Today we want to talk about memory and answer your most common questions about the brain.
Call them what you want—senior moments, doomsday to dementia—but the truth is that we all experience these neurological hiccups as we age. And we all wonder exactly what they mean. No matter what we may think causes our decline in mental acuity, most people share a pretty big assumption about our gray matter: We believe that our genes completely control our neurological destiny. That simply isn’t true.
The truth is that even if your genes have decided to give you a life of serious forgetfulness, you do have the ability to control those genes so your mind is strong, your brain functions at full power and you remember everything from the crucial details of your life to whether you turned off the oven—even when your birthday candles reach triple digits. Plus, we have lots of data from twin studies saying that less than 50 percent of memory is inherited, meaning that if you get a head start on the action steps we’re going to cover, you can alter how your genes are expressed. In the end, genetics loads the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger.
So let’s answer a few repeated questions SUCCESS readers sent in and give you some tips so you’ll still remember this article in 20 years.
Q: How can I improve my memory?
A: You may know the acronym TLC from the R&B girl group or the major television network that brought us hits like Jon & Kate Plus 8 and Cake Boss. While these three little letters don’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, when it comes to your memory, they are almost all you need. Tender love and care is what your brain wants. In a lot of ways, your brain is like a baby or a puppy. It needs to be fed, taken care of, played with and challenged. Luckily, there are more ways to keep your brain operating as smoothly as a Ferrari than you can shake a stick at. Here are some of our favorites:
Physical activity decreases body-wide inflammation and increases levels of important memory-boosting neurotrophins in your brain.
Left-nostril breathing improves spatial memory, the kind that helps you remember things like where you put your keys or your glasses.
Eating at least two servings of vegetables a day decreases the decline in thinking by 35 percent over six years.
Turmeric and cumin (spices found in Indian curries and most yellow mustards) help boost memory-enhancing neurotrophins in your brain and reduce the effects of certain genes that increase your risk for Alzheimer’s.
Just 900 mg a day of algae-based DHA can make your brain three years younger in just six months.
Avoid saturated fat and refined sugars. These food felons decrease levels of memory boosting neurotrophins in your brain. They also cause inflammation, which prevents blood fl ow and impedes the flow of information in your brain.
Two baby aspirin or half a regular aspirin morning and night (for a total of 162 mg of aspirin per day) can slow arterial aging by as much as 40 percent. Arterial aging is the major cause of memory loss. This is great for men over 35 and women over 40, but check with your doc first and make sure you take it with half a glass of warm water before and after to lower the risk of stomach irritation.
B vitamins help your neurotransmitters— chemicals that ferry messages around your brain—run efficiently. Aim for 40 mg of B6, 800 mcg of B12 and 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
Q: I can’t seem to remember anything. Could I have Alzheimer’s disease?
A: We’d all like to write off a memory lapse as a natural part of aging, and in many instances, it is. But if you feel like it’s gotten to the point where you’re consistently losing your keys in your other hand or your glasses on top of your head, consult this checklist of the early signs of Alzheimer’s so you can decide whether you need further attention.
Ask the same questions over and over? Repeat the same story over and over (and not because your kids are tuning you out yet again)? Forget how to do something that you normally can do easily? Get lost in familiar surroundings? Misplace things often (and not because your home has more junk than a city landfill)? Neglect to bathe? Rely on someone else to make decisions you’d normally make yourself?
If you aren’t checking off too many of those points but are still concerned, there are a few more things you can try:
Eliminate some key chemicals from your lifestyle. That includes artificial foods (like sweeteners), MSG and even shampoo. Talk to your doctor if you’re on statin or digitalis drugs. They can occasionally cause reversible memory loss. Get a blood test to see if you have an elevated level of the APO E4 protein that is correlated with a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. Cut back on cholesterol-laden foods high in saturated fat. They clog up healthy blood fl ow, which causes forgetfulness.
Q: Can I prevent dementia?
A: Your genes only play a part in your neurological destiny. Since memory loss actually starts at age 16, the sooner you adopt these lifestyle changes, the better:
Avoid saturated fats. They lead to dementia. Put a spring in your step. Moderate to vigorous physical activity translates into a 45 percent lower risk for dementia, compared to light activity. Make afternoon tea a regular event. Regular tea drinkers hold onto more brain power, slowing age-related declines by up to 37 percent. Choose caffeinated (if it doesn’t affect you adversely), and you can also decrease your risk of dementia. Smash the ash. Heavy smoking from middle-age on doubles your risk of dementia.