Keep your brain healthier longer

Posted by Olderiswiser Editorial

How the food you eat can help cognitive function and memory as you age.

Brain foodThe increasing numbers of older Britons with degenerative health conditions has brought more awareness of the rising prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. 

Of all the senses most people enjoy day to day, you could argue that were you to lose one or more, you could adapt and live a reasonably happy life. Imagine if you lost your sense of self; being unable to recognise friends and relatives or key milestones in your life.   

Dementia care costs the NHS more than £23 billion per year and that is only going to increase as we live longer. So what can you do to protect your brain health adn mental accuity as you grow old? There are plenty of ways to combat age-associated memory loss, without side effects. In fact, you can even improve cognitive function with the right supplements and a proper diet. In addition, if you have a family history of Alzheimer's, you can greatly decrease your risk of brain degeneration if you follow the simple guidelines listed below.

Phosphatidyl Serine

If you can pronounce it, you're already ahead of the game. Phosphatidyl Serine (PS) is a phospholipid that is present in every cell membrane in the body, though it is most prevalent in brain tissue. PS is present in trace amounts in foods, but to obtain optimal amounts through the diet, you would have to actually eat animal brains. Supplementation is therefore ideal for obtaining PS, since commercially available PS is synthetically derived, and free of all animal products.

What is the role of PS in the body? PS is like the superintendent of the brain; it is actively involved in the repair and maintenance of each cell's structure in the body and the nervous system. Its benefits include memory improvement, improved learning, alleviation of Alzheimer's symptoms and early dementia, greater attention span, mood enhancement, fighting depression, and combating stress. PS readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and shuttles glucose to the nerve cells so they are well fed and energized. It works rapidly, too; studies have shown PS to be effective within 30 minutes of oral administration. I use PS for my patients with age-associated memory decline, Alzheimer's, brain injuries, attention deficit disorder, or for those who simply want to enhance their mental power. The therapeutic dose of PS is 300 to 500 milligrams per day, and the memory-enhancing effects of PS can last for up to a month after supplementation is discontinued. Note that PS should be avoided while using prescription anti-coagulants such as Coumadin or Heparin.


Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) is another vital nutrient for brain health. A number of scientific studies have shown that carnitine, a nutrient consisting of the amino acids lysine and methionine, helps slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. L-carnitine is used as a fat burner and a heart-supporting nutrient, while ALC enhances concentration. ALC has many of the benefits of PS, such as fighting depression and brain aging, improved learning, and stress management, but it also regulates sleep/wake cycles and improves long-term memory. And the benefits of taking ALC can be seen as early as three months. Those with Alzheimer's and dementia, peripheral neuropathies, memory loss, and major depression should use ALC, and it also has clinical uses in chronic fatigue syndrome and bodybuilding.

Around the age of 40, the body's production of ALC begins to decline, making it a required supplement for protection against age-associated memory loss and neurodegenerative conditions. The dosage ranges from 1,500 to 3000 milligrams and should be gradually introduced over the course of a week. It has been documented as safe for long-term use, though anyone with a seizure disorder should avoid ALC, as it is questionable whether or not it will overly stimulate the nervous system. ALC can be extremely energizing, so be sure to take it before 4 pm.

Gingko Biloba

The Gingko tree is the longest surviving tree species on the planet, dating back 200 million years. It has two fan-shaped leaves with a notch in the middle, dividing the leaves into two lobes; hence the name biloba. Gingko is extremely resilient and is found growing in many cities due to its ability to resist pollution, viruses, and insects. It is rich in flavonoids, which are antioxidant compounds found in plants that protect against cancer, heart disease, and premature aging. The Chinese used Gingko nuts for thousands of years as a remedy to promote longevity, improve impaired hearing, asthma, and to increase sexual endurance and improve circulation.

More than three hundred studies have demonstrated that gingko helps protect and promote memory and relieve signs of senility, probably due to the increased blood flow to the brain. One study conducted at the New York Institute for Medical Research on patients suffering from dementia showed a significant improvement in 30 percent of those people taking gingko. This is very exciting news, since very few drugs have been shown to have any positive impact on dementia. Gingko can also help protect brain tissue against potentially dangerous chemicals called free radicals because it is rich in antioxidants.

The appropriate dosage for gingko can range depending on the indication. For general mental acuity, take 120 milligrams per day, and for Alzheimer's or vascular problems take 240 milligrams per day. No serious side effects have been reported with its use, and long-term use is believed to be safe. Choose a supplement that contains gingko-leaf extracts (24 percent flavone glycosides and six percent terpene lactones) to ensure a potent and effective product.

Gingko should be used with caution in patients taking anti-platelet drugs such as Warfarin (coumadin) or aspirin, antidepressants (tricyclics) and certain duretics, because the effect of platelet aggregation inhibitors may be increased. If you are taking any of these drugs, talk with your doctor before taking gingko.

Diet and brain power

Bear in mind that while all of the aforementioned supplements are remarkable, no supplement regime in the world can ever compensate for a poor diet. Excess sugar in the form of refined carbohydrates, poor-quality hydrogenated oils, and inadequate protein can also compromise mental acuity. Have you ever noticed how you feel in the mornings after eating a bagel versus an omelet? A typical New York bagel contains the carbohydrate equivalent of four pieces of bread, while an egg contains only one gram of carbohydrate per serving-a negligible amount-and is rich in protein and essential fatty acids. So if you feel like you're eating healthy, but can't seem to generate good mental power, then you may need to take a closer look at your diet.


Protein is the building block of our tissues. It is needed to make every living cell in our bodies and promote muscle growth. It balances hormones and blood sugar, fights sugar cravings, strengthens the immune system, heals wounds, and in some cases, keeps the gut healthy. But most important, it can have a positive effect on our mental function.

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