A variety of nutritional supplements, sold as "brain boosters," claim to enhance your memory and help you maintain focus. Can vitamins and other nutrients really keep your mind sharp as you age?

While there's no "cure" for aging, it is now conventional wisdom that diet and exercise play keys roles in determining not only how long you live, but how well you live as you get older. Whether or not nutritional supplements in the diet also contribute to longevity and quality of life is still in question. But researchers are moving closer to an answer.

A Canadian study published in the professional journal Experimental Biology and Medicine found that lab mice who were fed a mixture that included B vitamins, vitamin D, ginseng, ginger extract, green tea extract, coenzyme Q10, garlic, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients lived a bit longer than mice who ate the same diet but did not get the supplement. More significantly, however, their brain functions, such as memory and learning, were greatly improved. The supplemented mice were also notably stronger than the mice that did not get the supplement.

Both human and nonhuman animals become less active as they get older and studies have shown that this slowing down is associated with a shortened lifespan as well as declining mental function and overall quality of life. At the same time, increased activity is associated with improvements in all of these areas. Mice and men have this much in common, but what works for one doesn't always work for the other.

The nutrients and other protective substances in the supplement mix used in the Canadian study include many that have been studied individually and appear to have the potential to delay common signs of aging in humans. But that is all the researchers can say about the application of the study results to those of us who aren't mice. More research is necessary before anyone can say that the magical mix that worked so well for these mice can do the same for humans.

Here's the bottom line: If you are a laboratory animal taking a supplement mix in future anti-aging studies, you may be in luck. If you are a human being hoping to stay physically and mentally fit and improve your quality of life into your later years by taking those same supplements, well, the jury is still out. Researchers have clearly come up with a mini mouse-size dose of nutrients that helps keep these animals mentally fit and physically strong, but it will take some time to figure out an appropriate mix and dose that can do the same for us. Until they do, speak with your health care provider if you are considering taking supplements to boost your brainpower.



Canadian Broadcasting Company: Aging Slowed in Mice with Supplement Mix

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Inram, DK. "Age-Related Decline in Physical Acitvity: Generalization to Non-Humans." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Sep 2000;32(9):1623-9. Web 1 Feb 2012

Le Gall, JY and Ardaillou, R; "The Biology of Aging." Bulletin of the National Academy of Medicine (France). Feb 2009;193(2):365-402. Web 1 Feb 2012