Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Keeping Your Memory Sharp

After Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year, my awareness of my own ability to remember was really heightened. I think fear of memory loss is an issue for many Baby Boomers. While I always thought Alzheimer’s was the worst form of dementia one could develop, the doctors at the clinic disagreed. They explained that because it is by far the most prevalent form of memory loss, it is the most studied and therefore the one they know the most about – and can potentially address.

For years people have taken ginkgo biloba as a “brain booster,” based on one study published over a decade ago that found the substance improved mental functioning in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, no research has since replicated these findings, and many studies have been conducted including large ones done in 2008 and 2009. My favorite source for health recommendations, the Berkeley Wellness Letter, does not suggest taking the supplement, citing that the product varies widely among manufacturers in quality, with some containing high levels of lead. Other substances also found lacking in evidence that they improve memory include phosphatidylserine (PS), choline, DMAE, bacopa, and vinpocetine. According to the August 2010 Wellness Letter, “there is no convincing evidence that any ‘brain formula,’ plant extract, or vitamin will preserve memory.”

The one vitamin that might make a difference for you, however, is B12, since a deficiency can cause confusion and memory loss. See your doctor to be tested and for treatment, if needed. One other supplement to consider is fish oil, which has been linked to a slowing of cognitive decline in healthy people in some studies. Currently, the results are mixed, however, but if the fish oil benefits your cardiovascular system, it may help your brain as well.

What can you do? All of my sources suggest exercising the brain daily by learning something new or playing games that require concentration and analytical thinking. Regular physical exercise and being socially active are also good strategies along with controlling blood pressure, diabetes, and weight, since hypertension, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked to a greater risk of dementia. Sounds like taking good care of our bodies is the best way we can care for our brains.

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