We’re all forgetful to some extent and joke about having lapses we call “senior moments.” But losing your memory is not funny. Fortunately, there are nutrients that can often turn it around. That’s what I found after I realized one day that my short-term memory had taken a sudden decline. Names, events, and “to do” lists were hard to remember. I would sit with an image in my mind and couldn’t find the word to match this image no matter how long I tried.
I was so upset that I put my full attention on this problem and looked for its cause. If I could find out why my memory had suddenly declined, I could find a solution. I did, and within two weeks my memory had returned.
The Hormone Connection
A declining memory may simply be due to lowering levels of hormones that begin some time after menopause. There’s a clear association between estrogen and mental clarity. This is a compelling reason for some women to decide to take hormone replacement therapy. Instead, talk with your doctor about taking pregnenalone, a precursor to estrogen that is safer and can be just as effective for memory.
If you feel comfortable taking estrogen, make sure you only take natural, bio-identical hormones in the amount your body needs. You can find more specific information on natural hormones, including pregnenalone, in my past newsletters, available on-line at www.womenshealthletter.com.
Thyroid hormone production declines with age, and hypothyroidism can contribute to memory loss. Ask your doctor to thoroughly check your thyroid, or take your temperature under your armpit (the Broda Barnes test) to see if your thyroid is low. Iodine insufficiency can also be responsible for low thyroid function, and now there’s a spot iodine test that measures iodine in your thyroid. You can get this test through FFP Labs without a doctor’s prescription (887-900-5556).
Supplemental brain food
There are two nutrients that can are essential for good brain function and can be considered “brain food”: Phosphatidyl serine (PS) and acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC). PS, or phosphatidyl serine, is a naturally occurring fat that is found in cell membranes. It’s one of the most plentiful fats in your brain tissue, and is a key building block in helping your cells communicate with one another. It also stimulates the production of brain chemicals like seratonin and dopamine. Your body can make PS if it has sufficient folic acid, vitamin B12, and essential fats. But as we age, we get less of these in our diets, and have poorer absorption. So supplemental PS may be helpful, even if you’re taking a multivitamin already.
More than 65 human studies on PS and brain function have shown it stimulates the memory in people with age-related memory loss and relieves age-related depression. When people took 300 mg of PS a day for three months, they reported an improvement in mental clarity, and the ability to remember names, faces, and telephone numbers. In some of the studies, the results were described as “astounding.” Some doctors recommend beginning with this higher amount of PS until you notice improved clarity and recall. Then taper down to 100 mg a day for maintenance. Gynecologist Uzzi Reiss, M.D. recommends 100 mg with breakfast and 200 mg with dinner. I take it throughout the day in divided doses and it works for me.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is a derivative of carnitine, a vitamin-like compound that carries slow-burning, long-chain fats into your cells. Chemically, ALC is a combination of acetic acid and carnitine, bound together in a single molecule. This combination seems to be more effective than carnitine alone for good brain function, since ALC crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than carnitine.
Your brain needs energy in order to function, and ALC is like a train that carries fuel to your brain cells so they can work better. ALC improves communication among neurons in the brain and is also an antioxidant that protects your brain from aging. It removes toxic byproducts formed during brain metabolism, acting as a “brain detoxifier.” Studies have shown that ALC improves energy production in brain cells and delays the progression of Alzheimer’s. In animal studies, it even prevented animals from developing Parkinson’s disease. This is a very powerful brain nutrient.
Your brain makes ALC, but once again, often not enough as we age. The recommended dose for ALC is between 500 and 1,500 mg a day in divided doses. This doesn’t mean you need as much as 500 mg, but you may. Neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, uses a formula with 400 mg of ALC, while many brain formulas that are effective use less of this expensive nutrient.
These supplements are safe to take. They’re also expensive, so you may want to try a memory formula for a few months to see if lowered amounts of PS and ALC will work for you when taking them with other brain nutrients. You may want to take a memory formula and boost either ALC or PS if necessary. But if you use a formula, make sure it has both of these brain nutrients.
Don’t forget to exercise. It’s good for your brain! An eight-year study conducted with 6,000 women over 65 who walked regularly and moderately had the least amount of cognitive decline and memory loss. And walking won’t cost you anything.
Goldman, Robert, MD, DO, PhD. Brain Fitness, Doubleday, 1999.
Perlmutter, David, MD. BrainRecovery.com, The Perlmutter Health Center, Naples, FL, 2000. www.brainrecovery.com
Whitaker, Julian, MD. The Memory Solution, Avery Publishing, 1999.