Frequently my over-40 patients start getting a little anxious when they begin experiencing “brain fog” and forgetting some things like a name, where they put their keys, appointments, if they took their medications, etc. They fear these lapses may be symptoms of Alzheimer or some other brain-disease.
I assure them that, about 95% of the time, most of these memory episodes are not due to some serious brain process. Rather, they are likely due to just the usual memory and cognition (ability to perceive and interpret) changes that start around age 40.
My patients are often surprised, and more hopeful, when I tell them that many of these changes are not permanent and may indicate just fatigue, stress, nutritional deficiencies, or even cognitive “boredom”, meaning your brain is not getting enough stimulation! In fact, you can do a lot to boost brain power and memory and in this newsletter, I’d like to recommend some easy things that will help you do that.
Your Brain: A Complex Data Base
Our brains store an incredible amount of data in them through three types of memory:
• Short term/temporary – stores things like a phone numbers, addresses or where you put your keys. As your brain gets older, you may have to write down or repeat numbers to recall them. Putting your keys in the same place will also help.
• Long-term recent – type of memory most affected by aging, holds info like someone’s name you just met, what you did several days ago. Inability to recall names is common.
• Long-term remote – memory that stores much older data from your childhood, or what you did on a historical date, is not affected by aging as much. You’ll likely remember what color your childhood bike was than the color of the shirt you wore two days ago!
Boost It Don’t Lose It!
Now, what can you do to boost these three areas of your memory? Here’s what I recommend to my patients:
Diet/Nutrition: You’ve heard that fish is “brain food”, that’s because it contains Omega-3 oils that repair worn out brain cells and preserves all your memory areas. Your brain (and the rest of you) thrives on proteins. Limit simple sugars in your diet. Your brain (and the rest of you) functions better making its own glucose from complex carbohydrates and proteins.
Oxygen Power: Your brain needs oxygen to thrive. Working in a stuffy office or house all day can zap your brain power. I tell my patients to open their windows and take several deep breaths when they wake up in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening. If possible, go for a walk, exercise, work, or play outside in the fresh air for a few hours, weather permitting.
Exercise: Aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week (running, walking, bicycling, swimming, treadmill, elliptical, dance aerobics, etc) in tandem with muscle strengthening exercise like weight-lifting, kettle bell workouts, yoga, help deliver oxygen to all the tissues of your body including your brain. In addition, it creates feel-good hormones in your brain that helps clear brain fog and depression.
Recharge With Sleep: Getting enough sleep is like plugging your brain into a recharger. Nothing zaps your short term memory and creates brain fog more than not sleeping enough. Your brain and other parts of your body repair itself during sleep. Eat a high protein, 0 sugar, snack like turkey or tuna before going to sleep to help your body release growth hormone, the master repair hormone. Sugary snacks, especially 2 hours prior to sleep, turn off its release.
Stimulate Your Brain: Do crossword puzzles, play card games, chess, any type of game that requires memory recall and/or critical thinking will stimulate both your short term and long term recent memory to stay sharp. Break your patterns by changing things up. For example take a new way to work, use your opposite hand to do tasks, build a birdhouse, take up painting, or learn a language! Your brain thrives on learning and slows without stimulation.
Avoid Substance Abuse: Research has shown that smokers and alcohol drinkers develop dementia more than nonsmokers. Alcohol kills brain cells that do not recover.
Avoid Neurotoxins: Exposure to toxic chemicals like spray paints, some glues, environmental chemicals, pesticides, can all cause neurologic damage especially without good ventilation.
Avoid Aspartame: Sold as Equal, Nutra-Sweet, Spoonful, now renamed as “Neotame”, aspartame is an “excitotoxin” that creates all kinds of neurologic havoc, including memory loss, irritability/rage, damage to developing fetus nervous systems, etc. New research shows that diet sodas are linked to strokes, but do not state why. It could be the aspartame in certain diet sodas (Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi) that is the cause and not that it is sugar-free.
Memory Robbing Drugs: Many prescription drugs can cause memory loss. If you feel your medications may be contributing to your memory problems, talk to your doctor, or your pharmacist, and ask him to look into whether memory loss could be a side effect.
Brain/Memory Boosting Supplements: B vitamins, especially folic acid, B6, B12, are crucial to good brain health. As we get older, we don’t absorb B12 from our intestine and most everyone gets deficiencies making it a crucial vitamin to supplement. Other brain cognition and memory boosters that you can supplement with are phosphatidylcholine, DMAE, phosphatidyl inositine, acetyl-L carnitine, phosphatidyle serine, vinpocetine, and huperzine.
Getting older doesn’t have to be fraught with anxiety of forgetting everything and everyone you know. Stay away from neurotoxins, eat a healthy diet full of brain-memory preserving nutrition, make use of the brain-boosting supplements available, exercise and keep challenging yourself to do and learn new things. You’ll be surprised at the difference it can make in keeping all your precious memories intact!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.