Supporting Brain Health: how to boost brain circulation

One of the reasons why I wrote the Brain Boost Diet was due to seeing my Gran struggle with dementia for the last few years of her life.

There are many reasons for cognitive decline but often there are a number of physiological dysfunctions present. I discuss these in the Brain Boost Diet and they are very similar to the imbalances highlighted in the Dr Bredesen RECODE programme.  Taking a Functional Nutrition approach and using diet, lifestyle and supplementation can be beneficial in addressing these imbalances.

Key areas to consider when it comes to cognitive health include:

Insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances – diets high in sugar and carbohydrates can lead to imbalances in blood glucose levels creating inflammation and affecting Insulin-Degrading Enzyme

Inflammation. There are many reasons for inflammation – eating foods you are allergic to, diet high in lectins, highly processed foods, imbalances in fatty acids, infections, gut dysbiosis, a high toxic load, high homocysteine etc. Autoimmune conditions should also be considered here.

Poor circulation – this could arise for many reasons including mitochondrial damage, methylation issues, poor nutrient status, low thyroid, insufficient exercise etc

Hormone, nutrient imbalances – this includes adrenal, thyroid and sex hormone imbalances as well as key nutrients the brain needs to function optimally.

Toxins (chemical, biological etc) this could result from heavy metals, infections (e.g mold, lyme, viral inections, gut dysbiosis), medications, drugs, smoking, heavy alcohol use etc

In clinic we often use a range of lab testing (including Cyrex testing, stool, viral screening, hormone and nutrient testing) to help identify the relevant imbalances for individual clients.

Recommendations will be different for everyone, but in essence it would include:

  • Identifying and resolving the underlying cause (infections, toxin exposure, chronic inflammation, food reactions etc)
  • Changing lifestyle to increase neurotrophic factors and proper autophagy
  • Using diet and supplements to address imbalances and promote optimal function

I discuss this in detail in my Brain Boost Diet but one area where supplements can be helpful is around improving brain circulation.  Brain circulation, or brain blood flow, is the movement of blood through the network of arteries and veins supplying blood to the brain. The arteries deliver oxygenated blood, glucose, and other nutrients to the brain. Our brain may only be 2% of our body weight but it consumes 50% of glucose and 20% of oxygen and requires a vast number of nutrients to produce brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).

So it makes sense that poor circulation to the brain can affect our cognition. Inflammation, low thyroid function, low nitric oxide, oxidative stress, chronic stress, brain injuries can all affect circulation to the brain.  Therefore in addition to diet and supplements stress reduction, quality sleep and daily exercise are important. Another technique is to take cold showers regularly. Cold water increases circulation and blood flow in the brain.

Supplements and Foods To Boost Brain Circulation


Nitrate Rich Foods – Nitrate-rich foods include beetroot, dark chocolate, leafy greens (like spinach), celery, citrus fruits, pomegranate and watermelon.

Dietary nitrates are converted into nitric oxide in the body. In one study nitrate rich beetroot juice increased nitric oxide concentration in the blood and improved cognitive functions.

In a pilot study, nitrate-rich beet juice increased nitric oxide concentration in the blood, decreased blood pressure, and improved cognitive function.As nitric oxide is relatively unstable making sure you increase your intak of antioxidant rich foods may help decrease the breakdown and extend the life of nitric oxide in your body. One of the key groups of antioxidants are polyphenols found in foods like blueberry and other berries, grapes and pomegranate. Research has found that combination of grape and blueberry extract can improve cognitive function in young adults. Other research has also found this combination can improve memory in the elderly with mild cognitive decline.

Grape derived extracts (Vitis vinifera) are natural sources of polyphenols that have a number of brain supportive benefits including antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-acetylcholinesterase and anti-amyloidogenic activities.

Similar benefits can also be found with resveratrol (present in berries for example). Resveratrol works by dilating blood vessels in the brain, thus increasing brain circulation. Additionally, it may protect the blood vessels from free-radical damage.

Ginkgo Biloba – The leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree have been shown to increase blood flow in specific areas of the brain as well as overall brain blood flow – one study showed taking 60 mg twice daily over 4 weeks resulted in significant improvements in blood flow.

Vinpocetine – Vinpocetine has been used to help a number of neurological conditions and has been shown to increase brain blood flow and energy production which may in turn support cognitive health.

Citrulline – Citrulline (naturally found in certain foods like watermelon) is a popular supplement used in sports performance due to its ability to increase nitric oxide concentrations.  Various animal studies indicate it has potential benefit for improving cognitive function.

Citicoline – Citicoline is essential for the production of phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine which help support the health of our cell membranes and myelin sheaths. It can also support the production of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine which aids memory. Studies have indicated citicoline enhances blood flow to the brain and supports the health of our mitochondria.

Studies have shown it can improve cognitive function in people with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. Another study using a combination of certain B vitamins, thyroid optimisation and 500mg citicoline twice daily  showed improvements in cognitive function in people with mild cognitive dysfunction.

Citicoline is also popular as a nootrophic supplement. Many for example use citicoline to sharpen their mind and enhance memory. This includes students as well. In clinical trials on 135 healthy adults, citicoline (250-500 mg) improved focus and mental clarity. Interestingly a combination of caffeine and citicoline can have similar benefits.

Acetyl L Carnitine – a form of carnitine, acetyl L Carnitine has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier and improve blood flow. As a supplement it has been shown to improve cognitive function and even partially reverse dementia.


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