Here is question 17 of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions.
Are there herbal and vitamin supplements that will protect my memory?
- 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!
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 studyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lead author, Dr. Nair said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“No beneficial effects on quality of life were observed. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no evidence based on this study that DHEA has an antiaging effect.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ginkgo biloba is another over-the-counter memory-enhancing supplement frequently mentioned. Yet, Paul Solomon from Williams College found Ã¢â‚¬Å“when taken following the manufacturerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s instructions, ginkgo provides no measurable benefit in memory or related cognitive function to adults with healthy cognitive function.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 KingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 FontaniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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?
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards.
- Get plenty of physical exercise.
- Stay cognitively active.
- Reduce your stress.
- And as always, talk with your doctor about any health concerns.
- Durga J, Verhoef P, Anteunis LJ, Schouten EG, Kok FJ. Effects of folic acid supplementation on hearing in older adults: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2007;146:1–9.
- Durga J, van Boxtel MP, Schouten EG, Kok FJ, Jolles J, Katan MB, Verhoef P. Effect of 3‑year folic acid supplementation on cognitive function in older adults in the FACIT trial: a randomised, double blind, controlled trial. Lancet. 2007;369:208–16.
- Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, Alfatti F, Migliorini S, Lodi L. Cognitive and physiological effects of Omega‑3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Invest. 2005;35:691–9.
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology. 2006;67:1370–1376.
- Nair KS, Rizza RA, O’Brien P, et al. DHEA in elderly women and DHEA or testosterone in elderly men. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1647–59.
- Solomon PR, Adams F, Silver A, Zimmer J, DeVeaux R. Ginkgo for memory enhancement: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002;288:835–40.
P. Gassman M.D. says
Very useful information! Agrees with my research.
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.
I remembered this article on brain health and nutrition on our archive — wonder if it could be of interest in this area
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.
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.
Jack M says
Which “mental enhancing” supplements can even pass through the brain-blood barrier?
Jack: good point. That’s one of the reasons why none of the supplements seem to work as advocates suggest.
Thanks for good information at a nice moment.
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.