How to improve a flagging memory

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Do you or does someone you love keep losing keys, forgetting names or having other memory lapses? If so, you may be worried that the culprit is Alzheimer’s disease or another incurable form of dementia. While it’s a good idea to consult a doctor, the odds are that it is simple forgetfulness which can be treated.

In some cases, memory problems especially those associated with aging stem simply from a lack of mental activity. If your job isn’t particularly stimulating or if you’re retired you might consider keeping a journal, joining a book discussion group, playing chess or Scrabble, doing crossword puzzles, etc.

Physical exercise is also a memory enhancer. Aerobic exercise boosts circulation throughout the body and that includes the brain. Increased blood flow to the brain has been shown to increase mental function.

Another way to ensure adequate blood flow to the brain is to eat a low-fat diet. The arteries that feed the brain are tiny to begin with, and any narrowing that occurs as a result of eating a fatty or cholesterol-rich diet drastically reduces oxygen flow. Blood flow problems can lead to tiny strokes, which are now believed to be the cause of much age-related memory loss.

These strokes which generally produce no obvious symptoms are typically caused by chronic high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. So be sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are under control.

While there’s no magic memory pill, the following supplements are safe and beneficial for many people. They can be taken individually or in combination. For absolute safety, use them under a doctor’s supervision.

• Antioxidants

Vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium all may help prevent memory loss. I usually tell my patients to take 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E a day, along with 1,000 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C and 100 micrograms (mcg) of selenium. It’s also a good idea to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. They contain lots of other antioxidants.

• Phosphatidylserine

This fatty substance was found to be helpful in preventing further deterioration in people with memory problems. In some cases, memory improved after several months of phosphatidylserine therapy. I usually recommend 200 to 300 mg per day. Be patient it may take three months before you notice any improvement.

Some alternative practitioners recommend a related substance called choline (or lecithin, which contains 10% to 20% choline). Neither choline nor lecithin looks anywhere near as good as phosphatidylserine, and they can cause unpleasant side effects.

• L-acetyl carnitine

This form of the amino acid carnitine plays a key role in energy production in the body. It seems to help both Alzheimer’s patients and those with mild mental deterioration. The usual dose is 500 mg to 1,000 mg three times a day.

• Ginkgo biloba

Like vitamin E, ginkgo helps thin the blood, boosting circulation inside even the tiniest capillaries including those that feed the brain. Ginkgo also acts as an antioxidant, protecting the brain against attack by free radicals.

Ginkgo has been found to be effective in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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