Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Is memory loss and decreased brain power inevitable as we age? Many people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond are told that it is — and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. Is that true? Of course not. Steps can be taken to not only stop memory loss, but also reverse it. Of course, many things other than aging alone can cause memory issues. These include depression, dementia (severe problems with memory and thinking, such as Alzheimer’s disease), side effects of drugs, strokes, head injury, and alcoholism.
Best Diet for Brain Health
There is considerable evidence that diets high in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E prevent age related memory loss and other degenerative brain disorders. It’s important to eat a diet rich green leafy vegetables; brightly colored vegetables; and flavonoid-rich fruits such as citrus, berries, and cherries, while avoiding consumption of trans fatty acids, fried foods, processed meats, and junk foods. The goal should be to bathe the brain in “super nutrition,” as numerous studies have shown that brain function is directly related to nutritional status. High nutritional status equals higher mental function.Given the frequency of nutrient deficiency in the elderly population, it is likely that many cases of impaired mental function may have a nutritional cause.
Blueberries and blueberry extracts are particularly helpful foods for brain health. In animal studies, researchers found that blueberries protect the brain from oxidative stress and memory loss. When older rats were given the human equivalent of 1 cup of blueberries a day, they demonstrated significant improvements in both learning capacity and motor skills, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. When the rats’ brains were examined, the brain cells of the rats given blueberries were found to communicate more effectively than those of the other older rats that were not given blueberries.
Also making news as a brain-boosting food is celery. Celeryand celery seed extract contain a compound, 3-n-butylphthalide (3nB), that has brain-health benefits. In human and animal studies, 3nB significantly improved learning deficits, as well as long-term spatial memory. Researchers have concluded that, “3nB shows promising preclinical potential as a multi-target drug for the prevention and/or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Supplements that Boost Brain Power
In addition to diet, nutritional supplements are definitely important. In particular, a high- potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula and 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (combined) from a quality fish oil should be considered foundational supplements for brain health. Research has clearly established that B-complex vitamins (particularly vitamin B12) and EPA and DHA can help prevent mental decline in older people with memory problems. An international team led by Oxford University has now found that having higher levels of these nutrients can actually give the brain a boost in people with mild cognitive impairment.
Used for centuries throughoutAsia as an immune-stimulating tonic, lion’s mane mushroom may also stimulate your brain. Recent studies have found that at least two compounds in the mushroom—hericenones and amyloban—enhance cognition and memory by speeding myelination and by boosting the production of Nerve Growth Factor, which plays a role in the regenerationof neurons. Studies also suggest that lion’s mane can help improve depression and anxiety symptoms after several weeks of supplementation. The daily dosage for lion’s mane ranges from 500 mg to 3,000 mg. Use a 10:1 extract (30 percent polysaccharide content).
Recent studies indicate that Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels are significantly lower in the mitochondria in people with degenerative brain disorders. For general supplementation, use 100–200 mg daily of CoQ10 in a base of rice brain oil in a soft gel capsule.
For improving memory, even better results are seen with CoQ10 if it is taken with pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). This vitamin-like cofactor was shown to be essential in mammalian nutrition in 1994. It exerts a synergistic effect with CoQ10 and it is vital for the function of mitochondria—the energy producing compartments of our cells. Like CoQ10, PQQ protects brain cells from damage. It has been shown to be memory restorative in animal and human studies, and its antioxidant activity is off the charts (about 5,000 times the effect of vitamin C). The dosage for PQQ is 20 mg daily.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a critical nutrient for anyone with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or impaired mental function. PS plays a major role in determining the integrity and fluidity of brain cell membranes. Normally, the brain can manufacture sufficient levels of PS, but if there is a deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B12, or of essential fatty acids, the brain may not be able to make sufficient amounts. Low levels of PS in the brain are associated with impaired mental function and depression in the elderly. Over a dozen double-blind studies have shown that phosphatidylserine can improve mental function, mood, and behavior in patients with degenerative brain disorders. The recommended dosage is 100 mg three times daily.
Curcumin, the yellow pigment of turmeric, is showing incredible promise as a brain protector, including an ability to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Residents of rural India, who eat large amounts of turmeric, have been shown to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world: 4.4 times lower than that of Americans. In addition, researchers have also demonstrated that curcumin is able to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s brain lesions in mice specifically bred to develop the disease. And it may actually reverse the tangled mess of damaged brain cells that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, turmeric (which contains curcumin, the main component of Indian curries) can be liberally consumed in the diet, but taking a curcumin extract may prove to be very importantin the battle against age-related memory loss, as well as more serious conditions. UCLA is currently conducting research with a special, highly absorbable form of curcumin called Theracurmin. Dosage recommendation is 60 mg two to three times daily.
The herb Ginkgo biloba is a popular natural approach to boosting brain power. Use 60–120 mg of a standardized extract (24 percent ginkgo flavone glycosides) one to two times daily. Do not take ginkgo with blood thinners.
Traditionally used to enhance memory, learning, and concentration in Ayurvedic medicine, bacopa is another popular herbal brain booster. Emerging clinical evidence is validating its benefits. In one study, 46 healthy volunteers (ages 18–60) were divided into treatment and placebo groups. Participants were given 300 mg daily of a bacopa extract. At the end of the 12-week study, there was a significant improvement in verbal learning, memory, and information processing in the bacopa group compared to the placebo group.
What is MCI?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a newly recognized medical condition that involves the stage between normal, age-related cognitive decline and more serious decline associated with dementia. People experiencing MCI can have problems with memory, language,
thinking, and judgment that generally aren’t severe enough to cause significant problems in their day-to-day lives and usual activities.
MCI may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, but not everyone with MCI gets dementia. Because MCI is a new diagnosis and affects up to 42 percent of seniors, pharmaceutical companies have been busy formulating drugs to seize market share. Alzheimer’s medications known as “cognitive enhancers” are becoming popular for treating MCI; however, despite their popularity, the drugs have not been shown toprovide any benefit. Worse, these drugs have the potential to cause significant side effects. One such drug, tacrine (Cognex), has already been removed from the market.