Memory’s smooth running also depends on how healthy the brain is – especially the frontal lobe area (behind the forehead). Increasingly, scientists are finding practical ways to boost the physical side of memory. Here’s how you can give your memory a little TLC…
Take Vitamin B
Taking folic acid and vitamins B12 and B6 improves cognitive function, and boosts short- and long-term memory.
Why it works: An Australian study found that folic acid and vitamin B12 can improve how our memory recalls both recent and older memories. Research by the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing found that taking tablets containing high levels of vitamins B12 and B6, and folic acid slowed brain shrinkage by an average of 30% a year in patients with possible dementia.
How? Vitamin B12 and folic acid are water soluble, so we can’t store them in the body, and it’s almost impossible to take too much. A varied diet with meat, fish and dairy foods should provide sufficient amounts. Alternative sources are green leafy veg, egg yolks, fortified bread or cereals, and tripe. As we age, the body finds it harder to process vitamin B12, so a supplement can help. People on the Australian trial took 400mg folic acid and 100mg vitamin B12 (orally) every day for two years.
Flex your brain
Scientists are interested in ways to improve ‘neural plasticity’ – keeping the pathways and cells of the brains flexible – as this seems to stop or improve cognitive decline.
Why it works: Scientists understand more about these molecules that work by blocking receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and effectively cutting off the brain’s ability to change. Future work may be about discovering drugs to raise levels of acetylcholine.
How? Work on your neural plasticity without taking drugs: learning a new language or how to play an instrument can help or, simpler still, change the default font on your PC to one that’s harder to read. Using a different, slightly difficult-to-decipher font improves long-term retention, as your brain must work harder (and become more flexible) while you read.
Pump up the volume
Improving blood flow to any area promotes healing – that’s why we massage a sore back. You can’t rub your brain, but ensuring brain cells (or neurons) around the frontal lobe get a good supply of oxygen can help cognitive function.
Why it works: Numerous studies have shown exercise improves memory, even in people suffering from dementia. Scientists have recorded increases in neurotransmitter levels (leading to faster, clearer messages), improved oxygen and nutrient delivery, and increased neurogenesis (cell turnover) in the hippocampus – the part where new neurons are made – after exercise. The UK Alzheimer’s Society says regular exercise cuts the risk of developing dementia by 45%.
HOW? Get active. All activities help, but aerobic exercise that makes you breathless and sweaty is what to aim for.
Eat more Es
The other vitamin that boosts cognitive function and protects against memory loss is vitamin E. Try introducing it into your diet by eating foods rich in vitamins E and C. Good sources are almonds, dark green leafy veg and sunflower seeds. Try take 15mg of vitamin E on a daily basis. For vitamin C, a daily dose of between 100 and 200mg is sufficient, but if you want to give your immune system an extra boost during the winter months, you can safely up this dose to 2 000mg a day.
- 20 almonds contain 7% of your daily vitamin E intake
- Half a cup of cooked spinach will give 5% of your daily intake
- 25g of dry-roasted sunflower seeds contains 6%
Detox your bloodstream
Helping your immune system deal with toxins in the bloodstream, such as free radical cells, could improve memory.
Why it works: An Italian report found that a cocoa drink rich in flavanols – the antioxidants found in chocolate – helps people with mild memory problems improve brain function. Flavanols are found in tea, grapes, red wine, apples and cocoa plants. Several studies have also linked gum disease and dementia. Dr Jonathan Levine, an associate professor at New York University, explains that inflamed gums make it easier for bad bacteria to enter your bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout your body, including the brain, which can lead to cognitive dysfunction.
How? Enjoy a square of flavanol-rich very dark chocolate (70% or more) before bed with a mug of tea. Floss twice daily, says Dr Levine.
DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet or exercise plan, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.