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The passing years can bring memory deterioration, but what is the cause, and how can you avoid it? The good news is that it’s not the luck of the draw as was once feared. Science has firmly established that impaired memory has everything to do with brain chemistry and nothing whatsoever to do with a game of biological Russian Roulette.
This is a relief because brain chemistry is greatly affected by lifestyle and nutrition – and that means we can help ourselves.
Sometimes We Simply Forget
It’s a fact that forgetfulness can crop up from time to time, regardless of age, but with advancing years those moments are prone to become more frequent:
-‘Did I lock the door?’
-‘Did I switch the gas off?’
-‘Where did I put my keys?’
Most of us can recognise this, either first-hand or from our parents, and if things remained at this level we could consider it to be endearingly eccentric.
One thing you should take into account is that failing to remember something, such as the name of someone you were recently introduced to, or the time you booked an appointment, doesn’t necessarily mean your memory is in decline. What it often means is that you were not fully concentrating; you were on autopilot. This is mainly due to a lack of focus and you were trying to keep various other things in your mind at the same time. Focus, as well as a sharp memory, is something nootropics can help with.
How to Improve Memory
A vitally important process in protecting neural function is the simple act of using your brain to manipulate words, numbers, ideas etc., and do this frequently. Make sure you extend thought processes to delve ever deeper into your memory bank and embrace the challenge of adding yet more information to your store of knowledge. Like a muscle, it’s a case of use it or lose it, and this is why crossword puzzles, quizzes, card games, chess, scrabble, and all things that keep you mentally on your toes are useful tools. The brain needs constant exercise of a certain type to enable it to maintain and renew neural pathways and this, combined with appropriate nutrition, can help you keep that sharp edge even into advanced old age.
In the days before technology became so sophisticated, when there were no telephones, televisions, radios and computers, people had to memorise a great deal more. Going back even further, when the majority of folk couldn’t even read and write, they depended upon the educated few to convey news, general information and entertainment by word of mouth. This required people to absorb and retain huge amounts of data so they could pass it on. Such cognitive exercise stimulated the production of higher levels of a vital brain chemical.
Our lifestyle is now geared to having constant information on tap – the tap of a screen to be exact. Courtesy of smart phones and tablets, we rarely feel obliged to commit anything entirely to memory because we have a back-up. We have apps which help with almost everything we need to do, such as our weekly grocery shop, programming our heating and lighting systems, navigating a route, catching up on the news, converting currency, translating languages, an endless supply of answers to any questions we care to throw at Google – not to mention apps that help us find the love of our life. This is all wonderful, but it does tend to give our brain an easy ride when it comes to striving to commit things to memory.
The problem is, having so much technology at our fingertips affects our natural ability to produce a vital brain chemical, and this has an impact in two ways. Firstly, the constant stimulation from TV, smart phones and computers distorts the way our brain processes information and reduces our ability to biologically produce the necessary chemicals. Secondly, because we no longer need to commit basic information such as important dates, phone numbers, car registration numbers, addresses and appointments to memory, our brains have become trained to forget. A couple of examples: Can you remember birthdays without reminders from social media platforms? Or recall post codes without checking the contacts in your phone? Our parents and grandparents most probably could have done so, often without needing to consult birthday and address books.
We can’t go back. Life has moved on and technology is with us for keeps. The question is, what is the key to arresting the resultant danger of brain atrophy? How can we compensate for the lack of much needed memory exercise?
The Essential Molecule
What is that brain chemical that can help protect and maintain memory? The answer is acetylcholine, a protein which carries signals among brain cells and plays a starring role in memory function. Acetylcholine is significantly noted to be deficient in the brain cells of those with age-related dementia.
Dementia is a condition which impacts negatively on the function of hippocampus-dependent learning. Whilst research into the causes and possible cures for dementia are ongoing, it is known that acetylcholine does important work as a neurotransmitter. Its role is to fire up the hippocampus, the area of the brain which controls the performance of the long-term (episodic) memory. This is where records of our past experiences and resultant emotions are stored. It also includes the functioning of the semantic memory where our knowledge of words, numbers and concepts are held. It is the semantic memory which gives us the ability to understand language and communicate with others. Although this huge amount of memory is filed away, it also has to be on constant standby to enable us to function in the present moment. This is why neurotransmission is vital to cognitive function and why acetylcholine is considered to be an essential molecule.
To summarise, some facts on acetylcholine backed by trusted sources are:
- The molecule acetylcholine transmits messages from brain to body via nerve cells.
- Acetylcholine is produced from acetyl coenzyme A derived from glucose, and from choline, using an enzyme called choline acetyltransferase. This helps with various functions such as thought processes, memory and muscle movement.
- Diminished acetylcholine levels are associated with learning difficulties and reduced memory function. It is also linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vital to cognitive sharpness, acetylcholine performs the task of creating new connections and maintaining the brain’s existing wiring system, consisting of a network of fibres carrying information to various parts of the central nervous system. These fibres are called neural pathways, and when levels of acetylcholine diminish, the brain gradually begins to shrink. However, we now know that it is possible to slow, and even arrest that process with the correct nutrients which are capable of indirectly raising our levels of acetylcholine.
Supplements of acetylcholine itself do not exist but it is possible to boost naturally occurring acetylcholine levels by enriching our diet and/or supplementing with choline.
Choline – The Essential Nootropic
Research has found that the essential nutrient choline plays a key role in the biochemical chain reaction which results in the speedy creation and release of acetylcholine. It has been recorded that choline is capable of ‘fending off cognitive decline in old age.’ It does this by blocking an enzyme called cholinesterase which breaks down and diminishes acetylcholine.
Choline is not a vitamin or mineral, it is a water-soluble compound similar to B complex vitamins. It is needed not only for a healthy brain but for liver function, muscle movement, nervous system and metabolism. Your liver makes small amounts of choline, but most of the amount needed must come from your diet or from supplements.
Foods Containing Choline:
- Beef and beef liver
- Cashew nuts
- Kidney beans (cooked)
- Quinoa (cooked)
- Shiitake mushrooms (cooked)
- Brussel sprouts
Choline is derived from the soybean in the form of lecithin which is widely used as an emulsifier by the food production industry – an unusual case where processed foods may have a health benefit. Soybean is also used to produce choline as a dietary supplement.
Vegetarian and vegan diets may not provide sufficient choline as plant food sources have lower levels than fish, meat and eggs. It’s important that when taking choline as a supplement that the amounts are carefully measured as in our nootropic and vitamin B supplements:
Choline is included in our Super B Complex vitamin supplement.
Choline is included in our Nootropic Complex and is listed as Alpha GPC.Best Science-Backed Nootropics For Memory
In human, placebo-controlled studies, certain nootropics were found to have positive impact on memory.
- Bacopa Monnieri
- Known as Bacopa, this herb has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine as a herb for sharpening the mind. It is used in Ayurvedic formulations to treat memory loss and poor cognition. A clinical study concluded that Bacopa can inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from microglial cells and inhibit enzymes associated with inflammation in the brain.
- A significant Australian randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial in 2005 into whether bacopa could improve memory performance in older adults had very positive findings. Bacopa significantly improved memory acquisition and retention, however, at the dose administered for the trial it did cause some gastrointestinal tract side-effects.
- B Vitamins
- B Complex Vitamins are important compounds for brain health. They comprise vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin, B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin).
- Deficiency of vitamins B1–thiamine and B12-niacin are most generally understood to be linked to neural deterioration. Lack of B12 is often a cited in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. In those over 65 years of age, B12 deficiency is more likely to occur and also in cases where digestive problems such as gastritis have interfered with the absorption of nutrients.
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Possibly the oldest species of tree on earth, ginkgo is at least 270 million years old and has been used in Chinese medicine for as long as records exist. Modern medicinal use of gingko has been based on the research of scientists in Germany and China where it is a prescription drug.
- Gingko leaves have been used for thousands of years to improve cognitive function and also boost blood flow to the brain. As a nootropic supplement or prescription drug, ginkgo has proven to be effective for helping to alleviate memory loss, brain fog and can also ease tinnitus. A study has shown that it may make significant improvements in cases of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Huperzine A
- Sourced from a Chinese club moss and once extracted it is purified and processed to the extent that it is often regarded more as a manufactured drug than a natural supplement. Huperzine A is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other impaired memory conditions, including age-related dementia.
- Huperzine A can have an adverse reaction when taken alongside certain pharmaceutical drugs and should not be taken without first seeking medical advice.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom
- The botanical name of which is Hericium Erinaceus, is native to Malaysia. The mushrooms grow on the trunks of hardwood trees and are traditionally taken for impaired memory and cognitive decline. This fungus has long been a major player in traditional Chinese medicine and modern clinical studies have found it to have powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunostimulant properties. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms are well respected as a nootropic and are a safe, effective and natural dietary supplement.
- Alpha GPC
- L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine or L-Alpha GPC is a choline compound naturally occurring in the brain. Although this compound is made by the liver, it is also possible for it to be manufactured in laboratories, usually from soy, for use as medicine or supplement. In certain countries of Europe alpha-GPC is a prescription only drug, but in the UK and United States it is available as a supplement.
- Alpha-GPC works by indirectly increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain and is widely used as a treatment for impaired memory, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and vascular dementia. Alpha-GPC is a powerful addition to nootropic stacks to aid memory and improve cognitive function.
Supplementing With a Nootropic
If you are uncertain that your diet is providing sufficient nutrients to enable your memory to keep its sharp edge, then you may wish to consider adding our nootropic supplement stack to your daily diet.
Nootropic Complex has been expertly devised by experienced natural health professionals, to contain the correct amounts of all the compounds needed to support the health of your brain and help protect your cognitive function – including memory.
Avoiding Memory Decline
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help yourself avoid the onset of memory decline. Avoiding certain things may seem like common sense, but sometimes the most obvious of things don’t occur to us unless pointed out:
Manage Blood Pressure
It’s important to check from time to time that your blood pressure is not too high. Blood pressure can be raised without you knowing and if it is generally too high you could be in danger of stroke, heart attack and early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Exposure to Loud Music and Noise
Research has found that frequent exposure to loud music has a detrimental effect upon the brain. Hearing loss has been linked to premature brain shrinkage and this can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This is thought to be due to the brain being unable to store what has been heard in the memory bank. By keeping the volume on your device lower than 60% will help you to protect yourself against hearing loss caused by constant loud music. By protecting your hearing, you are also protecting the health of your brain.
A Sedentary Lifestyle
A life where physical activity is reduced to a minimum can lead to a higher risk of various problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. These are all linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise needn’t be strenuous or cause you to feel unwell or exhausted. Gentle walking, swimming and a little gardening for about thirty minutes three times a week is sufficient to alleviate the risk of dementia and other health conditions.
Physical movement has a positive effect on your blood vessels, and this includes the blood vessels in your brain. It also improves neuroplasticity (your brain’s ability to form new connections based on learning and experiences). Exercise also helps with stress reduction and boosts the amount of oxygen reaching your brain.
Eating too many calories for your energy output creates an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. This in turn increases your risk of dementia and cognitive decline. It also leads to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. If weight is a problem, your GP may be able to recommend a nutritionist or system to help you work out a plan that will fit into your lifestyle and help you achieve a healthier weight. Changing what you eat and how much, is often about learning how to let go of old habits and embrace new ones. With support this is totally possible.
Allowing yourself to become dehydrated puts a big strain on your brain. It will affect your cognitive function and your ability to be alert and attentive. It also may put you at greater risk of memory decline. Remember to drink plenty of water or herbal tea. Also remember that coffee will dehydrate you. If you have nothing but coffee when you wake up in the morning, you will begin the day in a state of dehydration. A glass of water, even if you don’t really feel like drinking it, will give your whole body a fighting chance of functioning more efficiently, and will certainly improve your concentration levels and your memory.
Cut Back on Sugar
A diet which includes lots of sugar will damage brain function by altering levels of the good bacteria which inhabit the gut. Sugar provides fuel for harmful gut bacteria and these are linked with decreased cognitive ability. Try to cut out or limit cakes, biscuits, pastries, sweets, ice cream, fruit juices and honey.
Go Easy on Salt
Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, and high blood pressure, particularly during midlife, is linked with a greater risk of cognitive impairment and stroke. Avoid eating salty foods such as crisps, salted nuts, processed and smoked meats and don’t add extra salt to your food at the table. You may find you can cut down on the amount of salt you add to food as you cook. Our love of salty food is a habit from childhood, and it can be unlearned. It takes a few weeks to begin to not mind the lack of saltiness, but if you persist you will suddenly find you are tasting your food as it really should taste, not altered by added salt. If you then find yourself eating something which has been liberally salted, you will find it unpleasant, and this is good.
Too-much-too-often can result in early cognitive decline. In extreme cases it can also lead to a disease known as Korsakoff Syndrome which is caused by a chronic lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). This is usually associated with alcohol abuse over a long period of time.
Are Memory Lapses Worrying You?
There may be times when you have cause to feel concern either for yourself, a family member or friend. Here are a few pertinent questions to give you an idea of whether a problem exists:
- Are you finding it hard to deal with various daily tasks?
- Are you quickly forgetting things you have only just heard?
- Are you having to rely on numerous forms of reminder, such as notes and electronic notifications to keep tabs on what you need to do during the day?
- Has anyone noticed that you have asked the same question more than once or twice?
Everyone has times when such issues arise and it doesn’t mean memory is permanently in decline, but if they seem to be happening too often to ignore then it may be a good idea to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
Meanwhile, there are various organisations who can give excellent advice, information and support:
If you would like to discuss any aspects of using natural supplements, or would find advice helpful, please feel free to contact us on 01297 553932.