Retaining and Improving Memory: The Science and Solution

Retaining and Improving Memory: The Science and Solution

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  1. For the past few centuries, it’s been commonly accepted that losing one’s memory is a natural and inescapable aspect of aging. “Nothing to be concerned about, it happens to everyone.”

    This has lead many to believe there is nothing they can do to ward off absent-mindedness, senility, dementia, and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, in recent years, we’ve demonstrated our resignation to this belief by coining an expression that forgives our occasional memory lapses: “senior moments.”

    But is this long-standing premise actually true? Is losing one’s memory inevitable and beyond our control?

    While science shows that the brain does indeed shrink in size after we reach middle age, a growing number of studies show there is actually much we can do to retain and even improve our memory–virtually throughout life.


    The Science

    In recent years, science has linked several specific physical and behavioral factors to memory loss: diet (the consumption of saturated fats, refined sugar, chemical additives), lifestyle (smoking, stress, sedentary behavior, alcohol, synthetic drugs), industrial pollutants (toxins in public buildings and in our homes), and environmental factors (polluted air, water, and soil). And while some of these factors are beyond our control to change, many are not. It just takes understanding the nature of the problem.


    Americans have one of the highest rates of brain-toxifying diets in the world. Highest in refined sugar, saturated fats, trans fat, and chemical additives. That’s why until very recently, we had the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation in the world. And as we now know, the foods we eat can dramatically contribute to what science calls “toxic brain,” with the high levels of cholesterol that result from such diets shown to cause memory loss.

    What to consider:

    > Sugar can lead to glucose spikes and crashes, causing wildly fluctuating brain energy levels. Additionally, studies show that artificial sweeteners like aspartame can cause individuals with mood disorders to experience drastic reactions — causing huge fluctuations in brain chemistry — which can directly affect memory.

    > Fatty meats, cream and whole milk, lard, shortening, and butter contain artery-clogging saturated fats that restrict blood flow to the brain and lead to poor cardiovascular health related to cognitive decline.

    > Cookies, potato chips, doughnuts, fried chicken, candy, muffins, and French fries are infamous for containing excessively high levels of hydrogenated fats and trans fat. These fats directly interfere with the absorption of omega-3 fatty acids (those essential brain building blocks).

    > Junk foods and processed foods commonly contain numerous preservatives, colorings, and other harmful additives now identified as interfering with brain function.

    > Carbonated soft drinks are often high in phosphorous, which interferes with absorption of the neurotransmitter-boosting mineral calcium.

    > Alcohol and caffeine are known to interfere with absorption of B vitamins, zinc, potassium, and iron–all essential neuronutrients that relate to memory function.


    In addition to unhealthy dietary habits, Americans (and indeed, much of the western world) are also among the most inactive and self-indulgent societies in the world. Negative lifestyle and environmental habits have now been proven to greatly inhibit brain activity.

    What to consider:

    > Smoking depletes neuronutrients and dumps major loads of toxins into our brains, impeding memory function.

    > Stress and hypertension create a massive obstacle to cognitive function; in short, stress shuts down brain cells.

    > Sedentary lifestyles lacking brain stimulation contribute greatly to cognitive decline and memory loss–especially when coupled with other toxic intake.

    > Alcohol consumption (when taken to excess) leads to short-term memory loss as well as overall cognitive decline.

    > Synthetic drugs (including cough suppressants, barbiturates, antidepressants, and MAO inhibitors) have all been directly linked to the symptoms of dementia and memory loss.

    Industrial and Environmental Pollutants

    There are an estimated 12 million artificial chemicals presently in use in the US alone, and an estimated 1000 new toxins being introduced into our environment every month. These chemicals are in the air we breath, the water we drink, and find their way into our homes, places of business, public buildings, and into our medications, cosmetics, textiles, and of course, our food.

    What to consider:

    > In a 2008 statement issued by a group of prominent researchers, there is convincing evidence that 200 common commercially produced chemicals can cause deficits in learning and memory, and reduced IQ.

    > Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA permits companies to put many chemicals on the market without first proving them safe.

    > From flame retardants used to fireproof upholstery to Bisphenol A (found in thousands of plastic and epoxy products), common cleaning solvents to chemicals used in everything from light bulbs to flea-and-tick products, we come in constant contact with toxins that can effect brain function.

    > In and around the home we are routinely exposed to unclean water, cleaning products, gas from carpeting, fumes from paint, and harmful chemicals in the yard and garden that can ultimately affect memory.

    > In schools and public buildings we are commonly exposed to asbestos, contaminated air-conditioning systems, lead paint, commercial disinfectants, and countless other chemicals that negatively affect how our brains function.

    > In the outside environment we come in constant contact with carbon monoxide, methane gas, gasoline fumes, paint, pesticides, herbicides, and thousands of other commonly-used toxins–many of which kill brain cells and affect our memories.


    The Solution

    Dietary Changes

    Science has shown that a change in diet can not only improve brain activity, it can reverse the damage done by many harmful chemicals. There are a number of foods that improve brain activity and promote an active memory.

    What to consider:

    > Fruits and vegetables, especially spinach, blueberries, and strawberries, are bursting with antioxidants that protect the brain from “free radical” damage.

    > Nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax, and almonds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin E and calcium–which improve brain function.

    > Grains like oats, millet, and brown rice protect the brain by supporting healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels–key elements associated with the onset of memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease.

    > Fish, as long touted, is indeed “brain food.” The omega-3 fatty acids in tuna, salmon, and mackerel help support a healthy brain. Vegetarians can reap these same benefits from a diet high in flaxseed oil and flaxseed.

    > Since there is a direct link between food additives, preservatives, and memory loss, we should all be in the habit of reading food content labels. Learning the names of the many additives known to negatively affect brain function can help us avoid them.

    Lifestyle Changes

    For those of us accustomed to instant gratification, overindulgence, and 21st Century stressors, making lifestyle changes necessary to extend mental capabilities may seem like a lot of work. But improving your lifestyle can have many rewards beyond just improving your memory.

    What to consider:

    > America leads the world in many life-threatening diseases including several forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and mental illness–all of which are improved by improving lifestyle.

    > Simple exercise boosts brain power and can void the brain of toxins. It can also benefit the body by improving the circulatory, respiratory, immune, digestive, and other bodily systems–all of which add to the brain’s capacity to function at its best.

    > Science has now proven that the brain is a “use it or lose it organ.” Learning new things – whether doing crossword puzzles, reading, or learning a foreign language – builds new synapses (mental connections) and helps reinforce old ones, thus improving memory circuits.

    > By increasing brain function, you can positively affect all the senses–sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

    > Lifestyle improvements will not only detoxify your brain and help you retain and improve memory, they can systemically improve the way your body functions as a whole–improving attitude, vitality (energy levels), sexual stamina, and the ability to deal with stress.

    > In short, by feeding the brain you are actually feeding the entire body. This pays off in numerous ways beyond fending off memory loss.

    Environmental Changes

    While it’s often difficult to change the environment in which we have to live and work, it’s usually quite simple to change how we interact with it.

    What to consider:

    > Be alert to odors. Most toxic chemicals give off distinctive, tell-tale smells. Whether it’s toner ink, disinfectants, carpet cleaning solution, or that burrito burning in the microwave, when you catch wind of it, avoid it.

    > If you work in an indoor environment where a variety of chemicals are used on a daily basis, take the opportunity to go outside whenever possible. Drawing fresh air into the lungs feeds the cells of the brain.

    > Read the labels of products you use in and around the home. If you can purchase “green,” environmentally-safe products, do so. You’ll be benefiting both the environment as well as your personal health. If this is not an option, consider carefully where you store and use such products.

    > Be mindful of your environment. Those who have improved their memory capacity have done so by making themselves aware of the world around them and considering what they subject their bodies to.




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