Memory and Cognition
“Senior moments” may be a fact of life as we get older. As we age, blood flow to the brain decreases, causing our brain to utilize oxygen and protein less efficiently than it once did. In addition, aging brain cells often stop communicating with each other, making it harder for the brain to process thoughts, retain short-term memory and create new cells. If that weren’t enough, the aging brain loses some of its ability to protect itself against inflammation and free radical damage. But having an occasional memory lapse or needing more time to process new information doesn’t always mean that your brain is suffering from old age. Memory loss or a loss of concentration can also be caused by something as simple as dehydration, a poor diet, fatigue, or stress. Here are some easy-to-implement strategies that can help you stay sharp no matter what your age.
It’s important to eat a whole foods diet like that eaten in Mediterranean regions. Research suggests that eating this type of diet can protect against mental decline. In fact, new evidence from Columbia University Medical Center shows that people who most closely follow a Mediterranean diet are 45 percent less likely to suffer from cognitive impairment than people who eat the standard American diet. They also significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also offer protection thanks to the antioxidants they contain. These compounds protect against harmful free radicals and improve the signals that help brain cells talk to each other. Your choice of dietary fats also can impact brain function. One investigation of more than 2,500 seniors in Chicago discovered that volunteers eating the most trans and saturated fats were more likely to suffer cognitive decline. On the flip side, research by Tufts University shows that frequently eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids can guard against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Moving your body is key to better cognition. A growing body of evidence suggests that regular exercise especially aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on certain mental functions like memory and recall, concentration, decision-making, and complex problem solving. It’s also important to keep learning, regardless of age. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.
B vitamins: help guard against age-related memory loss and dementia. Vitamin B12 helps to make and preserve myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds axons (a long fiber of a nerve cell that acts like a fiber-optic cable carrying outgoing messages). Folic acid, with the aid of B6 and B12, also supports memory by moderating homocysteine an amino acid found naturally in the body which, in high amounts, is considered a significant risk factor for both heart disease and dementia. Typical dosage: Take a daily B complex that contains at least 50 mg of each of the major B vitamins.
Bacopa: is a small white flower that grows wild throughout India. The saponins found in the herb are thought to repair damaged neurons in the brain. A study from the National College of Natural Medicine in collaboration with researchers from Oregon Health and Science University, has found that a relatively modest dose of bacopa taken daily for 12 weeks improved information recall and had the added benefit of reducing depression and anxiety. Other studies suggest that bacopa increases mental agility and alertness, improves memory and focus, and increases the ability to grasp new information and skills. Typical dosage: 300 mg per day.
Citicoline: is a nutrient found in every cell in the body. The highest concentrations, however, are found in the brain and liver. In the brain, citicoline targets the frontal lobe the area responsible for problem solving, attention and concentration and works in a number of ways to boost brainpower. It replenishes the phospholipids that create and maintain healthy brain cell membranes. It raises the level of chemical messengers needed for all of those voluntary and involuntary actions we rely on every day. And, studies show that it protects the brain from free radical damage. During one double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 95 volunteers between the ages of 50 and 85, those taking supplemental citicoline daily significantly improved their verbal memory compared to the volunteers taking the placebo. Typical dosage: 1,000 mg daily.
Ginkgo Biloba: has been taken as a memory enhancer for more than 30 years, and, during that time, a multitude of studies have shown that it is effective in improving cognition and memory. A review of 29 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials involving more than 2,400 aging men and women found that the long-term use of ginkgo improves selective attention, some executive processes, as well as long-term verbal and non-verbal memory. Typical dosage: 120 mg twice a day, standardized to contain 6 percent terpene lactones and 24 percent flavone glycosides.
Phosphatidylserine: popularly known as PS, is an essential fatty acid that makes up part of every cell membrane in the body. It’s most abundantly found in brain cells and allows nutrients and waste products to flow in and out of the cells. A number of double-blind trials have validated the ability of supplemental plant-derived PS to improve memory, learning, concentration, word recall, and mood in both middle-aged and elderly subjects suffering from age-related cognitive dysfunction. Typical dosage: 100 mg three times a day.
Vinpocetine: is a memory booster derived from the periwinkle plant. This herb rapidly passes through the blood-brain barrier where it increases circulation and helps deliver more oxygen to the cells. There’s also some evidence that vinpocetine can protect brain cells from the damage induced by excitotoxins like aspartame. Typical dosage: 5 to 10 mg three times per day.