Mental decline is not inevitable and you can boost your memory and mental alertness at any age. Research shows clearly that healthy, well-nourished and well-educated people show no signs of declining mental function with age. What’s more, while it is true that brain cells die with age, you can also build new brain cells at any age by feeding your brain with the right nutrients.
The old adage “use it or lose it” is true of brain function. Challenge your brain with memory/number and word puzzles. There are a number of products on the market now to make giving your brain a workout easy and fun. You also need to workout your body, exercise improves circulation to every cell in your body and is vital for mental, emotional and physical well-being.
How your memory works.
Memories are not held in one, but several connected brain cells. The connections between brain cells are stimulated by learning new information. When your brain cells create a memory, they do it principally by recording visual, auditory and kinesthetic information. If a memory involves all three stimuli, then you will have a much “stronger” memory.
Cells will also remember smells and tastes. The brain, particularly the hippocampus region, decides whether the memory is worth storing. In Alzheimer’s Disease, the hippocampus loses its ability to file memories, resulting in an inability to store new memories. Interestingly, these cellular memories can be linked to particular feeling states and events. Have you ever heard a piece of music which took you right back to a time or place and remembered just how you felt?
High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, makes the connections between your brain cells shrivel up, even after as little as two weeks of stress. Fortunately, these connections do grow back once cortisol levels decline. So, dealing with your stress levels is important for brain function.
A critical question is how memories are put into storage, retrieved and connected. The key memory molecule is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, highly concentrated in the hippocampus. People with Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, show a marked deficiency of acetylcholine. Even if a memory is intact, if you don’t have enough acetylcholine you can’t connect one part of the memory with other parts. For example, you know the face but can’t remember the name.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|Acetyl L Carnitine||Helps produce the brain chemical acetylcholine and may improve brain function and memory.||500mg 3 times daily|
|Alpha Lipoic Acid||Act as a powerful antioxidant to protect the cell membranes of brain cells, thereby helping them function.||240mg 3times daily|
|Antioxidant formula||Helps protect brain cells from damage by free radicals.||1 to 2 capsules daily|
|Phosphatidylserine||Provides the components of brain cells and enhances memory. Enhances cell membrane fluidity, increasing the number of acetylcholine receptors, keeping fatty substances in the brain in a soluble state and helping to ‘untangle’ nerve pathways in the brain.||100mg 3 times daily.|
|Ginkgo Biloba||Increases blood flow to the brain thereby helping brain function. Stimulates choline uptake in the brain and provides antioxidant protection.||500 to 1000mg daily|
|Rhodiola||Enhances brain function and increases memory and mental performance as well as reducing mental fatigue.||500 to 1000mg daily|
|B Vitamins||Work together to help the brain make use of neurotransmitters. Essential for the manufacture of serotonin and the health of brain cells.||As directed.|
|DMAE||Accelerates the brain’s production of acetylcholine. It reduces anxiety, stops the mind racing, improves concentration and promotes learning and acts as a mild brain stimulant.||100mg up to 1,000mg, taken in the morning or midday, not in the evening.|
|DHA||This Omega 3 fatty acid is the primary building block of the brain, which is about 60% fat. It increases cellular communication, the action of neurotransmitters and leads to higher levels of acetylcholine and serotonin.||250 to 500mg daily|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
The best way to enhance your memory and mind, and protect yourself from memory decline, is to ensure you are taking in optimal levels of the nutrients from which your body can make key brain chemicals.
Deficiency of acetylcholine is probably the single most common cause for declining memory. It is derived from the nutrient choline, the richest dietary sources of which are egg yolks and fish, especially sardines. In additon to choline, you need vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid) B1, B12 and C for the formation of acetylcholine in the body.
While the body can make its own Phosphatidyl Serine we rely on receiving some directly from diet, which makes it a semi-essential nutrient. Modern diets are deficient in Phosphatidyl Serine, unless you eat a lot of organ meats, in which case you may take in 50mg a day. A vegetarian diet is unlikely to achieve even 10mg a day. The secret to the memory boosting properties of Phosphatidyl Serine is probably due to its ability to help brain cells communicate, as it is a vital part of the structure of for these receptor sites.
DHA is found mainly in oily fish. It is essential that pregnant women either have a regular dietary source of these Omega 3 fats or supplement them. DHA is highly concentrated in our brain and nervous system and not only improves learning and age-related memory but also greatly enhances mood. DHA is associated with both higher levels of acetylcholine and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that improves mood. DHA has also been found to improve dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Eat 100g of fish, preferably salmon, mackerel, tuna or herring, three or four times a week. Alternatively you can take a supplement of fish oils containing DHA. A good quality cod liver oil supplement can provide up to 200mg. The most concentrated supplements provide 700mg per capsule.
Eat 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily.
Eliminate refined/processed foods from you diet.
Take regular exercise and also exercise your brain with crosswords, puzzles or other mental challenges such as learning a new language.
Suggested further reading:
- 7 ways to improve brain power
- brain exercise