“Diet, exercise, and supplements”
Even if you haven’t been touched by it firsthand, we can all remember that final episode of Sex and the City when Miranda is bathing Steve’s mother after finding her wandering Brooklyn streets confused, rummaging through garbage. Dementia is a very real and scary issue that effects many more people than most of us are probably aware of – and there’s no effective treatment for it. Memory loss that disrupts daily life is a common symptom of dementia and, in exploring the science of it, research shows that there are multiple modifiable risk factors that influence the likelihood of this type of cognitive decline later in life.
Think of preventing memory loss in the same way that you think of preventing wrinkles; if you don’t apply sunscreen daily – even when it’s cold, raining, or snowing – there are no fancy lotions or potions that can fix the damage faster than you are creating it. The aging and cancer-causing UVA rays are strong year-round. When it comes to memory loss that same idea is at play. A healthy lifestyle that includes a fiber, vitamin, and fish oil-rich diet, possible supplements, regularly exercise, sleep, and utilization of stress reduction techniques is the best way to fight memory loss and dementia down the line for which, again, there is no effective treatment.
“Exercise has the ability to increase our brain’s cognitive abilities by stimulating areas involved in learning and memory and by stimulating the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” explains beRevolutionarie expert Katie Sandler, MS. “The release of this chemical encourages new connections, which stimulate areas responsible for memory and cognition to function better. Research has also shown that exercise helps promote working memory and memory consolidation, meaning that information is processed effectively into long term memory and is easily recalled.” The earlier you start exercising the better off you are in preventing cognitive decline, but don’t use that as an excuse to delay your journey to wellbeing.
Shopping for supplements can be overwhelming. First and foremost, always speak with your doctor as more isn’t always better and many supplements can interfere with the efficacy of other medication you may be taking. It’s equally important to only buy from reputable brands that are third party certified as supplements are not regulated. This means that no one is actually checking to make sure what manufactures say is in their supplements, is actually in their supplements. Worse yet, when testing is done results often come back overwhelmingly negative – meaning that manufactures are lying about what and how much is in their supplements. That said, they do have a time and a place and go a long way in maintaining memory if you buy the right ones.
“We know that oxidation and inflammation are highly correlated with memory loss, so we look for supplements that support the reversal of that,” says Sandler. “Most research points to vitamin E and C, so I advocate for them. The third supplement which I’m a huge supporter of is vitamin D. Research has shown that low levels of vitamin D have a devastating impact on our overall health, specifically our cognitive health and thus our memory.”
Fish oil/omega-3 is another common supplement taken for this purpose. Found in foods like wild fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, most people don’t get enough omega-3 and these fatty acids play critical roles in cognitive development and learning, brain health, and preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other mental illness. Look for a supplement free of mercury and certified free from heavy metals and pesticides. A rule of thumb dosage is 1000 mg of fish oil twice a day with 300/200 ratio of EPA/DHA, but it’s important to speak with your doctor.
We all should be eating a wholesome diet low in junk food, but not just for our waistline. Diet can have a huge impact on long-term mental health – as evidenced by the aforementioned discussion on supplements. “Eat things that are fresh and bright in colors as these are typically filled with antioxidants, which encourage brain and body health. Because our brains are made up of around 60% of fat, we need healthy fats to support our functioning; that’s why we typically see fatty fish or omega fatty acids at the top of the list for brain health,” says Sandler. “Think about what you’re drinking too. Tea, coffee, and kombucha all have benefits for our overall system, but specifically our brain and gut health.”
Sleep and Stress
“Sleep is one of the most important factors for overall health,” says Sandler. “Lack of sleep and stress causes hormonal and neuronal dysregulation, which inhibits protective processes.” Meditation, gratitude journals, and practicing mindfulness can be great tools to start improving in these areas.