Do you want some solutions to help you improve memory and brain function? If so, you’re far from alone. The majority of my middle-aged and older patients are concerned about staying mentally sharp. A client I’ll call Wayne summed it up nicely when he said, “I don’t mind getting older, but I do worry about forgetting things. Everyone I know is terrified of getting Alzheimer’s. I’d just like to know what I can do to protect myself.”
I’m not surprised that people are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We are currently witnessing epidemic levels of this brain-damaging condition, with no cure in sight. There’s a great deal of research underway, however, so remedies may be available at some point.
In the meantime, here’s some good news: Researchers have discovered that nerve cells in the brain are far more adaptable than anyone believed. In fact, they are capable of overcoming damage and creating new connections with one another to compensate. This is why brain workouts, playing video games, especially the “exergames” requiring movement, or learning a language or musical instrument can help stave off dementia.
But here’s the thing: Games and learning new skills are not enough. As I tell my patients with memory concerns, all the things I recommend for overall health also benefit the brain. In fact, the following building blocks are the keys to age-proofing your brain:
- Eat nutritious, whole foods
- Get plenty of sleep
- Drink lots of pure, fresh water
- Take appropriate supplements
- Minimize stress
You can do all the crossword puzzles you want, but if you’re not caring for your overall health, senior moments can become a permanent condition.
Another thing you need to know: Ongoing studies examining brain health are revealing that a condition known as type 3 diabetes may be responsible for the faulty mental functions that plague so many older people. Please read on to discover how you can outwit the miseries that often accompany memory loss.
Maintain Your Brain Function
In 2005, researchers at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island published landmark research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. In the article, they proposed a novel theory based on the discovery that insulin resistance occurs in the brain, as well as in the body.
Research into insulin resistance and the brain is ongoing. Meanwhile, I encourage my patients with concerns about memory not to wait for more proof of the link. Do everything possible now to protect your brain from the ravages of insulin resistance, and that includes taking all the necessary steps to combat obesity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Even if it turns out that there’s nothing to the theory, you’ve done yourself a huge favor by keeping insulin and blood sugar levels low.
The Eight Ways to Improve Memory
If preventing insulin resistance is one key to a healthy brain, then what we eat is clearly important. But a host of other factors, over which we have some control, can positively affect our brains as well.
Brain-Saving Changes to Make Now
- Replace unhealthy fats with good fats.
- Limit the amount of chemicals (preservatives, colorings, and other additives) and sugar in your diet.
- Consume plenty of antioxidants.
- Prevent dehydration.
- Minimize exposure to environmental toxins.
- Change from a sedentary to an active lifestyle.
- Reduce stress.
- Moderate alcohol consumption.
Let’s take a look at each of these and what you can do to maximize their impact.
Eat Real Food: The Nutrition Your Brain Needs
The Standard American Diet (SAD) may be responsible for more than our expanding waistlines; it is also linked to the slow but steady brain damage that erodes memory.
Am I being overly dramatic? Not at all. If you could see what happens in your brain after eating the typical meal, you would probably say I’m understating the case.
Our brains consist primarily of fat. And while there’s certainly no shortage of fat in the SAD, nearly all of it is the wrong kind of fat — saturated and trans fats, as well as large amounts of vegetable oils filled with omega-6 fatty acids, leaving little room for the much healthier omega-3s.
In addition to unhealthy fats, we eat far too many chemicals (preservatives, colorings, and other additives) and loads of health-destroying sugar. None of these things does your brain a bit of good. In fact, the epidemic of insulin resistance is firmly rooted in poor diet. That’s why my first suggestion to anyone complaining of memory problems is to add an omega-3-rich supplement, because it can go a long way toward correcting some of the damage done by diet.
Research shows a link between decreased risk of dementia and the omega-3 fatty acids, which include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). One recently published study stands out: UCLA researchers found that individuals with the lowest levels of DHA had smaller brain volumes, and their brains showed signs of cognitive impairment even though they had not been diagnosed with dementia.
Far too many studies for me to include here show the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, to brain health. But I’m not exaggerating when I say if there is one thing that can help protect your brain, it’s the omega-3s found in Calamarine, a purified and stable omega-3 that I prefer over fish oil.
I would like to recommend eating fish, but considering the toxic chemicals in farmed fish (as well as wild caught), it’s wise to limit fish consumption to once or twice per week. Purified or molecularly distilled omega-3s are a much better choice. I recommend 1,000 mg twice daily of a product with about twice the amount of brain-powering DHA as EPA. Vegetarians or those who are allergic to seafood can take advantage of flaxseeds and flaxseed oil as an alternative. I recommend one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily.
Consume Antioxidants: Shield Your Brain Cells
In addition to the protection provided by omega-3s, I encourage all my patients to eat antioxidant-rich foods, especially fruits, vegetables, herbs, and nuts. The nutrients in these foods protect brain cells — as well as the rest of the cells in the body — from damage.
I consider antioxidant supplements essential because of the unknown nutrient levels in the depleted soil where our food grows. One solution is to take a combination antioxidant product. These usually contain vitamins A, C, and E, along with the mineral selenium and other assorted nutrients. Follow the dosage instructions on the product you choose.
Here’s another antioxidant I’ve had some real success with — acetyl-l-carnitine, sometimes called ALC or ALCAR. Our bodies produce some ALC, but aging slows the process, so supplements are recommended. Dozens of clinical trials with ALC show that this compound increases longevity, improves Alzheimer’s symptoms and depression, strengthens the heart, and enhances learning. You can safely take 500 to 3,000 mg of ALC daily.
Drink Plenty of Water: Protect Against Brain Shrinkage
Water makes up a substantial part of the brain. Unfortunately, far too many people are suffering from low-grade dehydration. Like a nutrient-poor diet, too little water not only interferes with brain functions but also causes brain shrinkage, something none of us wants.
So do yourself a favor drink more fresh, pure water. Instead of settling for 8 glasses a day, I recommend drinking a number of ounces of water each day equivalent to half your weight. As an example, an individual who weighs 160 pounds should drink 80 ounces of water daily. I’ve found that drinking 22 ounces of fresh water first thing in the morning really helps to rehydrate and replace much of the water lost while sleeping.
Anyone who is physically active, takes dehydrating medications (like antihistamines), or drinks beverages with a diuretic effect (such as coffee) may need to drink even more water.
Coffee is a special case, since recent studies show that the combination of caffeine and an unknown compound in the coffee work together to protect against AD. To maintain hydration, I suggest matching each cup of coffee with an equivalent amount of water. Otherwise, the dehydrating effects of the coffee may well cancel out the benefits.
Eliminate Toxins: Enhance Brain Functions
A huge body of research shows that environmental toxins affect many aspects of our health, including the neurotransmitters the brain uses for communication. If you want to improve your memory and brain health, minimize your exposure to chemicals such as cleaning products, pesticides and herbicides, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Consuming organic foods and detoxifying regularly can help your liver eliminate these harmful substances. Milk thistle is an herb with a long history of liver support. I recommend 200 mg of milk thistle three times a day.
Exercise: Build a Better Brain
Believe me, when it comes to exercise, I’ve heard all the excuses — no time, too tired, can’t afford a gym membership, don’t like it, painful this or that. But the bottom line is this: There is no substitute for exercise when it comes to brain health. So unless your doctor has told you that you’re not healthy enough for activity, please don’t sit this one out.
I’ve seen people’s lives transformed by movement, and it doesn’t matter if it’s high-intensity spinning or something as simple as walking the dog. You need to get moving, regularly. Studies repeatedly show that exercise benefits the brain; reduces stress — another brain-draining factor — and lowers the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, prediabetes and diabetes, all of which interfere with optimal mental functioning.
Drink in Moderation: Prevent Brain Cell Death
If you drink alcohol, be aware that more than one daily drink for women, or two for men, can contribute to brain shrinkage and brain cell death. Personally, I believe that any benefits you think you’re getting from drinking alcohol can be achieved with healthier behaviors. And keep in mind that alcohol dependence or addiction has a major impact on memory and overall brain health.
In addition, many people are suffering from memory loss due to inadequate sleep, inflammation, or prescription-drug side effects. For them, improved sleep habits or substituting safer, natural alternatives can make a world of difference.
The Following Supplements Have Proven Brain Benefits
- Vitamin B complex (look for a product with at least 100 mg of the “major” Bs)
- Ginkgo (120 to 160 mg daily)
- Vinpocetine (30 to 60 mg daily)
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) (300 mg daily)
There’s much more to say about protecting the brain, so we’ll be returning to this subject soon. In the meantime, remember this: Our brains are marvelous machines designed to last for years. But it’s up to us to provide them with everything they need to remain healthy.