“Have you seen my car keys?” A common question asked by many babyboomers. Don’t worry, it’s not a sign of Alzheimer’s; just a sign of aging. But what’s the reason behind episodic memory loss?
Genetics has a 30 percent role in how well our brain functions as we age, which leaves 70 percent within our control. By control, I mean diet for healthy memory. Here is a short list of nutrients that can help play a large role in maintaining healthy memory as we age:
Vitamin B6. How much does diet have to do with memory? A group of researchers in the Netherlands decided to see what would happen if they added vitamin B6 to the diets of healthy older men. First the men were given a mental test that included things such as being able to remember different objects flashed on a screen and the names and occupations of people in a list. Then one group took 20 milligrams of B6 a day, while the others took placebos.
At the end of three months, the men were tested again. The memories of those in the vitamin B6 group showed “modest but significant” gains, especially in long-term memory. There’s a good reason that vitamin B6 helps memory. Vitamin B6 helps create dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, important neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters play a role in the transmission of messages from one brain cell to another.
The Daily Value of two milligrams should be sufficient to help keep your memory in good working order. You can easily get this amount as part of a B-complex supplement that supplies the Daily Values of all B vitamins. You should never take B6 by itself without medical supervision, as amounts above 100 milligrams can be toxic.
Lecithin/Choline. Choline is an essential nutrient needed for the structural integrity and signaling functions of cell membranes and for normal cholinergic neurotransmission. In animal behavior tests, choline given to the aged and memory-deficient mice almost completely reversed the behavioral changes, such as impairment of memory retention in the step-through test (an index of long-term memory) and prolonged swimming time in water maze test (an index of spatial recognition memory). The results suggest a novel and potential therapeutic use of choline in the age-related cognitive deficits.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC). One study was conducted to determine whether N-acetylcysteine (NAC) supplementation can help ameliorate learning and memory deficits caused by hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress in experimental diabetes. Cognitive deficits were observed in diabetic lab animals Supplementation with NAC in drinking their drinking water significantly reduced cognitive deficits and oxidative stress in the diabetic rats. Results emphasize the involvement of increased oxidative stress in cognitive impairment in diabetic animals and point towards the potential beneficial role of NAC may play in helping people to maintain healthy memory.
Alpha Lipoic Acid. Over time, free radicals can damage DNA in cells of the brain. However, antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid helps neutralize free radical and the damage they cause. One study showed that when lab animals were exposed to radiation and subsequent DNA damage, treatment with ALA acted as a potent neuroprotective antioxidant and halted memory dysfunction. Alpha Lipoic Acid is also an excellent metal chelator (helps remove toxic metals from the body).
Acetyl-L-carnitine. As we age, mitochondria, the cell’s power plant, begins to decay, which affects brain cell function. In one study, older Beagle dogs were administered a twice daily supplement of alpha-lipoic acid (LA) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) over approximately 2 months. Results showed it made significantly fewer errors in reaching the learning criterion on two discrimination tasks compared to controls administered a placebo. This study suggests that long-term maintenance on LA and ALC may be effective in reducing age-associated cognitive decline by slowing the rate of mitochondrial decay and cellular aging. Studies on rats showing a high degree of oxidative stress-induced memory impairment also showed improved spatial memory performance and decreased oxidative stress when treated with ALC.