Occasionally forgetting where you left your keys or what you were supposed to buy at the market might be annoying, but it’s not usually a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Nor does it point to Alzheimer’s prelude: mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by significantly poorer memory than what is common for one’s age, and Alzheimer’s signs include severe deterioration of memory, difficulty completing familiar tasks and trouble with planning or solving problems.
By middle age, it’s normal to have occasional memory lapses, especially when we’re juggling so much in our always-on, 24/7 world. “The brain, like every other organ in the body, depends on good nutrition,” says Ron Hoffman, MD, a nutritionally oriented physician in New York City. “The B vitamins, DHA, phosphatidylserine and resveratrol are among the supplements that have helped patients’ memory and cognitive function.”
If you feel like your memory and thinking aren’t as sharp as they once were, consider the following:
Spanish researchers asked 447 healthy men and women in their late 60s to eat either a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet (an emphasis on plant-based foods) with extra amounts of either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. After four years, people eating the Mediterranean diet with extra olive oil (1 liter weekly) had better memory, attention span and mental flexibility. People eating a Mediterranean diet with extra nuts (1 ounce daily) fared almost as well, but brain function deteriorated among those who were eating a low-fat diet.
University of Oxford researchers asked 266 seniors with MCI to take either a combination of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 or placebos for two years. People taking the vitamins maintained their memory and ability to plan, organize and prioritize information compared with people taking placebos.
A 2015 study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that fish oils might enhance the brain benefits of B vitamins.
Dose: Take at least 800 mcg of folate, 500 mcg of vitamin B12 and 20 mg of vitamin B6, or a high-potency B-complex supplement, daily.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association panned the use of DHA supplements, but a separate analysis of 15 studies showed that the dose makes all the difference. That analysis determined that a minimum of 500 mg daily was needed to improve memory—and at least 1,000 mg yielded the greatest benefits. “DHA is one of the most promising neuroprotective compounds,” Hoffman says. “It literally supports brain function from cradle to grave.”
Dose: Take 1,000 mg of DHA daily.
This nutrient helps brain cells maintain a more youthful flexibility. Researchers reported that taking supplements for six months leads to better memory, and one study showed that people had a 42 percent boost in word recall after taking phosphatidylserine for only six weeks.
Dose: Take 100–300 mg daily.
A recent study showed that resveratrol, found in red wine, might restore a more youthful brain. German researchers asked 46 middle- age men and women to take either resveratrol or placebos for six months. Brain scans showed the resveratrol supplements boosted the number of connections between brain cells.
Dose: Take 200 mg resveratrol daily.
Recommended brain boosters
The following supplements qualify as memory and cognition enhancers based on published research.
Remember: It's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.
A recent study found that having high blood levels of omega-3s may increase the benefit of B vitamins on brain health. Some multis (such as this one) do contain omega-3 fish oils. Two capsules (the recommended daily dose) contain moderately high amounts of B vitamins, along with 130 mg EPA, 90 mg DHA and 1,600 IU vitamin D.
DHA is available from either fish or algae (vegetarian) sources, but fish oils generally provide higher potencies in fewer capsules. Nature’s Way EfaGold Mega-DHA, derived from sardine and tuna, delivers 1,000 mg DHA and 400 mg EPA in two capsules.
Want a vegetarian- source DHA supplement? Ovega-3 offers a relatively high-potency product derived from algae. Each capsule contains 270 mg DHA and 130 mg EPA. Two or three capsules provide enough DHA to achieve the approximate amounts used in a recent journal article on DHA
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is one of the phospholipids found in the membranes of brain cells. This particular product is derived from non-GMO sunflower lecithin, and it is 100 percent free of soy.
Solgar’s resveratrol comes from Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Each capsule contains 250 mg of resveratrol, along with 10 mg of nonalcoholic wine extract.
Inadequate intake of some B vitamins leads to elevated homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease. The same B vitamins might also impact memory, according to recent research. This supp provides 50 mg vitamin B6, 800 mg folic acid and 500 mcg vitamin B12, along with 1 g trimethylglycine,
all nutrients that regulate homocysteine levels.