Memory may be the most important skill you have. It doesn’t just allow you to reminisce about your experiences, but do everything that you had to learn at one point—from holding up your head to speaking your native language.
We’re all forgetful to some extent and joke about having lapses we call “senior moments.” But losing your memory is not funny. Fortunately, there are nutrients that can often turn it around.
That’s what I found after I realized that my short-term memory had taken a gradual decline.
Names, events, and “to do” lists were hard to remember. Diminished word recall became frustrating, even alarming at times. I would sit with an image in my mind and couldn’t find the word to match this image no matter how long I tried.
I was so upset that I put my full attention on this problem and looked for its cause. If I could find out why my memory had suddenly declined, I could find a solution.
The information below is the research I did, and how I found improvement.
Disclaimer: This research is not intended to replace your doctor as the best person to address your memory issues.
And don’t panic – Alzheimer’s is a real concern, but you don’t need to worry that every slip is a sure sign. Memory loss happens to all adults, and only in a minority cases does it signal a serious condition.
Memory Loss is Universal
Studies confirm that the ability to remember details about our experiences, to manipulate multiple bits of information at the same time, and to identify the source of what we have learned often declines as we get older. This process actually begins as early as age 30, though it accelerates and becomes more noticeable after age 50.
Although these cognitive changes can be annoying—and ultimately, can limit your activities and interests—they are part of normal aging or “normal cognitive decline.”
Your Hormones May Be Affecting Your Memory
Thyroid Hormone and Memory Loss
If you are a woman having memory trouble and foggy thinking, knowing your thyroid hormone level is crucial.
Thyroid hormone production declines with age, and hypothyroidism can contribute to memory loss. Ask your doctor to thoroughly check your thyroid, or take your temperature under your armpit (the Broda Barnes test) to see if your thyroid is low.
The next step is to have a thyroid panel test to check your thyroid gland function. Treatment of a low-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) is usually a very simple matter, and can make a huge difference in your brain functioning and overall health and well-being.
Iodine insufficiency can also be responsible for low thyroid function, and now there’s a spot iodine blood test that measures iodine in your thyroid. You can also take a urine test for iodine.
I was already treating my low functioning thyroid with prescription T4 hormone, so I began to search for other reasons for my poor memory, along with potential options for treating it.
Lower Estrogen Can Affect Memory
For women, a declining memory may simply be due to lowering levels of hormones that begin some time after menopause. There’s a clear association between estrogen and mental clarity. This is a compelling reason (among others) for some women to decide to take hormone replacement therapy. If you feel comfortable taking estrogen, make sure you only take natural, bio-identical hormones in the amount your body needs.
Low estrogen was not the culprit in my case, as I have not yet reached menopause. If you suspect that you have low estrogen, ask your doctor to refer you for testing.
Pregnenolone Can Be As Effective For Memory As Estrogen
Instead of estrogen, you may want to talk with your doctor about taking pregnenolone, a precursor to estrogen that is safer and can be just as effective for memory.
Pregnenolone is a steroid hormone produced from cholesterol, and it’s the parent of the rest of your sex and adrenal hormones (DHEA, cortisol, aldosterone, estradiol, estrone, estriol, progesterone, and testosterone). Because it’s the parent of all of them, it tends to have a balancing effect on both pathways. Mostly it gets made in the adrenal glands, but it also gets produced in the ovaries and testes, and in a few other places—including the brain.
Like all hormones, pregnenolone decreases with age. Correlation is not causation, but is it possible that less pregnenolone might be implicated in age-related memory decline?
Throughout our lives, our brains have the ability to grow new neurons and form new synaptic connections—this is called neuroplasticity.
Pregnenolone directly stimulates this process—via the growth of new neurons, enhancing myelination (the formation of the nerves’ fatty protective covering), and protecting nerves from toxicity, or toxin-induced cell death. It even helps neurons to repair themselves after such toxicity or damage has occurred.
Pregnenolone also enhances learning and memory.
This may be because it enhances release of acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter responsible for the formation of new memories. (Acetylcholine is the target for many Alzheimer’s drugs, including Aricept.)
It may also be because, as mentioned above, it enhances focus.
It may even be because it enhances deep sleep, and sleep deprivation can profoundly affect memory formation. (However, pregnenolone often interferes with sleep, too; this may be because it can enhance anxiety in some people, which is often a major cause of insomnia.)
There are an impressive number of studies on the effects of pregnenolone on cognition. If you’re interested in trying it, though, I’d recommend getting your levels checked to make sure you’re a good candidate for supplementation, and starting low to avoid overshooting.
Two Nutrients Essential For Brain Function
There are two nutrients that can are essential for good brain function and can be considered “brain food”:
- Phosphatidyl serine (PS) and
- acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC)
PS, or phosphatidyl serine, is a naturally occurring fat that is found in cell membranes. It’s one of the most plentiful fats in your brain tissue, and is a key building block in helping your cells communicate with one another. It also stimulates the production of brain chemicals like seratonin and dopamine.
Your body can make PS if it has sufficient folic acid, vitamin B12, and essential fats. But as we age, we get less of these in our diets, and have poorer absorption. So supplemental PS may be helpful, even if you’re taking a multivitamin already.
More than 65 human studies on PS and brain function have shown it stimulates the memory in people with age-related memory loss and relieves age-related depression.
When people took 300 mg of PS a day for three months, they reported an improvement in mental clarity, and the ability to remember names, faces, and telephone numbers. In some of the studies, the results were described as “astounding.”
Some doctors recommend beginning with this higher amount of PS until you notice improved clarity and recall. Then taper down to 100 mg a day for maintenance.
I have seen dosage recommendations of 100 mg with breakfast and 200 mg with dinner. I take 100 mg with each of my three meals, and this is what works for me.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is a derivative of carnitine, a vitamin-like compound that carries slow-burning, long-chain fats into your cells. Chemically, ALC is a combination of acetic acid and carnitine, bound together in a single molecule. This combination seems to be more effective than carnitine alone for good brain function, since ALC crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than carnitine.
Your brain needs energy in order to function, and ALC is like a train that carries fuel to your brain cells so they can work better.
ALC improves communication among neurons in the brain and is also an antioxidant that protects your brain from aging. It removes toxic byproducts formed during brain metabolism, acting as a “brain detoxifier.”
Studies have shown that ALC improves energy production in brain cells and delays the progression of Alzheimer’s. In animal studies, it even prevented animals from developing Parkinson’s disease. ALC is a very powerful brain nutrient.
Your brain makes ALC, but once again, often not enough as we age. The recommended dose for ALC is between 500 and 1,500 mg a day in divided doses. This doesn’t mean you need as much as 500 mg, but you may. Neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, uses a formula with 400 mg of ALC, while many brain formulas that are effective use less of this nutrient. I am using 1000 mg once daily with dinner, and I feel this dose is right for now.
Getting Started With Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC)
Don’t forget to exercise. It’s good for your brain!
You can actually get an additional brain boost by donning your sneakers and hitting the gym. The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level.
According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.
Exercise Helps The Brain in Several Ways
Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.
Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
Which Exercise is Best? Look For Aerobic Activities
- In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
- Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain cells.
- Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases retention of new information, and better reaction to complex situations.
- When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class.
- If you like crunching time at the gym alone, opt for circuit work outs, which both quickly spike your heart rate, but also constantly redirect your attention.
- Hitting a wall or mentally exhausted? Try rebooting with a few jumping jacks for your brain improvement exercises.
Or keep it simple: an eight-year study conducted with 6,000 women over 65 who walked regularly and moderately had the least amount of cognitive decline and memory loss. And walking won’t cost you anything.
Exercise For the Brain – “Brain Games”
Scientists used to believe that the brain developed all of its major functionality—that is, the “wiring” of the brain that supports hearing, seeing, feeling, thinking, emotions and the control of movements—in early infancy. The “mature” brain was thought to be unchangeable, like a computer with all its wires permanently soldered together.
However, there has been a recent revolution in our thinking.
We now know that the brain is constantly revising itself.
Physical brain change occurs every time we learn something new.
This new finding—that adult brains are malleable—has far-reaching implications for our understanding of brain fitness. We refer to this capacity for continuous physical, chemical and functional brain change as “brain plasticity” or “neuroplasticity.”
Brain Games are something that you do for fun; they are like going out to play for your brain. Examples of brain games are things like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, quizzes, and word problems.
Brain training, on the other hand, is more like going to the gym. It’s a system of exercising the brain to improve aspects of cognition like memory, attention, focus, and brain speed.
If you’ve noticed a change in your memory, check with your doctor and get some tests. Know that by addressing hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies, you can be proactive and really make a difference in your brain functioning.
Thanks for visiting.
I hope this article provided you some useful information on memory loss.
Your comments are welcome.
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