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Keeping Memory Sharp

Are you finding it harder to remember things as time goes by? Many people do, and think it can’'t be helped. But the good news is that memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging.

Scientists now understand that even the adult brain can renew itself, a concept called neuroplasticity. And that means there are ways to maintain a keen memory no matter how old you are.

Positive Thinking and the Flexible Brain

At one time, it was thought that only children’s still-developing brains were flexible enough to change. But over the past several decades, studies using sophisticated scanning devices have turned scientific thinking about the brain on its head.

These tests have shown that “in the areas that you use, brain cells grow and multiply,” says Patti Lind-Kyle, author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain (Energy Psychology Press). For example, violinists show brain changes that stem from the fact that they use each hand differently when they play.

Such flexibility makes the way you see the world a crucial factor in how your brain wires itself.

“The mind is like software and the brain is like hardware. Whatever the mind does, it affects the brain,” Lind-Kyle says. That means looking on the positive side can help promote memory-enhancing changes…but that negative thinking can have the opposite effect.

Aging can also affect the brain, especially under adverse conditions. “Aging is accelerated by chronic stress,” says Lind-Kyle, who notes that stress chemicals can damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Enhancing Memory Through Brain Flexibility

If stress and negativity can damage the brain, acting positively can protect it. “The prefrontal area needs a lot of oxygen and a steady food supply,” says Lind-Kyle. “Meditation provides all that.” Lind-Kyle adds that different types of mediation can help regulate the four main messenger substances within the brain, or neurotransmitters: acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA and serotonin.†

Staying creatively engaged with the world also helps keep the brain young.

“If you visit a foreign city you learn so much in a day compared to an average day at home,” says neurobiologist Susan Barry, PhD. Unlike children, whose brains grow just by being exposed to something new, adults need to be active learners to realize the benefits of novelty. “When you’re an adult the brain is pickier,” Barry says. “If it doesn’t matter to you, it doesn’t matter to your brain.”

What’s more, adults need to avoid falling into ruts. “You have to challenge yourself to learn new things—the more new things you learn the more you’ll keep,” Barry says. Research supports Barry’s claim; one study found that older people who tutor children show reduced signs of brain aging.†

One way to protect your brain is to not become overly dependent on technology. Another is through exercise: “It improves existing connections, makes new ones and helps stimulate the production of new brain cells,” says Mark Hyman, MD, author of The UltraMind Solution (Scribner).† He recommends walking 30 minutes a day.

Neuro Nutrition

A flexible brain requires proper nutrition, and many researchers believe that the Mediterranean diet—with its whole grains, abundant olive oil, variety of vegetables and emphasis on fish—is ideal for maintaining brain health.

One reason the Mediterranean diet is so healthy lies in its omega-3 fatty acid content. “Our brains don’t work without omega-3 fats,” Hyman says.

The body uses omega-3s to build myelin; this substance coats nerve cells like plastic coats a wire, which enhances signal transmission. Omega-3 is also required to build the membranes that surround cells, including neurons. One omega-3, DHA, may improve mental function in middle age.†

Deficiencies in vitamin D are prevalent throughout the US population. Hyman says such deficits have been linked to a number of ailments, including those affecting the brain. Being deficient in B vitamins—especially vitamins B6 and B12 along with folic acid—is another factor in cognitive difficulties.†

A number of natural substances may be helpful in forestalling aging’s effects on the brain. For example, Hyman notes that Chinese healers have used Ginkgo biloba for thousands of years to enhance memory.†

Hyman adds that huperzine A, derived from Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata) has “shown significant benefits in dementia with few side effects.” In humans it is thought to prevent malfunctioning in mitochondria, which are responsible for cellular energy production.†

India has one of the lowest Alzheimer’s disease rates in the world. Many researchers believe the key may be curcumin, the principal ingredient in the curry spice turmeric.†

Thanks to our flexible brains, mental decline isn’t an inevitable part of aging. But staying sharp requires a conscious effort.

“We have an ability to change throughout life—it’s always there,” Barry says.

†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.

The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.


**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.