Many people over age of 40 begin to feel that their mental capacities such as memory, cognition, and concentration are slipping. Cognitive function is the term used to describe your alertness, orientation, memory, attention span, and insight.
This page contains dietary, lifestyle, nutrient, and botanical treatments that may help you to reduce memory loss and improve concentration.
Risk Factors for Cognitive Decline
Dietary Supplements for Memory
Herbs for Memory
What Should You Do Next?
- Hypertension. A large, preliminary study in 1998 found associations between hypertension and deterioration in mental function.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with lower levels of cognitive function and greater cognitive decline among older women.
- Low serum folate. Low serum folate was strongly associated with atrophy of the cerebral cortex.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency. An important manifestation of B12 deficiency is cognitive impairment.
- Hyperhomocysteinemia is related to poor recall and this association was partially independent of folate status.
- Other nutrient deficiencies can lead to dementia.
- A lack of thiamine is known to produce Wernicke's encephalopathy. Such a patient presents with malnutrition, confusion, ataxia, and diplopia.
- A severe lack of vitamin B12, folic acid or omega 3 fatty acids may cause, among other things, dementia due to damage to cerebral myelinated fibers.
- Deficiency of nicotinic acid (pellagra) and pyridoxine may cause spastic paraparesis, peripheral neuropathy, fatigue, irritability, and dementia. This syndrome has been seen in prisoner-of-war camps.
- Toxicities known to produce dementias include narcotic poisoning, heavy metal intoxication, dialysis dementia (aluminum), and other organic toxins.
- Menopause. A fairly common symptom of menopause is decreased memory and concentration.
- Candida infection. A yeast infection of the gastrointestinal tract can lead to symptoms of spaciness and difficulty concentration.
- See also the Alzheimer's disease summary, which addresses many underlying causes of Alzheimer's, a common cause of dementia and cognitive decline.
- Exercise. Exercise has beneficial effects on and cognitive functioning and well-being in older people.
- Exercisers show significant improvements in reaction time, memory span, and measures of well-being when compared with non-exercisers.
- Going for walks may be enough to modify the usual age-related decline in reaction time.
- Women with higher levels of physical activity were less likely to develop cognitive decline. For every one mile walked per week, a woman can reduce her risk of significant loss of mental function by 13%.
- Linguistic ability. Low linguistic ability in early life was a strong predictor of poor cognitive function and Alzheimer's disease in late life.
- Healthy diet. A healthy diet is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly.
- Fiber intake. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber was found to be associated with less age-related brain-function impairment. The greatest benefit was found to be associated with high fiber consumption.
- Fat intake. High intake of monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g., olive oil) has been associated with protection against age-related cognitive decline.
- Antioxidants. Diets high in antioxidant-rich foods, such as spinach and strawberries (and most other fruits and vegetables), may be beneficial in slowing age-related cognitive decline.
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant that reduces free radical damage in the body. Several studies with elderly subjects indicate that individuals who ingest higher amounts of vitamin C have better cognitive function and memory performance, which suggests that vitamin C may protect against cognitive decline.
- Vitamin E.
- Vitamin E is another antioxidant nutrient that reportedly protects against subsequent development of dementia and poor cognitive functioning, probably due to its protection against free radical damage to the blood vessel system in the brain.
- Antioxidant effects of Vitamin E are effective in slowing age-related cognitive decline.
- The amount of vitamin E in the blood is associated with memory performance.
- A study of patients with moderately advanced Alzheimer’s disease indicated that vitamin E may slow functional deterioration (functional abilities last longer).
- Beta Carotene. Among people aged 65 and older, higher beta-carotene levels in the blood have been associated with better memory performance.
- Acetyl l-carnitine (ALC). Several studies suggest that acetyl-L-carnitine delays onset of age-related cognitive decline and improves overall cognitive function in the elderly.
- ALC protects against brain degeneration, helps with energy production in mitochondria of cells, and removes toxins from the mitochondria.
- In one study, acetyl-L-carnitine was given to elderly people with mild cognitive impairment. After 45 days, significant improvements in cognitive function (especially memory) were observed.
- Another large trial of acetyl-L-carnitine for mild cognitive impairment in the elderly found that supplementation significantly improved memory, mood, and responses to stress. The favorable effects persisted at least 30 days after treatment was discontinued.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) is the most abundant phospholipid in the brain, and it plays critical roles in maintaining both the structure and functionality brain cells.
- PS encourages the regrowth of damaged nerve networks.
- Low levels of phosphatidylserine in the brain are associated with impaired mental function and depression in the elderly.
- Supplementation with PS consistently benefits memory, learning, concentration, word choice, and other measurable cognition parameters, as well as mood and the capacity to cope with stress. Numerous studies have documented phosphatidylserine's ability to improve memory, learning, concentration, word recall, and mood in middle-aged and elderly subjects with dementia or age-related cognitive decline.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Vitamin B6 deficiency is common among people over age 65. A study of healthy men, aged 70 to 79 years, showed that supplementation with pyridoxine for 3 months improved memory performance, especially long-term memory.
- Vitamin B12. Supplementation with vitamin B12 may improve cognitive function in elderly people who have been diagnosed with a B12 deficiency.
- Cognitive impairment is an important manifestation of vitamin B12 deficiency. Cognitive decline due to low levels of vitamin B12 is a greater problem in elderly individuals since cobalamin deficiency increases with advancing age.
- Supplementation with vitamin B12 showed improvements in cognitive function among elderly people with vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive decline, even in people without obvious signs of B12 deficiency.
- Nicotinic acid.
- Supplementation with nicotinic acid results in improvement of sensory register and short-term memory, and long-term memory.
- Melatonin. A hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin is partially responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Cognitive function is linked to adequate sleep and normal sleep-wake cycles.
- Melatonin supplementation benefits cognitive function, possibly due to its ability to prevent sleep disruptions. A study of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment showed that melatonin significantly improved sleep, mood, and memory.
- Testosterone. Short-term testosterone supplementation improved cognitive function in healthy older men.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for proper growth and functional development of the brain in infants, and DHA is also required for maintenance of normal brain function in adults. Adequate levels of DHA in the diet improves learning ability, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with deficits in learning. Also, in adults, decreases in DHA in the brain are associated with cognitive decline during aging.
- Huperzine A, from the Chinese medicinal herb Huperzia serrata, has been found to improve cognitive function in elderly people with memory disorders. It acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (a class of drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease), possibly more effectively than tacrine (a drug used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease). Supplementation results in improvements in memory, cognitive function, and behavioral factors in 58% of Alzheimer’s patients with no significant side effects.
- Bacopa monnieri may improve higher order cognitive processes such as learning and memory.
- Ginkgo Biloba. The efficacy of standardized extracts of Ginkgo biloba in the treatment of early-stage age-related mental decline is well established.
- Ginkgo Biloba extract is safe and capable of stabilizing and, in a substantial number of cases, improving the cognitive performance and the social functioning of patients with dementia.
- Most but not all studies have found ginkgo supplementation to be a safe and effective treatment for age related cognitive decline.
- Vinpocetine. Derived from the herb lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor).
- Enhances brain circulation and oxygen utilization, and protects the brain from degeneration, and lack of oxygen. It is probably most beneficial for use in patients with vascular insufficiencies in the brain. Vinpocetine is known to dilate blood vessels (which increases blood flow) and improve function in stroke patients, as well as in healthy subjects.
Supplement Quality Is Important
Nutritional and botanical supplements used in these treatments are intended to have a physiological effect and clinical benefit, i.e., they are effective and your health improves.
The quality of nutritional supplements in the general marketplace is suspect. In order to get the maximum benefit to your health, be sure you purchase the highest quality nutritional supplements.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are experienced in the treatment of memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and dementia. If you have (or suspect you have) symptoms and want to learn more about natural treatments for memory loss or cognitive problems, we recommend that you contact one of our clinics for a free consultation about memory loss or an appointment.