We all have our "senior moments," such as when we can't find our car keys. As we get older, everyone experiences some degree of age-related memory loss. That's normal and nothing to worry about. However, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is more serious because it is a prelude to Alzheimer's disease, the most severe form of dementia.
Are your memory and cognitive function substantially worse than they are for most people your age? Is your memory loss serious enough to disrupt your daily life? Do you have difficulty planning or solving problems? If you do, make an appointment with your doctor or a neurologist for an assessment.
Officially, there's no known cause for MCI and Alzheimer's disease. But head injuries, poor nutrition, vitamin B12 deficiency, elevated blood sugar, and inheriting the APOE4 gene can increase the risk of memory and other cognitive problems.
A study at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a broad lifestyle modification program successfully reversed MCI. The program included eating more fruits and vegetables; avoiding simple carbohydrates, gluten, and processed foods; taking fish oils, vitamin D, coenzyme Q10, and methylcobalamin B12; adopting stress-reduction techniques; getting adequate sleep; and engaging in regular exercise.
The Mediterranean Diet is good for your brain as well as your heart. A 2015 study found that adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, with either ample amounts of extra-virgin olive oil or nuts led to improvements in attention, short-term memory, and mental flexibility.
Adding brain foods to your diet-namely beets and blueberries-can heighten your mental acuity. Beets are loaded with nitrates that can open up blood vessels and increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Blueberries have been linked to better brain function and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's.
Best Brain Boosters
Several supplements have been shown to help memory and cognitive function.
- DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the two principal omega-3 fats, can improve memory, but it won't help if you don't take enough. Researchers recently analyzed 15 studies on DHA and memory. In their report in the journal PLoS One, they concluded that the greatest memory improvements occurred in people taking at least 1,000 mg of DHA daily. Other studies have shown similar benefits. Dose: Take at least 1,000 mg of DHA daily.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS). Supplements of this brain chemical have been found to help numerous cognitive problems, including poor memory and MCI. An article in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition reported that daily PS supplements for six months led to significant improvements in memory. Another study showed impressive benefits-a 42 percent increase in word recall after just six weeks of taking PS. Other studies have found that PS improves moods, and might even ease feelings of depression. Dose: Take 100 mg once, twice, or three times daily.
- Resveratrol. Found in red grapes, red wine, and Japanese knotweed, resveratrol activates the age-slowing Sirt1 gene. It might also rejuvenate the brain, according to a recent study. Researchers asked 46 middle-aged and elderly men and women to take either 200 mg of resveratrol or placebos daily for 26 weeks. By the end of the study, people taking resveratrol had better word recall, and tests showed they had increased the number of connections between brain cells. Dose: Take at least 200 mg of resveratrol daily.
- B vitamins. In a study of 266 elderly men and women with MCI, researchers found that a B-complex supplement prevented the further decline of the subjects' ability to plan, organize, and prioritize tasks. But better results might be achieved by combining B vitamins with omega-3s, according to a study at Oxford University. The B vitamins slowed brain atrophy (a hallmark of Alzheimer's risk and disease) by 40 percent, but only in people who had high blood levels of the omega-3s. Dose: Opt for a high-potency B-complex supplement.
- Ginkgo. Two recent medical journal articles confirmed that Ginkgo biloba extracts can improve memory and cognitive function in people with dementia. A standardized extract was used in these studies. Ginkgo will likely help with MCI and people whose dementia is related to neurovascular problems. Dose: The ideal daily amount is 240 mg of the EGb761 extract of ginkgo.
For Alzheimer's Prevention, Strange Is Good
Huperzia serrata may sound more like a deadly virus than a brain-boosting supplement, but don't let the odd-sounding name scare you off. Fact is, the Huperzia serrata plant, which is also called Chinese club moss, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat everything from inflammation to blood disorders. Research has shown that an extract of Huperzia serrata (Huperzine A) helps preserve levels of acetylcholine in the brain and acts as an antioxidant. Why is it important to preserve acetylcholine? High concentrations of it are found in the brain and liver. In the brain, this compound targets the frontal lobe-the area responsible for problem solving, attention, and concentration-and works in a number of ways to boost brain power.
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