Background and aim:
Brain health is becoming more important to the average person as the number of people with cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), is rising significantly. The current Food and Drug Administration-approved pharmacotherapeutics for dementia neither cure nor halt cognitive decline; they just delay the worsening cognitive impairment. This narrative review summarizes the effects of nutrients and phytonutrients on cognitive function.
A comprehensive literature search of PubMed was performed to find clinical trials in humans that assessed the effects of nutrients and phytonutrients on cognitive function published in English between 2000 and 2021. Six independent reviewers evaluated the articles for inclusion in this review.
Ninety-six articles were summarized in this narrative review. In total 21 categories of nutrients and phytonutrients were included, i.e., α-lipoic acid, Bacopa monnieri, B vitamins, cholinergic precursors, vitamin D, vitamin E, Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, lion's mane mushroom, N-acetyl cysteine, omega-3 fatty acids, aloe polysaccharides, Rhodiola rosea, rosemary, saffron, tart cherries, turmeric, wild yam, Withania somnifera, xanthines, and zinc. Particular noteworthy effects on cognition included memory, recollection, attention, intelligence, vocabulary, recognition, response inhibition, arousal, performance enhancement, planning, creative thinking, reaction time, vigilance, task switching, orientation to time, place, and person, reading, writing, comprehension, accuracy, learning, information processing speed, executive function, mental flexibility, daily functioning, decrease in mental fatigue, and freedom from distractibility. Some nutrients and phytonutrients also improved mood and contentedness and reduced anxiety and the need for caregiving. These effects are not completely consistent or ubiquitous across all patient populations or health statuses. Adverse effects were minimal or nonexistent.
Due to the growing population of people with cognitive impairment and the lack of effective pharmacotherapeutics, it is prudent for those afflicted or their caregivers to find alternative treatments. Our narrative review shows that many of these nutrients and phytonutrients may be promising for treating some aspects of cognitive impairment, especially for people afflicted with AD.
Relevance for patients:
As demonstrated in a number of clinical trials, healthy adults and patients with various health challenges (e.g., AD, mild cognitive impairment, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease) exhibiting a wide range of severity in cognitive defects would be best served to consider multiple nutrients and phytonutrients to improve aspects of their cognitive function.