Normal aging is typically accompanied by some declines in cognitive abilities, but a new study suggests that impairment may be mitigated by a proprietary supplement including blueberries and green tea.
Physical activity and cognitive training have been found to be helpful in delaying cognitive decline, with dietary modifications and supplements recently generating additional interest.
In the study, University of South Florida researchers report that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components can help to boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.
The USF-developed nutritional supplement includes extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine.
The compound was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.
Researchers Paula Bickford, Ph.D., and Brent Small, Ph.D., teamed up to investigate the effects of the antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement on the cognitive performance of older adults.
The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.
Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not.
Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has long been associated with advancing age.
The study, in which participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research.
“After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Small, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies.
“Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”
Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.
“The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, and senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
“Non-vitamin polyphenols are the most abundant modulators of oxidative stress and inflammation in our diet. NT-020 is 95 percent polyphenols.”
One of the main ingredients of the supplement, called NT-20, is extracted from blueberries.
In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain.
Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefitted animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.
The researchers plan future clinical trials with longer intervention periods so that the optimal time for taking the formula may be better understood.
Researchers also speculate that if the study had included participants who were less healthy cognitively, or those with memory impairments, they may have observed “more robust findings.”
“In the future, having markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as brain-based measures of functioning, may allow us to identify the manner by which this compound, as well as others, may influence functioning,” they concluded.
The NT-020 formula was patented by the University of South Florida, in partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and licensed to Natura Therapeutics, Inc. The supplement is commercially available as NutraStem®.
The study was supported by a grant from the University of South Florida Neuroscience Collaborative to Small and Bickford. Bickford is a co-founder of Natura Therapeutics, Inc.