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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.

Fur­ther Reading

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12 Responses

  1. P. Gassman M.D. says:

    Very use­ful infor­ma­tion! Agrees with my research.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks Dr. Gassman! If you come across other good arti­cles in your research, please do let us know. Nutri­tion is such a dif­fi­cult area in which to run good studies.

  3. eleanor says:

    http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/mindfood.htm

    I remem­bered this arti­cle on brain health and nutri­tion on our archive — won­der if it could be of inter­est in this area

  4. Caroline says:

    Eleanor, really inter­est­ing arti­cle. I know from per­sonal expe­ri­ence I can feel the dif­fer­ence in mood and energy based on what I eat (plus exer­cise, stress, and sleep), but look­ing at the list of ref­er­ences in the arti­cle is impres­sive. I agree with the arti­cle that we need to at least con­sider try­ing more lifestyle changes that work with our bod­ies rather than resort­ing to quick fixes that may lead to other problems.

  5. […] 6) Fur­ther, more research will be con­ducted on other areas poten­tially affect­ing cog­ni­tive health such as nutri­tion, men­tal activ­ity, and social engagement. […]

  6. […] Take care of your nutri­tion. Did you know that the brain only weights 2% of body mass but con­sumes over 20% of the oxy­gen and nutrients we intake? As a gen­eral rule, you don’t need expen­sive ultra-sophisticated nutri­tional sup­ple­ments, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”. […]

  7. […] […] approve this astound­ing post at http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/02/22/are-there-herbal-and-vitamin-supplements-that-will-protect-my-memory about […] the-greatest-vitamin-in-the-world.1vitamins […]

  8. Ralph says:

    great arti­cle. i am a 55 year old male with a back injury, vegan, work­out 4 times per week. i notice for myself in addi­tion to the sup­ple­ments and eat­ing well, sleep is the most impor­tant for me. pain wears you down like joe fra­zier. by the end of the day, you are beat. i am in bed 9 hours, but do not sleep 9 hours, so i have to adjust my day around that. pain affects mood. also every­one around you. so i do not go by the 6 hours of sleep is enough. for me 6 hours will leave me burnt and exhausted with­out being able to con­cen­trate or work­out. we are all dif­fer­ent and have dif­fer­ent needs.

  9. Jack M says:

    Which “men­tal enhanc­ing” sup­ple­ments can even pass through the brain-blood barrier?

  10. Alvaro says:

    Jack: good point. That’s one of the rea­sons why none of the sup­ple­ments seem to work as advo­cates suggest.

  11. ninin says:

    Thanks for good infor­ma­tion at a nice moment.

  12. Nick says:

    It really depends on how a sup­ple­ment is for­mu­lated. A lot of supps on the mar­ket have ingre­di­ents that can’t pass the blood brain bar­rier, while there are oth­ers that are in fact effec­tive. I think a lot of it has to marketing.

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