After a quick search for ‘brain power’ or ‘brain health’ on Google or social media, you’ll likely come across many posts with so-called ‘brain superfoods’. Common food such as avocados, various nuts, chia seeds, and maybe even sardines will litter your search results
While these are all great and should be a part of a balanced diet, I am always personally more interested in digging deeper to find less known foods and supplements that still yield powerful benefits for brain health that are also backed by science.
I stumbled upon a recent study by Davery and Agrawal that fit this description perfectly. It explained how beneficial curcumin (from turmeric root—Curcuma longa) and resveratrol (from grapes, wine, and nuts) are for brain health, function and longevity. It turns out that they are quite the molecular superheroes when it comes to fighting one of the brain’s biggest villains, reactive oxygen species.
Now, before I go into what they found, it would be useful (and necessary) to learn about reactive oxygen species (ROS), where they come from, and why they are harmful. In short, reactive oxygen species are unstable molecules that contain an oxygen.
Inside of our bodies, ROS are always being made through metabolism and breathing, but luckily our natural antioxidants mainly take care of them . However, if we have too much inflammation in the body such as that caused by eating an unhealthy diet, we may have an excess of ROS which can allow them to enter our cells.
Once past the cell’s natural defenses, they wreak havoc on the inside. The ROS then cause “oxidative stress” which can damage our DNA, fats, proteins, and can contribute to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple forms of cancer. While ROS do serve a few purposes inside the body, it is important that they are kept in check through diet and, as this study points out, supplements.
Curcumin and resveratrol are two old dogs when it comes to the supplement world. People and cultures have been consuming them for ages, although they mainly have just been a part of their diet. Recently, however, I have started to see them pop up more and more on the shelves of nutrition shops and health stores.
Despite this, most users don’t typically think of brain health when consuming the capsules. Though the anti-aging and anti-inflammation properties of the two are backed by science, new research shows that curcumin and resveratrol should also be considered brain supplements as well. Here’s why.
The researchers I mentioned above wanted to determine specifically how curcumin and resveratrol protected brain cells from ROS, the nasty enemy of health and the brain. What they did was fairly straightforward: expose brain cells to ROS and see if they could be rescued by the two supplements.
More specifically, the cells used by the researchers were called astrocytes, the most abundant cells in the central nervous system. They play an important role in how well the body and mind function while simultaneously holding some control of inflammation in the brain. While all cells are important, they chose arguably the MOST important to do their experiments on.
When placed under oxidative stress from excess ROS, astrocytes can die which is detrimental to brain health, but alternatively, removing oxidative stress can make them live longer and improve longevity. This is because astrocytes don’t have the same antioxidants that are seen in many other cells.
Now, on to their results! They found that both resveratrol and curcumin made the astrocytes live significantly longer than the control without them. Interestingly, curcumin was more effective short-term (4 hours after administration) and resveratrol was more effective after a longer time-period (24 hours after administration).
In addition to this, curcumin was able to reduce inflammation in the brain cells caused by oxidative damage, while resveratrol was not. Curcumin has also been shown to repair some of the damage done by inflammation and oxidative stress as well. These results are important because it shows that these two supplements can somewhat make up for the brain cell’s lack of defense against ROS by protecting them.
“Curcumin and Resveratrol both protected astrocytes from oxidative stress thus potentially using them for treating various neurodegenerative diseases.”
Based on the results, the researchers concluded that it might be a good idea to supplement with both curcumin and resveratrol. While I agree with this, if you have a limited budget, go with just turmeric extract as it is cheaper, and research suggests it is more broadly applicable to other parts of the body.
As a side note, if you want these same benefits, you will likely need to invest in a supplement (like the ones listed below) instead of just incorporating turmeric into your diet as the root powder won’t have the specific compounds in a high enough concentration to be helpful. So, give one a try to keep your brain happy and healthy!
Premium Extract: https://amzn.to/2Kmx0P6
Budget Extract: https://amzn.to/2KqGGYW
Liquid Extract: https://amzn.to/2KbZGOK
 Devasagayam, TPA; Tilak JC; Boloor KK; Sane Ketaki S; Ghaskadbi Saroj S; Lele RD (October 2004). “Free Radicals and Antioxidants in Human Health: Current Status and Future Prospects”. Journal of Association of Physicians of India (JAPI) 52: 796.