By Joseph C. Maroon, MD
With few exceptions, most people begin to notice some memory lapses after the age of 50. Fortunately, for most these are manageable and do not profoundly affect our typical daily activities. However, as we get closer to our 70’s and 80’s problems with thinking and memory can be overwhelming. The fact is those over 85 years old have a 50% of developing clinical dementia. With this in mind there is some recent good news about interventions you can start today that may significantly help to improve your memory which for most people is as easy as going to the store.
Researchers in Australia have recently reported in a study with 56 women, ages ranging from 64-79 years old, had a significant improvement of memory retrieval after 4 months taking a multivitamin that contained a wide range of ingredients. They found that those taking these supplements had significantly lower homocysteine levels, which is an inflammatory molecule, known to be associated with dementia. The multivitamin used contained B vitamins, known to reduce homocysteine levels and that can also contribute to the production of proteins, DNA (a omega-3) and myelin (a structural part of brain cells), in addition to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
What can you do to enhance your brain function before you are older? This was asked by a group of University of Pittsburgh researchers in a recent study that investigated a group of thirteen 18 to 25 year olds. They found after taking omega-3 fish oil daily for six months those treated had significantly improve working memory compared to those who took a placebo. Working memory is what we use for that last minute studying before a big test. It is also the type of memory used to remember a phone number that someone just shouted to you across a room. As you can guess it is generally our weakest type of memory but is still critical for normal learning, helping us focus on a goal, avoid distractions and even resist impulsive potentially dangerous choices. This study is profound because it was the first study to confirmed prior studies with animals and older adults that fish oil supplements can also improve various aspects of memory in younger people.
In order to insure that these young people were actually taking fish oil during the study researchers checked blood levels for the molecules EPA and DHA at the beginning and end of the 6 month study. EPA and DHA are the two “active” ingredients found in fish oil. These molecules have important brain function and in fact 30 to 40% of our brain cell’s membranes are made from DHA. Those with the lowest levels of DHA in the blood prior to taking fish oil were the same group to show the greatest improvements in working memory.
Fish oil is often called “brain food” because these omega-3 molecules, EPA and DHA, must be consumed in our diet since our body does not naturally produce them. For this reason, many people can be deficient in omega-3 depending on what we eat. If you do not consume enough fish, fish oil supplements, flax seeds, certain leafy vegetables or certain types of meats in sufficient amounts you will end up having less DHA for your brain and other organs to use.
- H. Macpherson, R. Silberstein, A. Pipingas, “Neurocognitive effects of multivitamin supplementation on the steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) measure of brain activity in elderly women” Physiology & Behavior, doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.006
- Maroon, JC, Bost J, Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory, Basic Health Publications, 2006
- Rajesh Narendran, William G. Frankle, Neale S. Mason1, Matthew F. Muldoon, Bita Moghaddam, Improved Working Memory but No Effect on Striatal Vesicular Monoamine Transporter Type 2 after Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation, PLOS ONE, October 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 10 | e46832
- Goodarz Danaei, Eric L. Ding, Dariush Mozaffarian, Ben Taylor, Ju¨ rgen Rehm, Christopher J. L. Murray, Majid Ezzati, The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors, PLoS Medicine, April 2009 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e1000058
- Danaei G, Ding EL, Mozaffarian D, Taylor B, Rehm J, Murray CJ, Ezzati M. The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med. 2009 Apr 28;6(4):e1000058. Epub 2009 Apr 28.
PLEASE NOTE: I advise caution when patients are taking blood thinners, as fish oil may accentuate the effect on bleeding. This information has not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. Please seek out your physician for medical advise