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Are there herbal and vitamin supplements that will protect my memory?

Here is ques­tion 17 of 25 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions.

Ques­tion:
Are there herbal and vit­a­min sup­ple­ments that will pro­tect my memory?

Key Points:

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in cold-water fish may be help­ful to long term brain health.
  • Folic acid may also be help­ful to both cog­ni­tive func­tion and hearing.
  • Ginkgo biloba and DHEA do not appear to help your brain.
  • There is still more research to be done and never dis­miss the placebo effect!

Answer:

Per­haps. The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine pub­lished an arti­cle debunk­ing DHEA, a steroid pre­cur­sor to testos­terone and estro­gen used to fight aging. The con­clu­sion of a two-year study at the Mayo Clinic in Min­nesota and Uni­ver­sity of Padua in Italy showed it did not improve strength, phys­i­cal per­for­mance, or other mea­sures of health. The study’s lead author, Dr. Nair said, “No ben­e­fi­cial effects on qual­ity of life were observed. There’s no evi­dence based on this study that DHEA has an anti­ag­ing effect.”

Ginkgo biloba is another over-the-counter memory-enhancing sup­ple­ment fre­quently men­tioned. Yet, Paul Solomon from Williams Col­lege found “when taken fol­low­ing the manufacturer’s instruc­tions, ginkgo pro­vides no mea­sur­able ben­e­fit in mem­ory or related cog­ni­tive func­tion to adults with healthy cog­ni­tive func­tion.” Nicholas Burns from the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide, Aus­tralia found longer-term mem­ory improved in healthy 55–79 year olds, but no other cog­ni­tive mea­sure improved for either younger or older par­tic­i­pants. Sarah Elsabagh from King’s Col­lege Lon­don found ginkgo ini­tially improved atten­tion and mem­ory. How­ever, there were no ben­e­fits after 6 weeks, sug­gest­ing that a tol­er­ance devel­ops quickly. Not an over­whelm­ing endorsement.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as mack­erel, her­ring, salmon, and tuna look more promis­ing. Giu­liano Fontani’s work at the Uni­ver­sity of Siena in Italy asso­ci­ated omega-3 sup­ple­men­ta­tion with improved atten­tional and phys­i­o­log­i­cal func­tions, par­tic­u­larly those involv­ing com­plex cor­ti­cal processing.

Folic acid sup­ple­men­ta­tion also shows promise of pro­tect­ing and improv­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion in older adults, accord­ing to a 2007 study pub­lished in Lancet by Jane Durga and col­leagues. It may also reduce age-related decline in hearing.

What can you do right now?

  1. Eat a bal­anced diet with plenty of green leafy veg­eta­bles such as spinach, kale and collards.
  2. Get plenty of phys­i­cal exercise.
  3. Stay cog­ni­tively active.
  4. Reduce your stress.
  5. And as always, talk with your doc­tor about any health concerns.

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