Many older adults try dietary supplements to protect their health and fight disease. One type of supplement that has generated a great deal of interest is whey protein. A component of milk, whey is a rich source of the essential amino acid leucine, which activates key signaling pathways that regulate cell growth and differentiation. Studies show that whey stimulates cellular mechanisms in muscle that promote muscle growth. Whey also is a good source of branched-chain amino acids, which are important for exercise and muscle growth. Athletes often take whey protein supplements to build muscle.
A study of 185 people with mild cognitive impairment–the stage between the expected decline in memory that comes with aging and the development of Alzheimer’s Disease–shows that taking a combination of dietary supplements may help prevent or delay the onset of dementia. The natural supplement formula is made from whey protein, blueberry extract and carnitine.
The study found that participants who took the supplements every day for a year had significantly improved cognitive function at follow-up testing compared to those who received a placebo (dummy pill). The researchers also measured levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports neuron growth and differentiation. Participants with the lowest levels of BDNF experienced the greatest improvement in cognitive scores.
The findings suggest that whey, blueberry and carnitine help maintain brain health. Whey may be beneficial because it stimulates cellular mechanisms that support muscle growth and physical activity, a factor associated with reduced risk for developing dementia. Blueberries contain polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Carnitine transports fat into cells to be used as energy. A combination of whey, blueberry and carnitine may promote cellular mechanisms that support brain health, the researchers say.
The study offers some evidence this combination of dietary supplement may help prevent the onset of dementia or delay its progression in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.