How to Ward Off Cognitive Decline

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Mood & Memory
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Last week, I told you about recent research linking higher blood sugar levels with cognitive impairment. While taking steps to manage your blood sugar is important, there are other ways you can ward off memory loss—and the sooner you start the better. Here is what I recommend.

  1. Exercise regularly. Engaging in mentally-stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles is a fairly well-known method for keeping your memory sharp. But physical exercise is every bit as important as mental exercise for maintaining cognitive function.

  2. Eat a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet. Research has shown that this type of diet, particularly in midlife, helps keep you sharp in your later years. Specific foods that protect against memory loss include fish, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, low-fat dairy products, blueberries, cocoa, green tea, coffee, and alcohol (light-to-moderate—heavy drinking fries your brain).

  3. Stay sharp with supplements. A number of neuroprotective vitamins, minerals, and other supplements can increase the odds of keeping your memory intact as you get older. Two of the basic pathological processes underlying neuro-degeneration are oxidative stress and inflammation, which is why everyone should be taking an antioxidant-rich daily multivitamin and inflammation-quelling fish oil.

    B-complex vitamins are also crucial for optimal cognitive function. In one study, Finnish researchers found correlations between higher blood levels of vitamin B12/folate and better test scores. A low blood level of vitamin D is another risk factor, and a large Italian study concluded that deficiencies conferred a 60 percent higher risk of cognitive decline in elderly people.

  4. A few extras. Robust cardiovascular health, normal weight and blood sugar, regular exercise, and a good diet and supplement program in your 30s, 40s, and 50s will give you an excellent chance of staying mentally sharp and independent throughout your life. But what if you’re older or have already noticed signs of memory loss? Then by all means step up your program.

    Phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine boost levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter required for memory and learning that is depleted in struggling brains. Acetyl-L-carnitine also promotes acetylcholine synthesis, plus it provides potent antioxidant protection—as do coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, and melatonin. Curcumin, Ginkgo biloba, and resveratrol curb inflammation and oxidative stress and have broad neuroprotective effects. Vinpocetine improves blood flow to the brain, and niacinamide protects against the degenerative changes characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Piracetam is the original nootropic, “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning.” Used as a drug in Europe and Asia to treat patients with strokes, head trauma, seizures, and dementia—in one study it performed as well as Aricept, the leading Alzheimer’s drug—piracetam is also popular among people of all ages who want to sharpen their memory or gain a mental edge.

    Because it works by improving cerebral blood flow, oxygen utilization, and communication between the two hemispheres of the brain rather than as a stimulant, piracetam’s effects are subtle. Many people who take it report that it makes them more articulate and focused and less anxious and depressed. Unlike other nootropics, piracetam is well tolerated, non-addictive, and available without a prescription.

I hope you’ll take this advice seriously, because you can’t count on conventional medicine’s help. Although the race is on to develop drugs to prevent and improve memory loss, the current crop of medications is a sorry lot, and expectations for a pharmaceutical solution in the near term are low.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever used any of these brain boosters before?

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