Updated: Apr 18
Nutraceuticals or bioceutical are pharmaceutical alternatives. Nutraceuticals are made of substances that have a physiological benefit or that can provide protection against chronic diseases. Nutraceuticals are used to improve health, delay the ageing process, prevent chronic diseases, increase life expectancy or support the structure or function of the body (NCBI,2022).
In this article, we look at some nutraceuticals that are good for the brain and that can help with various psychiatric and psychological issues.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
The brain contains many neurotransmitters that trigger or inhibit specific reactions in the body. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the human cortex. GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it blocks, or inhibits, certain brain signals and decreases activity in your nervous system. When GABA attaches to a protein in your brain known as a GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect. GABA is present in plants, animals, and microorganisms. The human body produces it, and it is present in some foods. Low GABA is linked to anxiety or mood disorders, epilepsy, chronic pain, stress and fear.
According to one 2020 study, people who have depression may have reduced GABA levels in the brain. Also, research published in PubMed in 2020 described GABA as a bioactive agent that may have the following properties:
- Antihypertensive (meaning it reduces blood pressure)
- Immune system enhancer
A 2019 review suggested that GABA has antimicrobial, antiseizure and antioxidant properties and may help treat and prevent conditions such as: - Diabetes - High blood pressure - Insomnia
Another 2019 study asked 21 healthy males to take a supplement with whey protein or whey protein plus GABA once a day for 12 weeks. The participants performed the same resistance training exercises twice a week, and the researchers measured the results. The researchers found that the combination of whey protein and GABA increased levels of growth hormone compared to whey protein alone. Although this was another small study, the researchers concluded that GABA supplements might help build muscle and assist in workout recovery.
A 2015 study found that a person's ability to prioritize and plan actions improved after taking 800 mg of GABA supplements per day. Although the study was small and involved just 30 healthy volunteers, it does show how GABA supplements can promote enhanced thinking.
A 2012 study involving 63 participants found that taking 100 mg of GABA daily helps reduce stress due to mental tasks.
At 360 Wellness Hub, we recommend GABA under strict supervision as a supplement for the following:
- Improve mood
- Relieve anxiety
- Improve sleep (300 mg 1 hr before sleep) - Stress (50-100 mg)
- Seizure disorders
- Movement disorders e.g. Parkinson's disease
- Panic disorder
- Help with premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Treat ADHD
- Relieve pain or discomfort from injuries
- Increase tolerance to exercise
- Lower blood pressure
- Burn fat
- Increase the growth of lean muscle mass. Food high in GABA is also recommended, for example, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale and fermented food including tempeh and kimchi.
There is not enough research to uncover the safety and side effects of GABA. For this reason, it is recommended to play safe and not take GABA if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, not enough is known is how GABA supplements can interfere with drugs, food, herbs and other supplements and thus we suggest using it with caution if you are taking blood pressure medications. Some commonly reported side effects include: - Upset stomach
- Muscle Weakness Our therapists will usually stay very safe and will monitor your progress throughout the period where you are taking the GABA supplements. It's not recommended that you take GABA supplements without consulting a nutraceuticalist.
5-HTP is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It is a compound produced in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. Without tryptophan, the body cannot make serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in many important bodily functions including mood regulation. Some studies suggest that it may help with mood issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as headaches, chronic pain and insomnia. Serotonin can further affect sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual behaviour, and pain sensation.
As 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, it is a suitable alternative to tryptophan supplements. 5-HTP supplements may help raise serotonin levels, especially in people who do not get enough tryptophan from their diets and those whose body does not make enough serotonin.
Research suggests that 5-HTP is highly absorbable. A 1998 review notes that the body absorbs about 70% of an oral 5-HTP supplement into the bloodstream.
5-HTP supplements help in the treatment of conditions such as: - Depression
- Hot Flashes
- Weight Loss
Several small clinical trials have found that 5-HTP is as effective as antidepressants. For example, in a six-week clinical trial, 63 people were given either 5-HTP (100 mg three times a day) or an antidepressant (fluvoxamine, 50 mg three times a day). The 5-HTP was found to be as effective as the antidepressant, with fewer side effects. There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of 5-HTP. However, in scientific studies, a dose of 150-800 mg daily is commonly taken for 2-6 weeks in the treatment of depression. The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to our healthcare provider to get personalized advice.
Some research indicates that 5-HTP may prevent migraines and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. In one study, 124 people were given 5-HTP (600 mg/day) or the drug methysergide. After 6 months, 5-HTP was found to be as effective as methysergide in reducing the severity and duration of migraines. Another study looked at 5-HTP or the drug propranolol for 4 months. Both treatments resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the frequency of migraines. However, the propranolol group fared better, with a reduction in the duration of episodes and the number of analgesics used for the treatment of episodes.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue, widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and multiple tender points. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at 5-HTP or placebo in 50 people with fibromyalgia. After four weeks, there was an improvement in pain, stiffness, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep. Side effects were mild and transient.
Serotonin is converted into melatonin, a hormone needed to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Because 5-HTP is thought to increase serotonin levels, it may increase melatonin and help normalize sleep patterns.
5-HTP is not found in the food we eat. Dietary intake of L-tryptophan which the body converts to 5-HTP is found in food such as turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, spinach, milk and bananas are recommended for those with the above issues.
5-HTP should not be taken by children. Tryptophan supplements were taken off the market when thousands of people developed a severe blood disorder called Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS). The cause was later traced to a contaminant found only in batches of tryptophan manufactured by one Japanese company, Showa Denko. Also, individuals who take antidepressants or other serotonin drugs or supplements such as St. John's wort should not take 5-HTP. It is also not recommended for those with osteoporosis, high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risk factors.
5-HTP as a nutraceutical has been a lifesaver for those with low serotonin but it must be taken with caution. Consult with our healthcare therapists before taking 5-HTP. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is neuroprotective, regulates the immune system and helps with calcium balance. It is also involved in regulating many genes important for brain function. Although vitamin D is thought of as a vitamin, it acts as a neurosteroid and plays important role in the brain.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include muscle weakness, pain, fatigue and depression. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones). Deficiency in Vitamin D can lower the immune system. Severe vitamin D deficiency can also lead to other diseases. In children, it can cause rickets. Rickets is a rare disease that causes the bones to become soft and bend. Vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue, and vitamin D's biologically active form (1,25(OH)(2)D3) has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Some studies found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 per cent increased risk of developing dementia and those who were severely deficient had a 125 per cent increased risk compared to participants with normal levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is involved in different neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and stroke.
Similarly, brain fog is something you may experience from a lack of vitamin D. When your levels of vitamin D are not high enough, according to a number of studies, brain fog sets in. It may not be extremely noticeable, but you will likely feel as if you're still partially asleep or in some serious need of caffeine.
Vitamin D3 (Vit D), is able to cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and its receptors are widely distributed in the central nervous system. It has been shown that Vit D supplementation improves cognitive performance, more significantly attention and memory. Vitamin D has many roles in regulating brain health, from aiding the development of the brain and nervous system to postponing decline toward the end of life, according to a growing body of research.
The neuroprotective effect of vitamin D is associated with its influence on neurotrophin production and release, neuro mediators synthesis, intracellular calcium homeostasis, and prevention of oxidative damage to nervous tissue. A single dose of oral 100,000 IE vitamin D3 is an effective, well-tolerated, and economical treatment strategy for healthy adults who report fatigue.
Vitamin D has many roles in your body, including the regulation of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine. One study showed decreased dopamine levels in vitamin-D-deprived mice and improved levels when supplementing with vitamin D3.
You can safely take up to 50,000 IUs per day of D3 (PubMed, 2019). But for healthy individuals, it is recommended that the maximum daily limit is 4000 IU. The main consequence of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Vitamin D toxicity might progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
The B-vitamins comprise a group of eight water-soluble vitamins that perform essential, closely interrelated roles in cellular functioning, acting as co-enzymes in a vast array of catabolic and anabolic enzymatic reactions. Their collective effects are particularly prevalent in numerous aspects of brain function, including energy production, DNA/RNA synthesis/repair, genomic and non-genomic methylation, and the synthesis of numerous neurochemicals and signalling molecules.
Vitamin B complex is composed of eight B vitamins:
B-5 (pantothenic acid)
B-9 (folic acid)
Each of these essential vitamins contributes to your overall bodily function.
B1 - Thiamine: Also referred to as vitamin B1, thiamin is important to nerve function. Thiamin deficiency can lead to confusion, poor coordination and fatigue. Found in grains, nuts, seeds and pork, a vitamin B1 deficiency is generally only found in countries where the dietary staple is white rice.
B2 - Riboflavin: A deficiency of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, can cause burning eyes and eye fatigue. As a result, a child may show resistance to reading because of visual disturbances from a vitamin B2 deficiency. Riboflavin also calms and maintains a healthy nervous system. Milk, yoghurt, cheese, almonds, hard-boiled eggs and spinach are great sources of riboflavin.
B3 - Niacin: Vitamin B3 or niacin is essential for skin health and overall support of nervous and digestive systems. Found in all protein-containing foods, niacin is heat stable and can withstand cooking. Dementia, diarrhoea and dermatitis are all common symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency.
B5 - Pantothenic Acid: A deficiency of pantothenic acid is extremely rare and not generally a concern for childhood brain development.
B6 - Pyridoxine: Pyridoxine or vitamin B6 influences the brain to process and development by helping with the development of neurotransmitters. In some cases, memory loss and ADHD can be improved through increased intake of vitamin B6 rich foods or supplementation (under a physician’s direct supervision). Good food sources of pyridoxine are bananas, brewer’s yeast, legumes, eggs and sunflower seeds.
B7 - Biotin: Also called vitamin B7, biotin is needed for every metabolism. By eating foods rich in biotins like cauliflower, egg yolks, peanuts and mushrooms, a biotin deficiency can be avoided and thereby reduce the likelihood of symptoms like pale or dry skin, hallucinations, depression, scaly dermatitis and cracked sore tongue.
B9 - Folate: Vitamin B9, also known as folate, is naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, beans and sunflower seeds. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and is used to fortify many grains to ensure proper nutrition. Folate deficiency in children can slow growth rate, cause increased irritability and lead to behavioural disorders.
B12 - Cobalamin: Found in meat and dairy products, adequate intake of vitamin B12 ensures proper neural transmission speed and DNA replication. Without this essential nutrient, children may exhibit symptoms like reduced cognitive performance, fatigue and tingle in the hands and feet. Severe deficiency can lead to permanent damage like memory loss and dementia.
As the building blocks of a healthy body, B vitamins have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism. Vitamin B complex helps prevent infections and helps support or promote:
growth of red blood cells
healthy brain function
proper nerve function
hormones and cholesterol production
B vitamins are especially important for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. These vitamins aid in fetal brain development as well as reduce the risk of birth defects. And for expectant mothers, B vitamins may boost energy levels, ease nausea, and lower the risk of developing preeclampsia. For women, the recommended daily intake is:
B-1: 1.1 milligrams (mg)
B-2: 1.1 mg
B-3: 14 mg NE
B-5: 5 mg
B-6: 1.3 mg
biotin: 30 micrograms (mcg)
folic acid: 400 mcg DFE
B-12: 2.4 mcg
For men, B vitamins are thought to increase testosterone levels, which naturally decrease with age. They may also help men build muscle and increase strength. However, human studies confirming these claims are lacking. For men, the recommended daily intake is:
B-1: 1.2 mg
B-2: 1.3 mg
B-3: 16 mg NE
B-5: 5 mg
B-6: 1.3 mg
biotin: 30 mcg
folic acid: 400 mcg DFE
B-12: 2.4 mcg
Other than folic acid the rest of the B can be taken in excess without many complications and may be beneficial for some types of issues (read here).
However, certain underlying health conditions can prevent your body from properly absorbing vitamin B. You should also talk to your doctor about your vitamin B intake if you have:
inflammatory bowel disease
The following symptoms may be a sign that you’re not getting enough B vitamins:
cracks around the mouth
scaly skin on the lips
irritability or depression
numbness or tingling in the feet and hands
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and aren’t sure why, make an appointment to see our therapist at 360 Wellness Hub. Although it’s possible that you’re experiencing a vitamin B deficiency, these symptoms also overlap with many other underlying conditions. Our doctor can make a diagnosis and advise you on any next steps.
Although, you’re unlikely to get too much vitamin B complex from your diet. That’s because B complex vitamins are water-soluble, they aren’t stored in your body but are excreted in your urine daily. You’re also unlikely to get too much vitamin B if you’re taking any supplementation as directed. That said, overdose is possible — especially if you’re taking a supplement without receiving a deficiency diagnosis from your doctor.
Symptoms of a vitamin B complex overdose include:
The above supplements are really good for a wide range of issues and more specifically essential to brain health. But all these supplements need to be taken with advice from your healthcare therapists.