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Top Nutrients for Brain Health

Article at-a-glance:

  • Clinical trials studying the brain-health effects of nutrients show that some have the power to maintain brain health, which is crucial for enjoying your life.
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid that protects the brain from oxidative stress and supports healthy memory and mood.
  • Alpha Lipoic acid is an antioxidant and sulfur compound that supports learning and memory.
  • Huperzine A has shown beneficial effects promoting healthy memory.
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By Dr. John Neustadt

Your remarkable brain only makes up about 2% of your body weight yet it consumes 20% of your oxygen and calories.1 It not only gives rise to memories, thoughts, and emotions, it helps regulate every aspect of your body. Maintaining a healthy, fit brain is critical to the quality of life as we age.And indeed, as a population, we’re aging. Over the next two decades, those 65 and older will soar to 72 million—that’s 1 in 5 Americans. And it’s predicted that the majority of 65-year-olds alive now will live into their 90s.3 Fortunately, research has identified the top nutrients for brain health, which have been shown in clinical trials to promote healthy memory and mood, so people can enjoy life well into their golden years. 


L-carnitine exists as two forms in the body. One is straight L-carnitine. The other is acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR). L-carnitine does not cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and enter the central nervous system. Instead, it remains in the periphery and feeds cells in the muscles, liver, and other tissues. The body can convert L-carnitine into ALCAR, which, in contrast to L-carnitine, can cross the BBB and enter your central nervous system (CNS) and nourish the brain. 

Both L-carnitine and ALCAR play a key role in energy metabolism by shuttling fatty acids into its energy-producing pathway. This is especially important in the brain since the brain requires a lot of energy. It’s also thought to be neuroprotective. 

In animal studies, ALCAR protected the brain’s mitochondria (our cell’s energy powerhouses) and reversed mitochondrial decay. In one study, feeding aged animals ALCAR not only restored mitochondrial function and lowered oxidative stress in the brain, but it also led to better cognition and more physical activity.4 And when ALCAR was added to the drinking water of aged mice for eight weeks, high levels of oxidative molecules were restored to the lower levels found in young mice. Older mice also began to behave a bit more like young mice, exploring the margins of their cage more often rather than staying in the center.5 In other mice studies, combining a sulfur compound called alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and ALCAR reduced the number of damaged mitochondria in the neurons and improved brain function.6

In humans, studies have also found that ALCAR is helpful for maintaining brain health. Studies on ALCAR found that it enhanced cognitive performance in adults.7 The amount of ALCAR used in clinical trials typically ranged from 1000 to 3000 mg per day. 

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha-Lipoic acid (ALA) is a sulfur compound that has powerful antioxidant activity. It’s required to burn sugars for energy and has been studied for its ability to support healthy nerves, blood sugar regulation, weight management and memory. Research has shown that ALA may protect brain cells from damage. It is also thought to promote learning and healthy memory. ALA plays a critical role in mitochondrial energy metabolism and helps increase other antioxidants such as ascorbate (vitamin C) and glutathione.8

In one clinical trial, 43 people took alpha-lipoic acid for up to 48 months. The volunteers taking ALA demonstrated better brain health. Yet another study gave ALA daily to 120 volunteers. ALA is known to have positive effects on glucose metabolism and insulin balance, which is important for healthy memory. After sixteen months, cognitive improvement was seen in up to 43% of volunteers.9 The amount of ALA used in clinical trials typically ranged from 300-600 mg per day.

Huperzine A

Huperzine A (HupA) is a compound derived from the Chinese herb Huperzia serrata. It is one of a group of molecules that inhibits an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE). This enzyme, which is found in muscles and nerves, is important for learning and memory.10

Huperzine A is also generally neuroprotective and appears to protect neurons from oxidative stress, regulate the secretion of nerve growth factors, boost cognition, promote healthy memory and protect cells from damage. Its protective effects are associated with its antioxidant ability and ability to increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.11 It appears to protect mitochondria in the brain as well.12

Huperzine A has been shown in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to support healthy cognitive function and quality of life. The dose of Huperzine A used in clinical trials was 400 micrograms per day. It’s been proposed that Huperzine A’s brain-boosting benefits are the result of protecting nerves in the brain from damage and increasing the levels of brain acetylcholine.13

In clinical trials, Huperzine A has proved effective. In fact, according to a review and meta-analysis of six studies and a total of 454 volunteers, Huperzine A has beneficial effects on cognitive function with no obvious serious side effects.14 The amount of HupA used in clinical trials is 400 micrograms per day. 

What You Can Do

If you’d like to get all these nutrients in one convenient product, take MitoForte. It provides high doses of these nutrients to promote healthy memory, mood, and energy. This formula is based on my research into the biochemistry of mitochondria and their role in maintaining health. Elsevier, the world’s largest health publishing company, recognized me as one of the Top 10 Cited Authors in the world for my work on this topic. 

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1Raichle ME, Gusnard DA. 2002;99(16):10237-10239.

2Wang Y, Pan Y, Li H. 2020 Oct 9;371:m3683.

3Jenkins, JA. May 2021.

4Ames BN, Liu J. 2004 Nov;1033:108-16.

5Sharman EH, Vaziri ND, Ni Z et al. 2002 Dec 13;957(2):223-30.

6Aliev G, Liu J, Shenk JC et al. 2009, 13, 320–333.

7Ferreira GC, McKenna MC. 2017 Jun;42(6):1661-1675. 

8Shay KP, Moreau RF, Smith EJ et al. 2009 Oct;1790(10):1149-60.

9Fava A, Pirritano D, Plastino M, et al. 2013;2013:454253.

10Maurer SV, Williams CL. 2017;8(1489).

11Zhang HY, Tang. 2006;27(12):619-25.

12Gao X, Tang XC . 2006; 83: 1048–57.

13Zhu XD, Giacobini E. 1995;41:828–35.

14Li J, Wu HM, Zhou RL, et. al. 2008;16;(2):CD005592.

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