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Condition - Marvellous memory maintenance!

By Kelly Walker DipION FdSc VN

If you are a bit of a news hound, then you may have come across news of recent research on dementia testing. Doctors in the USA recently released evidence showing that a simple eye test may be useful for detecting early onset dementia. Now don’t go rushing off to your local GP surgery or optician demanding this test just yet! It is still in the early days of research and further research is required. Even though this test is not yet available, the research results are encouraging and it could mean that, in the future, many more cases of dementia will be detected earlier.

Memory and concentration loss can be frustrating but, for some, it can be very debilitating. We will all, to a certain degree, experience some kind of memory loss in our lifetime. This can range from “baby brain” in pregnancy to stress-induced forgetfulness. For some people, the memory loss is more severe and, unfortunately, in many cases it is irreversible.

It is estimated that over 700,000 people are currently living with dementia of one form or another in the UK. A new case of dementia is diagnosed every 3.2 minutes in England and Wales alone. Dementia is characterised by a progressive deterioration of mental functioning including loss of short-term memory, moodiness, irritability and, sometimes, personality changes. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most well-known forms of dementia and involves deterioration of brain tissue, due to “plaques” being deposited in the structure of the brain. The damage that occurs is irreversible and the loss of memory is often devastating. Alzheimer’s disease can occur at any age but most commonly occurs after the age of 50.

Regardless of what age you are now, nutritional intervention may play a large role in supporting your memory through to your twilight years. Studies have shown that a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and oily fish reduces the risk of memory loss, regardless of the cause, but what else does the brain need in order to function efficiently?

The brain is one of our vital organs and has immense nutritional requirements. Twenty per cent of blood leaving the heart goes straight to the brain - this is a vast amount, given the size of the organ! Blood supplied to the brain carries vital oxygen, glucose and other important nutrients. A good circulation ensures your brain is receiving essential blood. Nutrients such as arginine pyroglutamate, ginkgo and periwinkle may aid in a healthy circulation.

Acetylcholine is an important brain chemical that is used in many brain processes, including memory. Specific nutrients are important for the manufacture and release of acetylcholine:

  • Choline is essential and studies have shown that supplementing with choline helps to preserve a healthy memory.
  • Phosphatidyl serine supports the release of acetylcholine. One study noted significant effects on memory retention in those given a supplement of phosphatidyl serine .
  • Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is also essential for memory  and a good thiamine intake has been shown to prolong healthy mental functioning.
  • Acetyl-l-carnitine and DMAE have a similar structure to acetylcholine and, therefore, may be valuable for a good memory. In addition, acetyl-l-carnitine also has potent antioxidant activity and is able to protect brain cells from damage.

There is a view, among those who study memory loss, that it may be linked to an increase in inflammation. This suggests that an adequate intake of antioxidants is vital. Antioxidants can help to keep damaging free radicals and inflammation in check. Some of the most beneficial antioxidants for protection of brain tissue include the fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid. Extra vitamin C may also be beneficial as it can support the regeneration of vitamin E. Zinc assists our body to produce antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), and a low level of zinc has been linked to memory loss. Supplemental zinc may contribute to good memory retention.

Among the most well-studied nutrients are the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish. The brain has a high fat content and contains significant levels of DHA - an omega 3 fatty acid. Low levels of DHA, and its parent compound EPA, have been linked with an impaired ability to think effectively. Including oily fish in your diet at least three times a week, and a daily supplement may ensure your brain receives adequate omega 3s.

Keeping your mind active is as important as exercising the rest of your body. Make crosswords and puzzles, such as sudoku, part of your daily routine.

It is never too late to start making positive changes towards memory maintenance and taking action now can help to preserve your little grey cells for many years to come! 

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