Do you find yourself losing your keys on a too-regular basis? Are you struggling to keep track of details at the office? Many of us work hard to keep our bodies fit as we age, but we don’t always do the same for our brains. Here are four habits that help you prevent memory loss.
Adding the right nutrients to your diet can seriously boost your brain power. Here are some of my favorite foods for improving cognition and preventing memory loss.
A 2015 study found eating just a few walnuts a day may improve memory and concentration as well as increase the speed at which you process information. Walnuts are high in alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to be good for your brain.
Salmon and other fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA that are critical for neurological development and function. Research suggests omega-3s may be able to mitigate age-related deterioration of the brain. One study found older adults who took a DHA supplement for six months showed improvements in learning and memory, indicating “a potentially beneficial role for DHA in preventing or ameliorating cognitive decline” related to aging. Just make sure it is wild because farmed salmon are fed poor quality food and have lower amounts of DHA.
The cocoa in chocolate is a nutritional powerhouse packed with bioactive substances like flavonoids that may improve memory and cognition. Look for 70% dark or higher to avoid too much sugar.
If you struggle to get enough brain-boosting nutrients from your diet, supplements can be a good option. Here are a few favorites from my list of top supplements for brain health.
A compound found in red wine and dark chocolate, resveratrol is sometimes called “the longevity molecule” because it has been shown to lengthen the lifespan of many different animal species. Research suggests resveratrol may enhance plasticity of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory.
Preliminary research suggests supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine may help slow down cognitive decline associated with aging. A meta-analysis of studies looking at supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine for periods ranging from 3 to 12 months showed beneficial effects for people with mild cognitive impairment as well as those with early Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure to get the “acetyl-” form when taking this for brain health.
An herbal supplement with a long history of use, ginkgo biloba is believed to enhance cognitive function. While results have sometimes been mixed, research indicates ginkgo can improve your memory. In one study, middle-aged volunteers were given either ginkgo biloba extract or a placebo every day for six weeks. At the end of the study period, those who took ginkgo were better able to perform the demanding recall task of remembering a list of appointments.
Train Your Brain
Have you seen ads for brain-training games and wondered if they were worth your time (and money)? Science suggests the answer is yes. A new study found cognitive training increased the energy efficiency of participants’ brains. In the randomized clinical trial, adults aged 56 to 71 were either given twelve weeks of cognitive training or assigned to one of two control groups. Measuring brain activity, researchers found those in the cognitive training group showed a significant increase in the association between reaction time and frontal lobe activity compared to the control groups, meaning their brains didn’t have to work as hard to perform tasks. I’ve partnered with the leading Boston-based cognition lab, Cambridge Brain Sciences, to provide high-quality cognitive training to my patients. Check out a sample game here and then send us a message if interested in signing up for your own program.
Check Your Vitamin Levels
While memory loss is common as we age, it can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. To make sure your levels of B12 (and everything else) are where they should be, consider micronutrient testing. Knowing your body’s deficiencies can change your health because a few simple tweaks can fix problems you didn’t even know you had. Micronutrient testing can also help you avoid throwing away money on unnecessary supplements by pinpointing exactly what you’re lacking.
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.