This week’s Nutrition News looks at how a simple algae could support a number of processes within the body as well two recently published articles on the nutrients that benefit cognitive health.

Find out more here.

The health benefits of spirulina

Spirulina, a type of algae found in freshwater and saltwater environments, is gaining recognition for its health benefits. This nutrient-packed substance is available in various forms, such as capsules or powder, and it is popular for its reported antioxidant properties.

This video by Healthline on the Health Benefits of Spirulina touts that it is a true nutritional powerhouse, boasting essential components such as protein, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, copper, and iron. Additionally, according to Healthline, it offers robust antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, making it a contender in supporting the body in combating oxidative stress and inflammation.

Research reported by Healthline suggests that spirulina may help regulate cholesterol and triglyceride levels, contributing to heart health.

For individuals with hypertension, spirulina supplements may support the regulation of blood pressure. Additionally, spirulina has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of allergic rhinitis, providing allergy support and relief from sneezing, nasal congestion, and itching.

Spirulina's iron content, coupled with its capacity to support iron absorption, suggests its effectiveness in managing anaemia. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts may find spirulina particularly beneficial, as it has been linked to muscle support and endurance.

In terms of blood sugar control, preliminary research hints at spirulina's potential support in regulating blood sugar levels and providing diabetes support.

Overall, integrating spirulina into your diet, whether through supplements, capsules, or powder, can be a valuable addition to your wellness routine. However, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before introducing new supplements, especially if you have underlying medical conditions or are taking medication.

The best vitamins for brain health

Maintaining a healthy brain as you age is closely linked to your diet, with certain nutrients, flavonoids, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids showing potential in supporting cognitive health and therefore reducing cognitive decline and dementia risk. The article “The Best Vitamins and Nutrients for Your Brain Health, According to Experts” by Prevention explores some of the most important brain nutrients, backed by recent research.

Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that protect brain cells and reduce beta-amyloid levels linked to Alzheimer's disease. Sources such as nuts, seeds, eggs, and yoghurt also provide omega-3s.

Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, supports brain cells against oxidative stress, a contributor to cognitive decline. It is also anti-inflammatory and supports DNA health and brain cell membrane structure. Dark leafy greens, avocado, peppers, and nuts and seeds are good sources.

The trio of B vitamins, namely vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and B9 (folate), plays a crucial role in brain function by enhancing neurotransmitter production. Beans, bananas, oranges, tuna, salmon, and greens are rich in these vitamins.

Vitamin C, an antioxidant found in kiwi, peppers, citrus, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes, helps support against brain-damaging inflammation and has been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease when recommended levels are consumed.

L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is another example of a nutrient that is thought to support brain health; which it does by calming neurotransmitters and reducing stress. L-carnitine plays a role in energy metabolism and is suggested to support cognitive health.

While a balanced diet is preferred, some may consider supplements for brain health under specific conditions, such as allergies or deficiencies. When opting for supplements, seek guidance from healthcare professionals and look for third-party certifications to ensure quality and purity.

Could DHA support the brain against a high fat diet?

A recent study, reported in the article “Saturated fats vs. omega-3s: Could DHA help protect the brain?”  by Medical News Today, has shed light on the impact of saturated fats on brain health and how omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may counteract some of the damage caused by saturated fats.

Saturated fats, commonly found in animal-based foods, have long been associated with an increased risk of heart problems. However, this study suggests that these fats also play a role in brain health. In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fish and plant sources, have been linked to various health benefits, including potential cognitive improvements.

The study builds upon previous findings that high saturated fat diets may lead to neuroinflammation and cognitive decline, particularly impairing long-term memory. To delve deeper into the underlying mechanisms, researchers examined the effects of palmitate, a common saturated fat, and the protective properties of DHA on two specific types of brain cells: BV2 microglia and HippoE-14 neurons.

The study revealed that subjects on a high-fat diet experienced more brain damage, suggesting that high-fat diets can contribute to brain degradation. Cell analysis indicated that DHA might counteract some detrimental effects of palmitate, such as reducing inflammation.

Beata Rydyger, a holistic nutritionist, highlighted the study's focus on microglia, brain cells promoting inflammation, and hippocampal neurons crucial for memory and learning. Rydyger noted that palmitic acid increased inflammation in both microglia and neurons, potentially negatively affecting memory and cognition. Importantly, it was noted, “DHA was shown to prevent or lessen the effects of palmitate, suggesting that consuming DHA could protect the brain from the effects of an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats by curbing fat-induced inflammation.”

While the study offers valuable insights, there are limitations, necessitating further research and replication of findings. More extensive investigations are also needed to fully understand cellular nuances, causal relationships, and clinical implications.

In light of this research, individuals can consider reducing saturated fat intake and increasing their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of DHA include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as fish oil supplements. Vegans and vegetarians can obtain DHA from certain algae supplements. While dietary choices are multifaceted, incorporating healthier fats and seeking advice from healthcare professionals can support brain health.

Share your thoughts

Agree with the findings in this week’s Nutrition News? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.