Four Pillars of Building a Better Memory
By Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Pillar 1: Diet and Vitamins
Building a better memory, preventing memory loss, and impacting Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to be dependent on your lifestyle, and not just your genes. Your brain is a flesh and blood organ and needs the proper fuel to function well. Your diet is critical to its health, and you can help!
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet
- 20% “good” fat, such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and flax seed oil
- 40% lean protein, preferably fish, chicken, turkey and soy
- 40% complex carbohydrates, such as a rainbow of fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruits
- Superfoods for the brain: blueberries, spinach, and seaweed
The main, well-researched concept for having a better memory is to avoid a diet high in trans-fat and saturated fat, such as those from animal products… especially red meats. These fats cause inflammation and the production of free radicals. Free radical damage can lead to the death of your brain cells. I believe that a vast intake of fruits and vegetables, along with fish rich in omega-3 oils and vegetarian protein substitutes, such as soy, are protective against memory loss.
Vitamins and Memory Specific Nutrients
Everyone should take a high potency multiple vitamin and mineral capsule that includes folic acid and Vitamin C. The former reduces homocysteine levels, which is a risk factor for both heart disease and memory loss. The latter has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 20 percent when taken with Vitamin E. The dose of Vitamin C should be 2,000 mg per day.
Memory specific nutrients include coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, ginkgo biloba, phosphatidyl serine, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), huperzine-A, vinpocetine, and acetyl-L-carnitine.
Pillar 2: Stress Management
The human brain is an amazing instrument. No computer can duplicate it. It can process millions of stimuli in hundredths of a second. However, your brain requires good care and attention to operate at peak efficiency, especially as you enter your forties, fifties, and beyond. Building a better memory, preventing memory loss and impacting Alzheimer’s disease are dependent on your lifestyle and not just your genes.
Stress, Meditation, and Memory
Balancing stress is a vital part of an Alzheimer’s prevention strategy. There is a very high correlation between high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high cortisol, and Alzheimer’s disease. Stress can be a key factor in all of these. Research has shown that the benefits of a regular stress-relaxation practice can improve your health, and especially improve focus, attention, and optimal mental performance.
Did you know that being prone to psychological distress could destroy your memory and cause Alzheimer’s disease? Research says it can. Doctors and health officials have come to realize how heavy a toll stress is taking on our health. A testimony to that is the fact that tranquilizers, antidepressants, high blood pressure medicines, and anti-acids, all of which are used for illnesses made worse by stress, are the best-selling drugs in the Western countries.
When you have stress your performance goes down. Stress chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol are released in your body and are responsible for your fast heart rate and a stimulating feeling. Cortisol damages the cells in the memory center of your brain. The problem is, that as you age or develop an illness, you have a decreased ability to handle stress and lower your blood cortisol levels naturally. Cortisol stops glucose from entering your brain cells. It blocks your neurotransmitter function and causes brain cells to become injured and, if they are not saved, to die.
As stress and cortisol levels increase, so does the chance of developing memory loss. High levels of cortisol also impact your ability to learn and retain new information. This is called short-term memory loss.
Pillar 3: Exercise
Physical, Mental, and Mind/Body
Memory loss is neither a normal nor a natural process of aging. We must take a proactive role in retaining the strength and vitality of our brain as we age. Just as our body needs strength-building exercise to keep fit, so does our brain.
The Importance of Physical Exercise
Physical exercise is imperative because it reduces your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent. Moreover, women in one study who had a regular exercise program from age 40 to 60 had a dramatic reduction in cognitive decline. The more recent findings discount occupational and educational factors and suggest that an active lifestyle is the key. Research recommends walking a minimum of 20 minutes, 3 times a week. Other examples of great aerobic exercise include jogging, dance classes, swimming, and tennis. Remember, also, to do some strength training to maintain muscle mass and prevent osteoporosis.
Mental exercise has been reported by neurologists to reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 70 percent. Everyone should spend at least 20 minutes, three times a week, doing mental exercise.
Challenging the brain with novel tasks (anything new or different) improves brain function. In order for an activity to be considered brain aerobics, three conditions must be met:
- It needs to engage your attention.
- It must involve more than one of the senses.
- It must break a routine activity in an unexpected, nontrivial way.
Some examples of good mental exercise are reading, writing, playing board games and doing crossword puzzles. For more fun examples of innovative brain aerobics contact us for a copy of our brochure The Power of Brain Aerobics – Maximize Your Memory.
Healing Your Brain with Mind/Body Medicine
Mind/body exercise is a fascinating example of the best of the principles of Asian medicine meeting the best of Western medical research. It increases the amount of blood flow going to your bran and improves your memory. This technique has been proven clinically very useful over the years.
Utilizing SPECT scans in subjects practicing the Kirtan Kriya (a yoga meditation) for twelve minutes produced an increase in attention, concentration, and short-term memory. Equally significant, the changes in the scans from before to after are consistent with better judgment, improved psychological health and enhanced spiritual activity.
Pillar 4: Medicines
Medications and Hormones
Early detection and prompt treatment of memory problems utilizing an integrative program, including drugs at the proper dose, may delay the development of Alzheimer’s by many years. For that reason, I believe there is a place for the use of pharmaceutical medications as part of an integrative medical program to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. These medications should only be taken under the care of a physician who’s an expert in treating Alzheimer’s disease. All of these medicines may have serious side effects such as dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and other symptoms. Always work closely with your doctor concerning pharmaceutical use, including those purchased over-the-counter.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
There is strong clinical support to allow for careful hormone replacement therapy in people concerned about their memory. There are important considerations, however:
- Hormone levels must be measured in the blood. If they are low, it makes sense to replace them in an informed manner. If they are not low, it is not safe to boost them higher than normal.
- The hormone levels should be restored to the naturally occurring levels of a 30- to 40- year-old, and never younger.
- Blood tests must be repeated every three months at first and then every six months to monitor hormone levels.
The hormones I measure include: DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid hormone. Although I don’t measure melatonin and pregnenolone, I replace them when clinically indicated.
All information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered specific medical advice. Consult a physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.