Recently, I was at a local restaurant and ran into a patient who is 75 and her husband is 81 years old. They inquired about things they can do to help with their memory. This is a common question now that we all are living longer and want to live healthy independent lives!
There have been a lot of studies to see if certain foods and supplements can help prevent memory loss. Although these studies have had mixed results, below is a list of things that have been tested and shown to help.
ANTIOXIDANTS: Studies have shown that Dementia patients, in particular Alzheimer’s, have a lot of “oxidative stress” so Antioxidants have been shown to help.
Vitamin E: The Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study suggested that Vitamin E may be beneficial in slowing the progression of disease in patients who already have Alzheimer’s Dementia. Vitamin E has also been shown to lower risk of developing dementia in some patients.
Note: Vitamin E can think the blood and cause easy bruising and bleeding so if you are already on blood thinners (such as Pradaxa, Xarelto, Warfarin (coumadin), aspirin) then you should discuss with your doctor before taking extra Vitamin E. Also, if you are already on Vitamin E supplements, you should stop it 1 week before any surgeries as it can increase your bleeding risk.
Beta Carotene: supplementation with Beta Carotene helped improve testing scores on memory testing.
Flavonoids: Flavonoids are nutrients found in berries (blueberries, strawberries) and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties both of which have been associated with slowing the rate of memory decline.
Folic acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6: low levels of these vitamins can cause memory loss and impaired memory function so taking these may help strengthen your memory. I typically recommend that patients take 400 to 800mcg of folic acid; Vitamin b12 1000mcg, and Vitamin B6 of 25mg to 50mg daily.
Vitamin D: There is some evidence that Vitamin D deficiency may be related to memory and cognitive impairment so taking extra Vitamin D supplementation of 1000 I.U. to 2000 I.U. daily may help.
A diet high in saturated fats, trans-fat, or cholesterol has been shown in some studies to cause cognitive decline.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These help both brain and heart! The key thing to look for in “Omega-3 Fatty Acids” is the EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). Fish oil also helps lower cholesterol and helps with cardiovascular health. In the Framingham Study, patients with higher level of DHA showed lower rates of incidence of Dementia at their 9 year follow up and patients with high levels of EPA showed to have lesser amount of hippocampal atrophy (shrinkage). [The Hippocampus is an area of the brain responsible for memory.]
Fruits and Vegetables: A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables helps with your heart as well as your cognitive function!
Mediterranean Diet: Although a vague term which is at mercy of interpretation…this is typically a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds and includes olive oil as an imporant source of fat. This diet has very little red mean and low to moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy products. Patients who were strict about sticking to this type of “mediterranean diet” had less cognitive decline over time and less incidence of cognitive imparment and Alzheimer’s.
LIFESTYLE AND ACTIVITY
Many different studies have shown that higher levels of mental and physical activities slow the rate of cognitive decline. So get out there and EXCERCISE!
Mental activities and memory games such as Crossword Puzzles, Reading, Sudoku, Scrabble are all great ways of challenging and keeping your mind engaged. Simple socialization with friends and family also helps keep the mind sharp. Social interaction is very important for elderly patients who may be home bound. Adult daycares, afternoon activities at the local YMCA, social clubs or church events are wonderful ways to stay engaged.
We know that uncontrolled and/or suboptimally controlled hypertension (high blood pressure) causes decrease in blood supply to the brain which over time can lead to decline in memory and cognitive funcitoning. Goal blood pressure is to keep it less than 140/90, ideal blood pressure is around 120/80.
Gingko Biloba and estrogen therapy in menopaual women are no longer recommended to be used for prevention of dementia because studies showed that they did NOT help with memory loss.