Can You Preserve Memory?

January 06, 2015

As a culture, Americans are living longer. We desire to live a long and healthy life, both physically and mentally. It is a fact that as we age, our ability to remember begins to wane; often referred to comically as a “senior moment.” Some forgetfulness is expected with the aging process and not a cause for panic. However, some memory loss is quite severe and life-changing for both the person experiencing it and the family members.

Due to concern over memory loss, many consumers purchase (based on profits from their sale) products that boast of their ability to preserve memory and cognitive functioning. The question that should be asked is “how effective are memory-boosting/preserving products?” Nutrition Action Health Letter (September 2012) reviewed the components (not the brand name) of many brain-boosting products in the article “Brain Makers-Can Popping Pills Preserve Memory?”  Some of the reviews are summarized here:

DHA: Five large studies have shown no greater improvement in those who took DHA (for varying amounts of time) over those who received placebos. A few other studies showed that there was a very small difference in 3 out of 8 memory tasks for the group receiving DHA. The conclusion about DHA in this article was (not surprisingly) FURTHER RESEARCH IS NEEDED.

PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE (PS): This compound is currently made from soybeans. Short and simple: there is no good evidence that PS made from soy has any meaningful impact on memory.

VINPOCETINE and HUPERZINE A: Although both of these compounds claim to enhance and/or support memory, the article reports that there is no verifiable evidence for either of these products.

GINKGO: You have probably heard of GINKGO for memory loss as it has been marketed for years. There have been several studies using Ginkgo and placebos, but in most of the well-designed studies, ginkgo has not been shown to have any impact on memory.

The article reviews other components as well and unfortunately, none have been shown to have anywhere near the promised benefits.

There are many other products/components that claim to be able to improve brain and memory functioning. One example of this is coconut oil and its extracts. It has been claimed in some testimonials to have the ability to improve, retain or even “cure” memory degeneration. Again, the available research (which is scarce) does not really support the claim. 

Are there things you can do to maintain or help improve your memory?  The National Institute on Aging offers some suggestions in their book, “Understanding Memory Loss” (NIH Publication No. 10-5442, September 2010.) They suggest: Learn a new skill; Spend time with friends and family (socialization); Volunteer; Use memory tools such as calendar, to-do lists and notes to yourself which will help you to stay organized; Get plenty of rest; Exercise and eat well; Don’t drink a lot of alcohol; Get help if you feel depressed. Staying engaged with life, through socialization and participation, may help you to keep your mind active.

You should be very wary of products advertised on TV, in magazines and newspapers and on the internet. While testimonials may appear sincere and true, there is very little science to back up these presentations. You should check with your health care provider if you are concerned about your memory. Sometimes, certain medications can have create problems with memory.  

For information on herbal and alternative products including those listed above, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov/) website. If you are a District resident (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven or Woodbridge) and would like a free copy of “Understanding Memory Loss” or the Nutrition Action Healthletter article referenced above, call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org.