Why Can’t I Remember: Memory Recall
By Stephen Holt, MD
Stealing Quality of Life
Poor mental functioning robs mature people of their quality of life. There are many new treatments or interventions that have been proposed to prevent, improve or at least reduce age-related decline in brain function. Impairment of brain function is often called “cognitive” decline or deficit. Cognitive decline has been perceived, perhaps incorrectly, as an inevitable consequence of growing old. I bring good news, with my beliefs, supported by science, that there are many natural first line options that can be exercised to maintain cognitive vitality in mature individuals. While memory is seen as a primary function of the brain, an individual’s conscious awareness comes from outside the body; and memory is probably a function of the whole body itself. For example, the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system function with their own cognitive skills and, in fact, they have memories and learning skills!
Beyond these lateral thoughts, we know that a decline in brain function occurs for many reasons. Impairments in mental agility vary greatly from episodes of simple forgetfulness or “blocking of thoughts”, through to complete states of mental vegetation or dementia. There are increasing numbers of Americans in their elderly years and up to 1 in 4 of these elite citizens may suffer from varying degrees of poor brain function. The commonest cause of cognitive decline is related to Alzheimer’s disease.
What Causes Cognitive Decline?
There are many risk factors for poor brain function. The risks include: cardiovascular disease, chronic stress, poor diet, lack of both physical and “brain” exercises, and head injury of various types. An increasingly common type of “mental cloudiness” is being experienced by people who severely restrict carbohydrates in their diets, in order to lose weight. Mental fuzziness occurs during low carb diets because the simple sugar glucose is the principal source of fuel for the brain cells. In fact, some people with poor cognitive function get a temporary improvement in their memory with glucose intake, but this is not a reason to use excessive simple sugar in the diet (www.combatsyndromex.com).
Population studies show that diets that are high in saturated fats and low in Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) may contribute to cognitive decline. I advise everyone who is seeking cardiovascular and brain health to consider increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in their diets by eating fish and/or by taking high quality fish oil supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids are principal building blocks in the brain and there is a widespread deficiency of omega 3 fatty acid intake in Western diets.
Lifestyle and Nutritional Advice for Good Brain Function
While some interventions for improving brain function are obvious, others are so obvious that they have been overlooked. Evidence has emerged that there is a growing epidemic of sleeplessness. Sleep deprivation causes both physical and mental disability, largely because it disturbs biological rhythms, affects cognitive function and causes hormone imbalances. Good sleep hygiene and well selected nutritional support for sleep are important antidotes to poor mental function.
Physical exercise confers benefits on general body health and mental function. The exercise required for health in mature people does not have to be strenuous, but it should be undertaken on a regular basis. Regular exercise in any age group consistently improves general health. While the body needs to be exercised and kept in peak condition, the brain requires “exercise” by activity that challenges thought processes.
Anyone who is troubled by declining mental function can benefit from hobbies or pleasurable games such as chess, crossword puzzles or simple arts and crafts. In fact, there are studies showing that people who engage in “mind exercises” were more than two and one half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists and physicians have described the “disuse syndrome”. In this condition, inactive people who do not move or think can age more rapidly than the active individual. There is no doubt that modern lifestyle has encouraged mental and physical idleness.
Stress Busting and Good Brain Function
Stress and disordered emotions such as chronic anxiety or depression can have major effects on brain function. Stress hormones produced by the body may be somewhat toxic to the nervous system and high levels of these hormones have been associated with poor memory. Therefore, many physicians are recommending techniques to cope with psychological problems that can adversely affect brain function in a profound manner. Positive lifestyle changes including increased enjoyable activity and techniques that can cause a “relaxation response” in the body are very valuable components of stress management. A number of natural treatment disciplines such as yoga, tai-chi, Qiong, and meditation can have major benefits on stress reduction with beneficial effects on brain function.
Memory Protective Diets and Psycho-Nutrition
Of all interventions, good nutrition affords great promise for the protection of memory and efficient thought processing by the brain. General nutritional recommendations for memory protection include controlled calorie intake, limitation of saturated fat intake in the diet and other positive dietary changes, such as increased dietary fiber intake, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, reduced meat intake and the avoidance of chemical pollutants in the environment. Beyond these general recommendations are a number of specific nutrients or botanicals that have a basis in science for the nutritional support of brain function. Combinations of these brain specific natural agents can be used to make valuable dietary supplements to promote cognitive function. I am a great supporter of fruit, berry, vegetable and greens powders that can provide “missing-links” to god brain health.
The Power of Phospholipids
Phospholipids are a key structural component of all membranes that surround cells. The function of the brain is highly dependent upon the health of membranes around nerve cells. Thus, a good dietary source of phospholipids can have major benefits on the structure and function of the brain. Important types of phospholipids that have specific nutritional benefits for the function of the central nervous system include phosphatidylserine (PS), phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylthenolamine (PE), and phosphatidylinositol (PI).
In nervous tissue, PS (phosphatidylserine) plays a major role in the conduction of nerve impulses. This conduction of messages through the brain involves the release of chemical substances that are involved in transmission of nervous signals. Scientific studies have shown that PS can improve measures of brain function in people with cognitive impairment and PS has been shown to be valuable in helping to restore certain brain functions in people with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Not only has PS been shown to have this usefulness in helping to improve cognitive deficit, it seems to improve loss of memory associated with aging and poor mental function in dementia from causes other than Alzheimer’s disease. Added benefits of PS are its positive effects on immune function and its ability to reduce “stress” to the body that is caused by exercise.
The evidence of the benefits can be derived from PS have been shown in double-blind clinical studies and in many animal experiments. In one large study in humans, performed in different medical centers of excellence, improvements on several measures of brain function were recorded in people with Alzheimer’s disease and these results were found to be significant.
The other types of phospholipids that have emerged with value for their nutritional support for brain function and structure include: phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylthenolamine (PE), and phosphatidylinositol (PI). These phospholipids have very complicated names but they all share in common an ability to improve the membrane structures of the central nervous system. The phospholipids have added, unique health benefits. For example, PC (phosphatidylcholine) has an ability to provide constituents of the chemical transmitters that are used by the brain (e.g., the neurotransmitter acetylcholine). Furthermore, PC (phosphatidylcholine) may have protective effects on the liver and it alters blood fats in favorable ways.
The phospholipid PC may help the management of “movement disorders” due to brain injury and some evidence indicates that PC may control agitation in some people with mania. There have been some reports that supplementing PC or choline can improve short-term memory or help people who are poor learners. In addition, beneficial effects are being described on the use of PC in Alzheimer’s disease.
The phospholipid known as PI (phosphatidylinositol), plays a major role in many body functions and it is known to have both antidepressant and anxiety fighting properties when used as a supplement. The antidepressant benefits of PI have been shown in clinical trials and some studies reveal that PI may help reduce panic attacks or even variably improve symptoms in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. Phosphatidylthenolamine (PE) has benefits in common with the other phospholipids in building and supporting good membrane structure in nervous tissue.
Energy Conversion for Brain Function: Acety-L-Carnitine
Acety-L-Carnitine [ALC] provides versatile and potent support to the function of nervous tissue. On the one hand, ALC assists in the burning of fuel inside energy factories [mitochondria] in nerve cells, whereas, on the other, it involves itself in the manufacture of chemicals that are involved in transmission of messages in the brain [neurotransmitters]. ALC has a rich history of scientific study in the management of decline in cognitive function. In some disorders of cognition, there is a deficit in the neurotransmitter acetylcoline and ALC may help reverse this deficit. ALC has been shown to improve the action of phospholipids in nerve cell membranes by favorably altering chemistry in the brain. These properties of ALC mean that it has an additive benefit when used with other phospholipids, by producing nutritional synergy.
Of major importance, is the potential anti-aging activity of ALC where it may alter cross-linking between sugar and protein. In summary, ALC shows protective effects on nervous tissue and it may increase blood flow to the brain, and play a role in the nutritional management of neuropathies, disorders of the nerves supplying the body.
Vinpocetine: A Memory Secret
Vinpocetine is derived from a plant that is a member of the periwinkle family [Vinca minor] While vinpocetine is widely used in Europe and Japan as a drug for the treatment of cognitive disorders, in the U.S. vinpocetine is available as a valuable dietary supplement.
This extract of periwinkle plant increases blood flow to the brain and has a positive effect on the overall chemistry of the brain. It is an antioxidant which seems to protect nervous tissue and enhance brain function. Antioxidants generally have anti-aging properties. It may exert some effects on dilating blood vessels hat supply the brain, it appears that vinpocetine has special health properties in circumstances of vascular disease of the brain, and it has particular value in individuals who are prone to stroke.
Some studies show the value of vinpocetine in cases of dementia where measures of cognitive skills may improve and other brain functions such as memory show overall improvement. The power of vinpocetine is more apparent in cases of cerebrovascular disease and diseases of the central nervous system, but vinpocetine has not starred in the management of Alzheimer’s disease. Added benefits of vinpocetine include a protective effect on the stomach, reduction in motion sickness, and some protective actions for sight and hearing.
A Soy Treasure: L-Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine [Alpha-GPC]
Alpha-GPC is a natural substance that originates from lecithin, a major component of soybeans. There have been many proposals about the health benefits of Alpha-GPC. This potent and versatile supplement can deliver substances of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is recognized that people with Alzheimer’s disease can suffer from a relative deficiency of acetylcholine and Alpha-GPC may compensate for this deficiency, and Alpha-GPC exerts beneficial effects on cognitive declines on people with Alzheimer’s disease.
An interesting effect of Alpha-GPC is its ability to enhance the overall actions of the anti-aging hormone known as growth hormone. It is speculated that Alpha-GPC may enhance growth hormone secretion from the pituitary gland. The complex actions of Alpha-GPC have led to its use as an anti-aging supplement that can enhance the availability of human growth hormone in the body. Alpha-GPC is gaining increasing acceptance in alternative medicine as a valuable and nutritional support for cognitive disorders. Alpha-GPC that warrants much further investigation for its beneficial properties in anti-aging and the support of brain function.
Poor memory and other declines in cognitive function are increasing problems in society, especially as our elderly population grows. The use of natural options, including positive lifestyle changes, for the prevention of age-related impairment of brain function is a key public health initiative.
My messages are not just for those who have experienced declines in cognitive ability. Mature adults are advised to think in advance to support brain function. Do not let the misplaced keys of today become the cognitive decline of tomorrow. An ounce of prevention is certainly worth more than a pound of cure to promote health, longevity and quality of life in society. Good nutrition can make you remember.