Posted On May 04, 2012
By: Lisette Hilton
Nothing is quite as disturbing as that nagging inability to remember something. It’s no wonder, then, that cultures around the world have long searched for magical memory enhancers—herbs and other nutrients that could untangle the cobwebs in our minds and unleash clear recollection.
“The Chinese have pushed huperzine; the Russians golden root [rhodiola rosea); the Italians basil, rosemary and oregano; the Indians tumeric and cumin; and the Israelis olive oil and grapes, which is resveratrol,” says Eric R. Braverman, MD, founder of PATH Medical and author of several consumer health books, including The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health And Longevity With The Balanced Brain Advantage.
Turns out, these and other herbs have memory merit. According to recent scientific literature, these nutrients have all been shown to improve memory to some extent when taken as a supplement. Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a psychiatrist and author of New York Times’ bestsellers Change Your Brain, Change Your Life and Magnificent Mind At Any Age, was lead author on one such study. Published in March 2011 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, his study measured the brains of 30 retired professional football players with evidence of brain damage.
The researchers measured subjects’ thinking ability, focusing on the major cognitive domains of attention, memory, reasoning, and information processing. The subjects were then allowed to participate in brain health interventions, including an educational program on a brain-healthy lifestyle that promoted proper nutrition, regular exercise, alcohol restrictions, drug elimination, smoking cessation and quality sleep. In addition, players were given daily supplements of fish oil, a high-potency multivitamin and a brain enhancement supplement called Brain and Memory Power Boost developed by Dr. Amen (see side bar).
More than two thirds (69%) of the participants reported increases in memory; 53% reported increases in attention; 38% felt their moods improved; 38% felt more motivated; and 25% said they were sleeping better. Follow-up brain imaging showed increased blood flow to key brain areas, helping to confirm those reports.
“We’re very excited about the results,” Dr. Amen says. “I always tell my patients that you have to do this in the context of good habits. That’s why we taught the football players about brain health and used supplements in combination.”
While Dr. Amen’s Brain and Memory Power Boost contained some special herbs as well as potent antioxidants, there are many more common supplements that can help.
Fish oil, like that used in the study, is considered pivotal in brain health supplementation for example; research has shown that it enhances cognition—i.e., our ability to think. There is also research showing that high-potency multivitamins can improve mental performance as well.
Some key ingredients for memory enhancement that can be found in multivitamins, or taken as separate supplements, are the B vitamins, which Dr. Amen says have been shown to enhance mental ability. Folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 all control levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, and high levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Dosages that appear to be effective for improving memory among subjects in scientific studies, according to Dr. Amen, include:
• B6, 50 micrograms a day
• Folic acid, 800 micrograms a day
• B12, 500 micrograms a day
There are lesser-known B vitamins that also play their roles in memory. Dr. Braverman says these include: Inositol, a B vitamin found in foods such as beans and whole grains, which aide in cell membrane development; and choline, an integral part of cell structure and function. Dr. Braverman also developed a memory supplement—Brain Memory—with a balance of ginkgo, GPC choline, huperzine A and acetyl-L-carnitine.
Don’t forget about the other things…
Regardless of how many supplements you take, lifestyle is an overriding factor in brain health, according to experts. There are things we do in our everyday lives that help and hurt memory.
“Stress hurts memory. Empathy helps memory. The more we care about people, the more we feel them, the more it’s going to help our memory,” according to Dr. Braverman. “And you can never underestimate exercise … [for brain health].”
The simple answer for brain health is four words: avoid bad and do good, Dr. Amen says. “Being overweight is bad,” says Dr. Amen. “In addition, there is a whole list of medical problems that steal your brain power: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension….So getting yourself fit and healthy is good for the brain.”
The point is that supplements alone won’t do the trick. “I think if people just rely on supplements and continue to live a lousy lifestyle, [supplements are] not that helpful. But in the context of a brain-smart life, supplements can make a big difference,” says Dr. Amen.
Supplements To Keep In Mind
Resveratrol – A polyphenol compound found in red wine (also
extracted from the herb Polygonum cuspidatum.) Recent studies show that
resveratrol improves cognitive function in mice, as well as primates, by increasing
insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF 1) in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.
Phosphatidyl choline – Helps increase levels of the neurotransmitter
acetylcholine, which is associated with brain speed and short-term memory function.
Appears to prevent further deterioration of mental function in Alzheimer’s patients.
Phosphatidyl serine (PS) – Occuring naturally in the brain, PS
supplement may reverse about 12 years of memory decline. PS is intricately
involved in the strength, permeability, elasticity and maintenance of the
structural integrity of all cell membranes, especially those of the brain.
Ginkgo biloba – May lessen age-associated memory impairment
(AAMI) and improve some mental functions in those afflicted with AAMI.
Brain and Memory Power Boost
This supplement, developed by brain specialist
Dr. Daniel Amen, includes ingredients good for
memory and brain health:
• Ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine, to enhance
blood flow to the brain;
• Antioxidants N-Acetyl-Cysteine and
phosphatidylserine, to help maintain brain
cell membrane integrity; and
• Huperzine A and acetyl-L-carnitine to
enhance acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.