoms that may be attributed to the antioxidant content of ginkgo.
In one study, 170 people with generalized anxiety were treated with either 240 mg or 480 mg of ginkgo or a placebo. The group treated with the highest dose of ginkgo reported a 45% greater reduction in symptoms of anxiety, compared to the placebo group. However, it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions from the available research.

May Treat Depression. A review of animal studies suggests that supplementing with ginkgo may help treat symptoms of depression. Mice who received ginkgo before an unavoidable stressful situation were less emotionally affected by the stress than the group that did not receive the supplement.

The study indicated that this effect was related to ginkgo’s anti-inflammatory properties, which improve the body’s ability to cope when stress hormone levels are high. Nonetheless, depression is a complex condition that may have a variety of root causes.
Can Support Vision and Eye Health. Very little research has investigated how ginkgo relates to vision and eye health. However, early results are promising. One review showed that people with glaucoma who supplemented with ginkgo experienced increased blood flow to the eye, but this didn’t necessarily translate to better vision. 
Another review of two studies evaluated the effect of ginkgo extract on the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Some participants reported an improvement in vision, but this wasn’t statistically significant across the board. Many of these positive results seem to be related to increased blood flow to the eye.

May Treat Headaches and Migraines. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo is a very popular treatment for headaches and migraines. Very little research is available on ginkgo’s ability to treat headaches. However, depending on the root cause of the headache, it may help. For example, it’s well known that ginkgo has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. If a headache or migraine is caused by excessive stress, ginkgo may be useful.

Additionally, if a headache is related to reduced blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginkgo’s ability to dilate blood vessels may improve symptoms. On the contrary, some migraines are caused by the excessive dilation of blood vessels. In this situation, ginkgo may have little to no effect.

May Improve Asthma. Some research indicates that ginkgo may improve symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory respiratory diseases like COPD. This is attributed to the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginkgo, which may allow for reduced inflammation of the airways and increased lung capacity. One study in 75 people evaluated the use of ginkgo extract alongside glucocorticosteroid medication therapy for managing asthma symptoms. The levels of inflammatory compounds in the saliva of those who received ginkgo were significantly lower than those who received traditional medication alone. Another study in 100 people evaluated the use of a mixture of Chinese herbs, which included ginkgo, for treating COPD symptoms.

Those who used the herbal formula reported a considerable reduction in cough and bronchitis at a three-month follow-up, compared to the control group. At this point, it cannot be determined if this improvement can be attributed to ginkgo alone, or if it was a synergistic effect of the other herbs used in the treatment group formula.

May Reduce PMS Symptoms. Preliminary research indicates that ginkgo may help treat both the physical and psychological symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). One study in 85 college students revealed a 23% reduction in reported PMS symptoms when consuming ginkgo. Interestingly, the placebo group in this study also experienced a slight reduction in PMS symptoms, though it was much lower at 8.8%.

May Treat Sexual Dysfunction. Some sources indicate that ginkgo may treat sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or low libido. Ginkgo has the ability to improve blood levels of nitric oxide, which improves circulation via the dilation of blood vessels. As a result, ginkgo may also be useful for treating various symptoms of sexual dysfunction by improving blood flow to those areas of the body.

Some research has investigated using ginkgo to treat sexual dysfunction caused by the use of antidepressant drugs (SSRIs). Results indicated that ginkgo wasn’t any more effective than a placebo in these cases. Additionally, there may be an interaction between ginkgo and SSRI medications, which could render them less effective. One study evaluated the use of ginkgo to increase sexual desire and contentment in women who were concurrently undergoing sexual psychotherapy. The combination of ginkgo and therapy were effective over a longer term compared to a placebo, but supplementing with ginkgo alone was not.

Side-effects

It’s important to talk to your doctor before including ginkgo in your routine. For most adults, the risk associated with taking ginkgo is relatively low, but there are cases in which ginkgo could cause serious harm. If you are allergic to plants that contain alkylphenols or taking certain medications, you should not take ginkgo.

Possible side effects include nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain, rash/allergic reaction. Ginkgo has the potential to interact unfavorably with certain medications. Some interactions could increase the risk of bleeding. Possible adverse medication interactions include blood thinners, SSRIs/MAOIs/antidepressants, and NSAIDS/pain medication.

brain & memory supplements

Creatine

Creatine has become the most popular of all performance-enhancing substances among athletes. It’s a substance found naturally in all animals, where it facilitates recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the “energy currency” of cells and can mainly be found in muscle and brain tissue.

The body can produce some of the creatine it uses, but it also comes from protein-rich foods, such as meat or fish. Creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.

Benefits

  • Increased growth of lean muscle mass by assisting in protein synthesis. In addition, weight gain due to water retention. Some research found that one week of taking creatine supplements increased body mass by about 0.9–2.2 kilograms (2.0–4.6 pounds).
  • Improved strength and power output. Creatine storage capacity in our muscles is limited, but it increases as muscle mass increases. Supplementation has the ability to regenerate ATP stores faster during intense physical activity, helping sustain effort and prevent fatigue.
  • May help improve muscle recovery and recovery from exercise, such as maximizing results from strength training.
  • Seems to help maximize performance during high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Studies find that it improved work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions, single-effort sprint performance and during repetitive sprint performance.
  • Neuroprotective properties (may help protect the brain).
  • Cognitive enhancement, such as improved alertness, concentration and attention.
  • May help reduce severity of depression symptoms, according to animal studies and small pilot studies in humans.
  • Cardioprotective properties, as it may help protect the heart and blood vessels. It has also been shown to support increased endurance and anaerobic cardiovascular capacity.
  • May potentially reduce fatigue.
  • Potentially helps improve bone density when combined with resistance training.

Side-effects

While Creatine is generally perceived to be a safe supplement, some caution is warranted. Creatine isn’t recommended for people with kidney or liver disease, or diabetes. Others who should avoid taking it are children under age 18 and women who are pregnant or nursing. In addition, if you do take creatine, you need to drink enough water to prevent dehydration.

brain & memory supplements

L-Tyrosine

L-Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and dopamine, and the thyroid hormone. Moreover, L-Tyrosine supports healthy glandular function and stress response.

L-Tyrosine is commonly used to improve learning, memory, and alertness during stressful situations. The body uses tyrosine to make chemical messengers that are involved in conditions involving the brain such as mental alertness. Overall, L-tyrosine benefits may include fighting fatigue, depression, poor cognitive function and potentially weight gain.

Benefits

Possibly Affects Mental Performance and Focus. Research shows that taking tyrosine improves mental performance under stressful conditions These include cold-induced stress or noise-induced stress.

May Improve Memory. Research shows that taking tyrosine improves memory during stressful conditions. These include cold-induced stress or multi-tasking. One study found that tyrosine significantly enhanced accuracy and decreased frequency of list retrieval on the working memory task during the multiple task battery.

Improve Alertness Following Loss of Sleep. Taking tyrosine helps people who have lost a night’s sleep stay alert for about 3 hours longer than they otherwise would. Also, early research shows that tyrosine improves memory and reasoning in people who are sleep-deprived.There’s some evidence that having higher levels of tyrosine can help improve your mood and increase alertness, the ability to cope with stress and general cognitive functioning. On study finds it useful during times of physical stressors, including those of interest to the military, such as when soldiers are exposed to cold stress, high-altitude stress or extended wakefulness.

May Help for Depression. Tyrosine influences levels of dopamine, which regulates your reward and pleasure centers, and adrenaline, which is responsible for your “fight-or-flight response” when you’re under stress. Stressful situations increase the release of catecholamines, which can result in the depletion of their levels. L-Tyrosine can help bring levels back up. Consuming more of this amino acid may be helpful for people under a lot of stress or who suffer from depression because when levels of dopamine and norepinephrine drop, symptoms like irritability, fatigue and moodiness tend to increase.

May Support Weight Loss. According to University of Michigan Medicine, “There are no studies specifically showing that L-tyrosine helps to promote weight loss.” However, when used in combination with other natural fat-burning substances, such as cayenne, green tea and caffeine, there’s some evidence that it may help with fat loss in overweight adults, although only slightly. A 2007 study found a very modest reduction in weight of about 0.9 kg when tyrosine was taken by overweight adults along with capsaicin, catechins and caffeine.

May Help for Withdrawal Symptoms. Studies have found that “dopamine ups and downs” can leave people more vulnerable to addictions. Deficient levels contribute to difficulty initiating or completing tasks, depression, poor concentration, low energy, and lack of motivation. Addictive behaviors such as alcohol, drug use, cigarettes, gambling, and overeating may also occur. Ongoing research suggests that tyrosine may be useful for managing symptoms of heroin withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal, along with decreasing alcohol consumption when used along with the drug naltrexone. Taking a combination of tyrosine, 5-hydroxytryptophan (HTP), phosphatidylcholine and L-glutamine seems to have the most effects on improving moods and the ability to sleep in adults addicted to heroin and alcohol, likely because it helps balance levels of catecholamines.

Side-effects

Tyrosine is probably safe when by adults as a medicine, short-term, or when applied to the skin. Tyrosine seems to be safe when taken by mouth (in doses up to 150 mg/kg per day for up to 3 months). Some people experience side effects such as nausea, headache, fatigue, and heartburn. There isn’t enough information available to know if tyrosine is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Taking extra tyrosine might increase thyroxine levels too much, making hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease worse.

brain & memory supplements

ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine)

L-Carnitine is a non-essential amino acid. The body convert L-carnitine to Acetyl-L-Carnitine, but also vice versa. Acetyl-L-carnitine assists the body in a number of functions, from producing energy, muscle movement, and many other body processes, such the heart and brain function. Acetyl-L-carnitine is thought to benefit brain health and memory and has been processed so that it’s able to easily pass the blood-brain barrier.

People take acetyl-L-carnitine by mouth for a wide variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, age-related memory loss, depression, thinking problems related to alcoholism, thinking problems related to Lyme disease, and thinking problems related to very poor liver function (hepatic encephalopathy). It is also used for withdrawal from alcohol, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, poor circulation in the brain after a stroke, cataracts, nerve pain due to diabetes, nerve pain due to drugs used in the treatment of AIDS or cancer, nerve pain caused by sciatica, fibromyalgia, and facial paralysis.

Benefits

Increases Endurance. Because L-carnitine plays a central role in energy production, many use it for bodybuilding and athletic performance as a way to enhance endurance and boost energy levels. In one study out of Turkey published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, giving professional soccer players three to four grams of L-carnitine before exercise was found to prolong the time it took to reach exhaustion. Similarly, an animal study out of India published in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine showed that giving rats L-carnitine improved exercise endurance. For this reason, supplementing with this amino acid may especially benefit endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners, swimmers or cyclists.

Enhances Weight Loss. Many people look to L-carnitine as a way to help shed unwanted pounds and lose weight fast. When combined with diet and exercise, some studies have found that supplementing with it can, in fact, be an effective way to enhance weight loss. One analysis of research out of Iran looked at the results of nine studies and found that supplementing with carnitine led to a significantly greater amount of weight loss as well as a larger drop in body mass index compared to a control group. However, L-carnitine weight loss results may vary, and other studies have turned up mixed results. In a study out of Australia published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, for instance, 36 obese women took either L-carnitine or a placebo and completed eight weeks of aerobic training. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that L-carnitine had no impact on either total body mass or fat mass. While L-carnitine may work for some people, it shouldn’t be considered a quick fix. Pair it with regular exercise and a healthy diet to see maximum results.

Prevents Muscle Damage. Besides increasing endurance and ramping up weight loss, this amino acid also makes a useful supplement for athletes looking to prevent and protect against muscle damage. In one 2014 study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 21 male athletes were given either L-carnitine or a placebo daily for two weeks prior to an athletic test. Compared to the control group, those who took L-carnitine were found to have lower levels of certain markers that indicate muscle damage.

Amplifying Fat-Burning. Besides increasing weight loss, this amino acid also helps kick up fat-burning as well. In one study conducted in Germany, overweight participants received a regular diet, either with or without the addition of L-carnitine. After 10 days, L-carnitine was found to significantly increase the breakdown of fat. Another study published in the Journal of Physiology showed that increasing the amount of carnitine in the muscles helped prevent fat gain by increasing fat burning and energy expenditure during physical activity.

Boosts Brain Function. L-carnitine isn’t just good for your body, but it’s good for your mind as well. In fact, promising research has found that it may positively impact brain function and cognition. One study conducted by the University of Catania in Italy and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of daily L-carnitine supplementation on mental and physical fatigue in elderly participants over 100 years old. Not only was it found to reduce total fat mass and increase muscle mass, but it also helped decrease fatigue and improve cognitive function. Other studies have even found that acetyl-L-carnitine, another form of L-carnitine, could help reverse cognitive decline and improve memory in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Regulates Blood Sugar. Some promising research has shown that carnitine supplementation could aid in maintaining normal blood sugar levels and fighting insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the bloodstream to the cells where it can be used as fuel. Too much insulin can lead to insulin resistance, decreasing its effectiveness and resulting in high blood sugar. A study out of Rome published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that infusing people with diabetes with L-carnitine improved insulin sensitivity and increased the uptake of sugar from the bloodstream. Another small study in 2010 conducted at Sapienza University’s Department of Clinical Medicine in Rome found that combining L-carnitine with caloric restriction helped reduce insulin resistance and increase sensitivity

Male Infertility. Taking acetyl-L-carnitine by mouth, along with L-carnitine, seems to increase sperm motion and may increase the rate of pregnancy in infertile men. Also, taking acetyl-L-carnitine and L carnitine after treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) seems to improve sperm count and sperm movement in men with infertility caused by a swelling of the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and epididymis. In addition, taking a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine, L-carnitine, L-arginine, and Panax ginseng seems to increase sperm movement in men with infertility due to reduced sperm movement. It might also increase sperm movement and sperm count in men with infertility due to prostate swelling caused by Chlamydia infection.

Problem Due to Aging (Memory, Tiredness). Taking acetyl-L-carnitine seems to improve memory and mental function in older people with some memory loss. Taking acetyl-L-carnitine improves feelings of mental and physical tiredness in older people. It also appears to reduce feelings of tiredness after exercise. Taking acetyl-L-carnitine by mouth along with propionyl-L-carnitine seems to help symptoms related to declining male hormone levels. This combination taken for 6 months seems to improve sexual dysfunction, depression, and fatigue in much the same way the male hormone testosterone does.

Alzheimer’s Disease. Acetyl-L-carnitine might slow the rate of disease progression, improve memory, and improve some measures of mental function and behavior in some patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It is more likely to help those with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease who are less than 66 years of age and have a faster rate of disease progression and mental decline.

Alcohol Withdrawal. When given intravenously (by IV) for 10 days then taken by mouth for 80 days, acetyl-L-carnitine helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and increase the amount of time before another alcoholic drink is consumed. However, most of the symptom improvement occurs during the first week. Therefore, it’s not clear if taking acetyl-L-carnitine by mouth offers further benefit following IV treatment.

Side-effects

Acetyl-L-carnitine is likely safe for most adults when taken by mouth. Side effects include stomach upset, nausea, might worsen symptoms in people with bipolar disorder who are currently in remission. It may also worsen symptoms in some people with nerve pain caused by a class of chemotherapy drugs known as taxanes.
There is some concern that acetyl-L-carnitine might interfere with thyroid hormone. An increase in the number or seriousness of seizures has been reported in people with a history of seizures who have used L-carnitine, which is related to acetyl-L-carnitine.

brain & memory supplements

SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine)

SAM-e (SAMe, S-adenosylmethionine) is a compound that’s made naturally within the body and that plays an important role in regulating key functions in living cells. In the body it is made from methionine, an essential amino acid that’s found in foods like egg whites, wild-caught fish, oats, and sesame seeds. SAM-e was discovered in Italy already in 1952, but as a dietary supplement it has been on the US market for only 20 year and is also gaining interest more broadly in Europe and Asia.

SAM-e plays a role the growth of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the energy-producing compound that acts as a source of fuel within our cells. It is also involved in a vital process called methylation, which supports a number of biochemical reactions that take place in the human body, and is involved in gene expression, DNA repair, maintaining cell membrane fluidity, synthesizing proteins and neurotransmitters, and metabolizing fats and minerals. On neurotransmitters, SAM-e increases the turnover of serotonin and may increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. It’s been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects and is often used to relieve pain while improving physical function. Overall, there is evidence that SAM-e helps improve in conditions such as depression, liver disease, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Benefits

Antidepressant Effects. Several placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated the antidepressant properties of SAM-e, but the evidence is yet not conclusive. Research shows that levels of SAM-e tend to be lower in depressed individuals compared to individuals who don’t report signs of depression, so it’s believed that it does have beneficial effects, but most of the trials have only lasted a few weeks and a small number of participants. A meta-study in 2016 found that numerous studies show SAM-e affecting critical components involved in major depressive disorders, and several randomized controlled trials have supported that it is superior to placebo and tricyclic antidepressants. Researchers also indicated that recent findings demonstrate SAM-e’s efficacy in patients that are non-responsive to SSRI and SSNRI (selective serotonin/-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) medications.

Relieving Osteoarthritis. Researchers are still studying if SAM-e is an effective dietary supplement for the treatment of osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Animal studies show that SAM-e stimulates the production of cartilage, which is critical in reversing the disease process. It may also help reduce pain and stiffness because of its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to increase glutathione levels. A 2002 study found that SAM-e appears to be as effective as NSAIDs in reducing pain and improving functional limitation in patients with osteoarthritis. Those taking SAM-e were also less likely to report adverse effects when compared to patients using NSAIDs for osteoarthritis.

Improving Symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is chronic and widespread pain in the muscles and connective tissue. People with this condition often suffer from long-term pain, fatigue, depression, and mood disorders. Some evidence shows that SAM-e has some beneficial effects on fibromyalgia symptoms, including one double-blind study running for six weeks. Patients given 800 mg orally with fibromyalgia reported improvements in clinical disease activity, pain experienced during the last week, fatigue, morning stiffness and mood when compared to patients receiving a placebo.

Supporting Liver Function. Research suggests that SAM-e biosynthesis is depressed in patients with chronic liver disease, which may exacerbate liver injury. SAM-e appears particularly useful in helping improve liver function and can be used as part of a medication regimen for liver health. However, more research is needed regarding the basic treatment of liver disease with SAM-e before concrete recommendations can be made.

May Improve Brain FunctionSAM-e plays a role in methylation, a vital process that supports a number of biochemical reactions in the body, including the brain. Because the ability to methylate declines with age, the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, increases. Evidence indicates that SAM-e levels are lower in patients with Alzheimer’s, which may compromise their metabolism and brain function. In addition, SAM-e is involved in glutathione production, a powerful antioxidant that works from within cells. Studies suggest that decreased glutathione levels may be involved in the pathology of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. One animal model meta-analysis evaluated the effect of SAM-e on cognitive ability as measured by maze performance in mice (measuring rodent’s spatial learning and memory). Researchers indicated that supplementing with SAM-e improved cognitive performance, especially in mice that were deficient in folate.

Works as Natural Pain Reliever. SAM-e supplements have become known for their pain-relieving effects, which is why people often take them for lower back pain relief, joint pain, PMS symptoms, and abdominal pain. Researchers are still collecting evidence on the analgesic properties of SAM-e, but there are some promising studies. A small study in 2013 found that oral SAM-e was able to reduce stomach pain among children, where the median dose was 1,400 milligram daily for a two-month period. Researchers reported an improvement in self-pain reports after the treatment period with SAM-e.

May Improve Asthma Symptoms. A 2016 animal study found that SAM-e had a suppressive effect on airway inflammation and fibrosis in mice with chronic asthma. Researchers concluded that SAM-e may have potential as a novel therapeutic agent for patients with chronic asthma symptoms, but human studies will be needed to test the ability to reduce oxidative stress and positively impact airway inflammation.

Side-effects

SAM-e seems to be a relatively safe drug. High doses of oral SAM-e can cause symptoms like gas, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, anxiety, insomnia, headache, dizziness, anxiety, and skin rashes. SAM-e might not be safe for people with conditions such as bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. Because SAM-e can affect the blood vessels, stop using SAM-e two weeks before getting surgery. More research is needed to know whether or not it’s safe to use SAM-e during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

brain & memory supplements

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Lion’s Mane mushroom (Yamabushitake, Hericium erinaceum) has over centuries been used in China and Japan, both a culinary food and as a traditional medicine. It is a large, white, and hairy mushroom, so it is no wonder it got its name from the likeness to a lion’s mane (1).

More recently there has been a renewed interest in the mushroom as new research has emerged that show a range of health benefits from on the brain and body. Particularly fascinating are the nootropic effects of lion’s mane mushroom for improving cognitive performance. One of the findings is that lion’s mane increases the production of enzymes that promote Nerve Growth Factors (NGF) (2).

Nerve Growth Factor is a neuropeptide and a neurotrophic factor that is involved maintaining and in regulating the growth of neurons. The release of NGF not only stimulates memory formation and recall, but it also has a positive effect on mood and in reducing anxiety (3).

Mental functioning decline as we grow old, which may occur as the brain’s ability to form new connections and grow new neurons decline (4). Studies suggest that lion’s mane mushrooms contains at least two compounds that stimulate the growth of new brain cells: erinacines and hericenones (2).

Additionally, animal studies have found that lion’s mane may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, a degenerative brain disease that causes progressive memory loss. In fact, lion’s mane mushroom extracts have been shown to reduce symptoms of memory loss in mice, as well as prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which accumulate in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease (5), (6), (7).

 







Igelstachelbart (Hericium erinaceus) by Lebrac / Creative Commons

Benefits

May Modulate the Inflammation Behind Alzheimer’s Disease

More recent studies have examined if Lion’s mane mushroom is beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease in humans by modulating the inflammation behind the build-up amyloids (8). One study found that a daily supplementation of merely 3 gram lion’s mane mushroom for 16 weeks improved mental functioning significantly in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Moreover, 4 weeks after the termination of supplementation the scores decreased significantly (9).

Helps Relieve Mild Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Several studies have implicated chronic inflammation as a key contributing factor in depression and anxiety. A small double-blind study in Japan investigated the clinical effects of lion’s mane mushroom on depression, menopause, sleep quality on women during 4 weeks and reported significant improvements in the group that where administered supplements with lion’s mane (3).

Other animal research find that supplementation with the substance amycenone found in lion’s mane mushroom can reduce depression and anxiety due to its anti-inflammatory effect (11), (12).

Animal studies have found that lion’s mane extract can regenerate brain cells and improve the functioning of the hippocampus, which in turn affect memory formation and emotional response. The results indicate that chronic administration of lion’s mane mushroom can exert antidepressant and anxiolytic effects possibly from hippocampal neurogenesis (13), (14).

May Speed Recovery from Nervous System Injuries

The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and other nerves that travel throughout the body. These components work together to send and transmit signals that control almost every bodily function. Injuries to the brain or spinal cord can be devastating. They often cause paralysis or loss of mental functions and can take a long time to heal.

Research find that lion’s mane mushroom extract may speed the recovery from brain or spinal cord injuries – that cause paralysis and loss of cognitive functions – by stimulating the growth and repair of nerve cells (15), (16), (17).

May Protect from Stomach Ulcers

Ulcers are capable of forming anywhere along the digestive tract, including the stomach, the small- and large intestine. Ulcers are commonly caused by two factors: damage to the mucous layer of the stomach from the extended use of pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and by the excessive growth of the bacteria H. pylori due to unhealthy eating habits (18).

Lion’s mane extract may protect against the development of stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori and thus protecting the stomach lining from damage (19), (20).
Decreasing Heart Disease Risk Factors
High triglycerides, cholesterol, and obesity are all central risk factors in heart disease and studies show that lion’s mane extract has a beneficial effect on each of them.

An in vitro study finds that lion’s mane improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels (21). Research also show that lion’s mane extract may prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream (22). The problem with oxidized cholesterol molecules is that they tend to attach to the walls of arteries, which results in hardened walls and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Lion’s mane mushroom also contains hericenone B which has been found to decrease blood clotting and thus lowering the risk of heart attacks and stroke (23).

May Decrease the Risk for Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body loses the ability to control blood sugar levels. This results in the blood sugar levels being consistently and chronically elevated, which eventually results in kidney disease, vision loss, and nerve damage to the hands and feet.

Lion’s mane mushroom can be useful in managing diabetes by improving blood sugar control. Animal studies report that lion’s mane mushroom can reduce blood sugar levels significantly in normal and diabetic mice even at very low doses (6 mg/kg) (24), (25). Lion’s mane reduces the levels by inhibiting the activation of the alpha-glucosidase enzyme, which is breaking down carbohydrates in the small intestine (26). When the alpha-glucosidase enzyme is blocked the intestine cannot digest and absorb carbohydrates as efficiently, which naturally lowers blood sugar levels.

May Decrease the Risk for Certain Cancer Types

Cancer means that the DNA has become damaged, which results in cells beginning to divide and replicate at an accelerated rate. Lion’s mane contains distinct substances that may help fight cancer (27), (28). Test-tube studies have found that human cancer cells mixed with lion’s mane extract results in the cancer cells dying at a faster rate, including liver, stomach, blood, and colon cancer cells (29), (30), (31).

Yet another study of mice with colon cancer reported that lion’s mane extracts reduced the spread of the cancer to the lungs by 69% (32). Studies of mice have also showed that lion’s mane extracts have been more effective than regular cancer medications in slowing tumor growth, while also having fewer side-effects (30).

Hericium erinaceum on an old tree in Shave Wood, New Forest, U.K. by Jim Champion / Creative Commons

Side-effects

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Not enough is known about the use of Hericium erinaceus in medicinal amounts during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid using.

May slow blood clotting. This might increase the chances bleeding in people with bleeding conditions.

May lower blood sugar. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes.

References

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2. Lai P.L., Naidu M., Sabaratnam V., Wong K.H., David R.P., Kuppusamy U.R., Abdullah N., Malek S.N. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2013, Vol. 15(6), pp. 539-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378

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17. Kanno T, Iijima K, Abe Y, Yagi M, Asonuma S, Ohyauchi M, Ito H, Koike T, Shimosegawa T. A multicenter prospective study on the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori-negative and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs-negative idiopathic peptic ulcers in Japan. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. May 30(5), 2015, p. 842-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25532720

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19. Wang M, Konishi T, Gao Y, Xu D, Gao Q. Anti-Gastric Ulcer Activity of Polysaccharide Fraction Isolated from Mycelium Culture of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes). Int J Med Mushrooms. 17(11) 2015, p. 1055-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26853960

20. Choi W-S, Kim Y-S, Park B-S, Kim J-E, Lee S-E. Hypolipidaemic Effect of Hericium erinaceum Grown in Artemisia capillaris on Obese Rats. Mycobiology. Jun 41(2), 2013, p. 94–99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3714447

21. Rahman MA, Abdullah N, Aminudin N. Inhibitory effect on in vitro LDL oxidation and HMG Co-A reductase activity of the liquid-liquid partitioned fractions of Hericium erinaceus (Bull.) Persoon (lion’s mane mushroom). Biomed Res Int. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24959591

22. Mori K, Kikuchi H, Obara Y, Iwashita M, Azumi Y, Kinugasa S, Inatomi S, Oshima Y, Nakahata N. Inhibitory effect of hericenone B from Hericium erinaceus on collagen-induced platelet aggregation. Phytomedicine. Dec 1 17(14), 2010, p. 1082-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20637576

23. He X, Wang X, Fang J, Chang Y, Ning N, Guo H, Huang L, Huang X, Zhao Z. Structures, biological activities, and industrial applications of the polysaccharides from Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) mushroom: A review. Int J Biol Macromol. Apr 97, 2017, p. 228-237. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28087447

24. Liang B, Guo Z, Xie F, Zhao A. Antihyperglycemic and antihyperlipidemic activities of aqueous extract of Hericium erinaceus in experimental diabetic rats. BMC Complement Altern Med. 13 253, 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3852124

25. Wu T, Xu B. Antidiabetic and antioxidant activities of eight medicinal mushroom species from China. Int J Med Mushrooms. 17(2) 2015, pp. 129-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25746618

26. Li Y, Zhang G, Ng TB, Wang H. A Novel Lectin with Antiproliferative and HIV-1 Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitory Activities from Dried Fruiting Bodies of the Monkey Head Mushroom Hericium erinaceum. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896861

27. Lee SR, Jung K, Noh HJ, Park YJ, Lee HL, Lee KR, Kang KS, Kim KH. A new cerebroside from the fruiting bodies of Hericium erinaceus and its applicability to cancer treatment. Bioorg Med Chem Lett. Dec 15 25(24), 2015, p. 5712-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26547693

28. Kim SP, Kang MY, Choi YH, Kim JH, Nam SH, Friedman M. Mechanism of Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake) mushroom-induced apoptosis of U937 human monocytic leukemia cells. Food Funct. Jun 2(6), 2011, p. 348-56. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21779573

29. Li G, Yu K, Li F, Xu K, Li J, He S, Cao S, Tan G. Anticancer potential of Hericium erinaceus extracts against human gastrointestinal cancers. J Ethnopharmacol. Apr 28 153(2), 2014, p. 521-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24631140

30. Li W, Zhou W, Kim EJ, Shim SH, Kang HK, Kim YH. Isolation and identification of aromatic compounds in Lion’s Mane Mushroom and their anticancer activities. Food Chem. Mar 1(170), 2015, p. 336-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25306354

31. Kim SP, Nam SH, Friedman M. Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) mushroom extracts inhibit metastasis of cancer cells to the lung in CT-26 colon cancer-transplanted mice. J Agric Food Chem. May 22;61(20), 2013, p. 4898-904. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23668749

32. Tsai-Teng T, Chin-Chu C, Li-Ya L, Wan-Ping C, Chung-Kuang L, Chien-Chang S, Chi-Ying HF, Chien-Chih C, Shiao YJ. Erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease-related pathologies in APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic mice. J Biomed Science. Jun 27, 2016, p. 23(1):49. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27350344

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