Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we did not have those momentary lapses of forgetfulness such as, leaving the car key in the ignition, forgetting your wallet or cell phone at home or in a public place, forget a password, or even worse, absentmindedly leaving your dog in the car on a 90+ degree day (which i have known people to do)? Then, of course, there are those embarrassing moments where we are greeted by an old acquaintance from the past and can’t recall who they are. As we get older, it’s a common belief that, these lapses (AKA senior moments) are imminently going to occur more often.
So, what is going on in the brain when a moment of memory lapse occurs?
Factors That Can Impair Cognitive Brain Activity
Medical experts claim that memory loss is a normal sign of aging. Still, as modern science continues to learn more about human brain function, they are now reneging on those claims and admitting that the brain does have the ability to regenerate by creating new neural pathway connections. However, there are many factors that negatively inhibit brain performance such as, smoking, alcohol, trauma, infection, thyroid disorder, stroke , street drugs, and alzheimers.
How do prescription drugs inhibit memory?
Prescription drugs can be a true threat to the suppression of cognitive memory. Heart medications, anti-anxiety medications, insomnia medications and seizure medications are a few examples. This occurs due to the accumulative build up that can lead to consequential issues such as delirium and accidents. These drugs also reduce cholesterol in which the brain uses for the connections between brain cells.
The brain contains 1/4 of the bodies total cholesterol. The good news is there are studies from the Journal of Pharmotherapy in 2009 showing that this decline is reversible when the use of these medications are discontinued. In 2012 the FDA implemented a requirement that these drugs display a warning label.
Then there are the drugs used to treat conditions like urinary incontinence. These are a class of drugs referred to as anticholinergics. The manner in which this type of medication controls bladder spasms and uncontrolled leakage is by blocking an organic element called acetylcholine, which are essentially neural transmitters that send signals from cells to the nerve endings in the bladder wall. These neural transmitters are in various parts of the body including the brain and are responsible for cognitive function and memory.
Here lies the problem: This particular class of drug does not discriminate between the transmitters in the bladder or the brain. Quite simply, they are ALL blocked. It’s common for those who take these drugs to suffer from cognitive issues such as confusion, delerium and even dementia due to the toxicity and accumulative build up over time.
Other such drugs that can inhibit memory and cognition are, certain antibiotics, diabetic medications, cold or allergy drugs, pain killers, sleep aids, tranquilizers, barbiturates, neurological medications and anti-psychotic drugs.
From this installment of Herb Talk Live w/Wendy Wilson on 11/28/17, the above information is sourced and explained in more detail in the audio below at the 38min-50sec mark.
Why SSRI drugs are dangerous:
Study on the effects of Incontinence drugs:
A study in 2008, on the effects of incontinence drugs was done by U.S. Navy neurologist Dr. Jack Tsao who quotes: “Our message is to be careful when using these medicines. It may be better to use diapers and be able to think clearly than the other way around.” He goes on to state that urinary incontinence can be treated without the intervention of these drugs and encouraged that more adequate research be done on the drugs and also suggested that doctors should do an onset evaluation as to the cognitive conditions of the patient before prescribing them.
IMS Health, which is the largest database in the U.S. for physician prescribing data, reported in 2007 that the sales of prescription drugs to treat urinary problems topped $3 billion in that year.
The research on the drug was prompted after Dr. Tsao was visited by a 73 year old patient, who started hallucinating conversations with dead relatives and having memory problems after just a few doses of the drug. Tsao and his colleagues were aware of similar reports. The findings of the research were derived from the medication and cognitive test scores of 870 subjects that included older catholic priests, nuns and brothers. The average age was 75. This research lasted for almost 8 years, testing for cognitive decline yearly, over that span.
Almost 80% of the participants took one or more of the “anticholinergic” drugs. Including ones such as Detrol and Ditropan. The subjects who took the drugs had a 50% more rapid rate in the decline of cognitive function than those who did not. “That’s why the researchers believe they are driving the memory problems,” Tsao said. source
These incontinence/overactive bladder drugs have now started to cross the threshold into the over the counter market. The first of these, Oxytrol, was approved by the FDA in 2013, which has long been under the prescription brand name Ditropan. source
Blood pressure medicines:
In page 35 of the book Mind Boosting Secrets by Ray Sahelian, MD, mentioned is a 48 year old lawyer named Denise who was diagnosed with high blood pressure. She was prescribed propranolol, a beta blocker that slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure. A month later she noticed that she could not think as clearly and in particular, had trouble remembering phone numbers.
In fact, propranolol has been use in studies with mice and in double blind studies with subjects who have been afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has shown positive results in “mind wiping” those victims of those memories. see here
Note: There will be more excerpts from the aforementioned book “Mind Boosting Secrets” as this report continues.
Tips on How To Boost Cognitive Memory
In this subsection we will examine strategies such as, individualizing a brain empowering regimen, dietary measures, supplementation, how to address short term memory loss and games & exercises to help prime the brain for better cognitive function.
The Mediterranean Diet is considered to be an effective means for nutritional wellness. One attribute of which is, boosting cognitive memory. A subset of this diet is the MIND diet (or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet). see here for a menu and 7 day meal outline
A study was conducted where 1000 seniors were tracked for an 8 year period. The participants who strictly followed the guidelines of the MIND diet reduced their risk of Alzheimers by 53%. Those who moderately followed this diet had a 35% reduced risk. source
Foods for boosting memory/brain power:
- avocado — monounsaturated fats, tyrosine
- berries of all kinds — anthocyanins, resveratrol
- coconut oil — medium chain triglycerides
- cold-water, fatty fish — omega-3 essential fatty acids
- dark chocolate — flavonols, caffeine
- eggs — choline, omega-3 essential fatty acids
- fermented foods — probiotics
- green leafy vegetables — vitamins C, K, and B complex, magnesium
- olive oil — monounsaturated fats, vitamins E and K
- sea vegetables — iodine, vitamin B12, inositol
- turmeric — curcumin, turmerone
- walnuts — omega-3 essential fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, polyphenols
- fish — omega-3 essential fatty acids
Foods to avoid:
In Mind Boosting Secrets page 33, Dr. Sahelian touches on the importance in limiting sugar intake as well as mitigating foods like, fried foods, margarine and baked foods. These foods contain trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils that interfere with the function of healthy fats.
On page 44 he covers trans-fats more in detail stating these are chemically altered and distorted fatty acids that are unhealthy due to the process of hydrogenation where cheaper cooking oils are transformed for better taste and texture. Trans-fatty acids are commonly found in margarine, pastries, donuts, corn chips and processed/packaged foods.
Psychoactive Herbs and Supplementation:
There are a number of psychoactive herbs that have been used in various parts of the world (especially in eastern medicine) for millennia to treat many ailments and serve in aiding cognitive/brain function.
Also referred to as Indian ginseng, Ashwagandha is a shrub that grows in India and north America. The roots of this plant have been used for thousands of years as folk curative in ayurvedic medicine. It contains withanolides which are a class of substance that have been shown to have brain/neuron regenerating properties. In India, it is used to treat mental deficiencies in geriatric patients.
Dr. Sahelian suggests on page 108 of Mind Boosting Secrets that, due to his experience taking 500 mg doses at breakfast and lunch for a week, it may be better to take Ashwagandha in the evening due to the sedative effects. get it here and read reviews
The Kava plant grows in the South Pacific Islands. For many centuries, the Polynesians have used the roots as a psychoactive agent. The root of this plant consists of several chemicals known as kavalactones, which govern a number of brain receptors entailed in calmness and mental clarity.
Read more here on side effects involving the liver that can occur (especially if you consume alcohol or take certain medications) when supplementing with kava.
What supplementation can do to boost brain power
In Mind Boosting Secrets Ch.1 page 3 “The Born-Again Brain” Dr. Sahelian mentions how doctors now can alter the brain with fair success in order to upgrade intelligence and mental efficiency and treat such disorders that were previously treated with the use of pharmaceutical drugs. He goes on to say that, wisely using natural supplements can improve our mind, memory and mood to better equip us to be able to take on the barrage of information in today’s world and not be overwhelmed by “information overload.”
On page 4 Dr. Sahelian states that scientists have started to acknowledge that natural nutrients can improve…
- Mood, energy and vitality
- Thinking and reaction speed
- Creativity and development of innovative concepts
- Complex problem solving abilities
- Sex drive
- Vision, hearing and sensory perception
There is no one “silver bullet” supplement for improving brain function:
On page 8 Dr. Sahelian points out that, the brain needs a variety of supplements in small doses as opposed any one supplement in a high dose and goes on to say that doctors in western medicine tend to use one or two treatments to treat a psychiatric condition. Whereas, in eastern medicine the formulations used by doctors are derived from many herbs and nutrients and they have been using this method for centuries.
He also recommends on page 9 to start with low doses and gradually work up. He also suggests that always following the recommended dosage as most people blindly do, may not always be the right choice, as we are all unique and have different thresholds and tolerances.
What is the best scheme for you?
Taking into consideration what and how many supplements & nutrients you should take depends on your age, biochemistry and metabolism. Also, if you are taking certain medications, this is also something to factor in as you weigh the pros and cons and of course, considerations under the purview your primary physician.
In “Mind Boosting Secrets” Dr. Sahelian provides a personalized regimen for 3 different age groups on the following pages:
- 123-127 (ages 24-40) – What is covered: a protocol for the use various supplements, sleep tips, a reminder to vegetarians and pregnancy considerations
- 129-132 (ages 41-60) – What is covered: first-line supplements specific to the particular age group, second & third-line supplements and hormone replacement
- 133-138 (ages 61 and over) – What is covered: cognitive decline as it pertains to age, confronting medical problems, step by step supplementation guidelines for the this age group
Another consideration to take into account is, the metabolic implications of an individuals biochemistry. This is covered, in regards to getting to know your body’s metabolism, in an earlier post titled “What is a Metabolic Typing Diet? Finding Your Metabolism Specific Blueprint”
List of known memory enhancing supplements
Here is a list of supplements that has been shown to be beneficial to memory/cognitive health:
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC or ALCAR)
- Alpha GPC (alpha-glycerophosphocholine)
- Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri)
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): Ginkgo extracts are amoung the most prescribed drugs in Europe for alleviating a myriad of symptoms. Mainly vascular disease and and age related cognitive decline
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
- Huperzine A
- Magnesium L Threonate
- Arctic root (Rhodiola rosea)
- Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens)
The benefits of omega 3 in mental cognition:
On page 41 of Mind Boosting Secrets, Dr. Sahelian states that, if you have a low intake of omega 3 oils in your diet, consuming more fish or fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements can yield the following results:
- Improved mood
- Enhanced clarity of thinking
- More serenity and stable thinking
- Better concentration and focus
- Better vision
The author explains on page 42 that the lining of the blood cells that carry oxygen are made of fats. These can change within hours based on the types of fats present in a meal, influencing the fluidity of the cell membrane. The more fluid the cell membrane, the easier it is for it to squeeze through tiny capillaries and extend to more isolated parts of the body.
In a study at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), random subjects were given a 900 mg/d of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) (one of the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish) over a 24 week period. Their conclusion: “Twenty-four week supplementation with 900 mg/d DHA improved learning and memory function in ARCD and is a beneficial supplement that supports cognitive health with aging.“.
In another study red blood cells were tested for DHA fatty acid levels in participants age 67 and over. Their conclusion: “Lower RBC DHA levels are associated with smaller brain volumes and a “vascular” pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.
Considerations for vegetarians:
On page 33 of Dr. Sahelian’s book, he gives reference to certain vegetarians who suffer from fatigue and mood problems due to nutritional deficiencies from the absence of foods like, eggs, milk, meat and fish in their diet. He suggests that a way to offset this is by supplementing with about 10mg of CoQ10, 100 to 250mg of carnitine and flaxseed oil as an omega 3 source.
Benefits and risks of empowering your memory with the hormone Pregnenolone:
Pregnenolone is a hormone produced from cholesterol in the adrenal glands, liver, skin, retina and the brain. It sharpens and clears the brain by blocking Gaba, which is a neurotransmitter that inhibits the firing of neurons in the brain and prevents it from overheating. Higher levels of Gaba are associated with aging, which can make the brain lethargic. source
Sometimes referred to as the mother of hormones, pregnenolone can be converted, depending on the immediate needs of the body, into other hormones such as DHEA and progesterone. In addition, the pregnenolone molecule can be transformed to to produce cortisol (the stress hormone) and aldosterone (aids in the regulation of blood pressure).
Younger adults produce about 14 mg a day. By age 75 the body produces about 60% less pregnenolone than adults in their mid 30s. This is leading scientists to consider pregnenolone supplementation as a method of countering the substantial drop in hormone levels.
There are a couple key areas of decline that occur when the brain’s neurotransmission system degenerates.
- Negative changes in the release of acetylcholine, ranging from a minor fall off to severe alterations (as in the case of Alzheimer’s disease).
- The deterioration in the creation of brain cells in the hippocampus
Scientists have discovered that pregnenolone effectively thwarts both these factors.
On the opposite side of that sum, pregnenolone increases the activity of NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) (a subtype of glutamate receptors). Glutamate is a prime excitatory neurotransmitter which recharges the brain and makes it more proficient in handling everyday activities. This induces increased acetylcholine release in the parts of the brain most associated with cognitive functions as well as promoting a more expansive growth of brain cells.
In recent years a study was conducted revealing that pregnenolone sulfate curbed age-related reduction in neurogenesis in the hippocampuses of rats. The researchers findings revealed a 55% increase of cell growth in the dentate gyrus, where newborn cells separate into neurons. Case and point: if you have more brain cells you’re likely to retain more memories.
In a french study, older rats, which had previously performed poorly in mazes, were injected with pregnenolone sulfate. Seven hours later they performed exceptionally better in the mazes. Many other such studies have affirmed these results. source
With all the benefactors pregnenolone supplementation can provide, there are also some key side effects that need to be accounted for if one considers the use of this hormone.
- Acne can occur due to the likelihood of this hormone converting into androgens
- Headaches can occur with high dosages or low dosages taken over the period of several days or weeks
- Heart beat fluctuations. These palpitations can occur with doses as low as 5 mg. This can be a serious problem with those who are elderly or are afflicted with disruptions in heart rhythm. It is suggested that, if you have heart disease or are on heart medications that you do not take pregnenolone.
- Hair loss can manifest if used daily for an extended amount of time. Pregnenolone converts into DHEA, which then converts into testosterone and in turn, can convert into DHT
Read more from Dr. Sahelians webpage on Pregnenolone (with Q and A testimonials)
In Dr. Sahelian’s book Mind Boosting Secrets pg 99-101, he explains in more detail the benefactors & side effects as well as recommendations on using this hormone and also, his own testimony on its effectiveness thereof.
Video: The advantages of ketogenic dieting for brain function:
Activities For Cognitive Brain Enhancement:
There are many forms of physical and mental activities one can undertake for strengthening and reinforcing cognitive brain function. Lets look at a some of these methods.
Training your neurons:
Neurons are cells that are the basic working system of the nervous system. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. They communicate with each other though electrical impulses and chemicals called neurotransmitters. All thoughts and emotions that are experienced are associated with these electrical impulses and the release of neurotransmitters between neurons.
As you are reading at this very moment, this is triggering electrical impulses and the release of neurotransmitters in certain parts of the brain. These letters and words are clarified in the brain and transformed into thoughts. These thoughts are then stored as memory. The strengthening of connections between neurons and protein molecules within neurons is a prime catalyst for memory formation.
When a new memory is formed it frequently involves interactions between hundreds and thousands of neurons. If this process through reading, learning ect… does not get used the memory will soon fade, but if you choose to reactivate that stored information the connections will be reinforced.
In page 11, 15 and 18-20 of Dr. Sahalian’s book, he describes how you can be taking the most potent brain supplement boosters ever formulated, but if you are not training these neurons via pursuits such as reading, learning, thinking and creating, you will only get minimal results from those supplements.
What are neurobics?
These are exercises that involve activities designed for working the brain in new ways. We’re all familiar with the expression “going through the motions.” Well, neurotics is more likened to another common expression “thinking outside of the box.” When the daily functions of life are conducted by routine activities it’s like being on auto-pilot as these activities are done unconsciously. These actions require minimal work for the brain thus exercising it less.
When the mind is involved in non-routine activities, specific types of sensory stimulation take place that inspire the growth of new dendrites (segments of the neuron that receive stimulation in order for the cell to become active) and neurons in the brain. source
Video: A quick 101 on neurobics:
Neurobics to keep your brain young:
Neurobic exercises and games:
- Writing by hand: Writing by hand is a tactic that can force the brain to physically engage in what you are doing.
- Timed activities: Try to complete a word search in a certain amount of time. This will force the brain to pay attention by working fast and working carefully
- Sukudu: This is a very popular puzzle game developed by the Japanese. The object of this game is to fill in the blank boxes of a 9×9 grid (split into 3×3 sections) with the appropriate numbers. This is said to be an excellent brain game, being that, if played daily, it can bring forth improvements in concentration and brain power. play sukudo here
- Gratitude: This will put the brain in a more tranquil place as opposed to anxiety over not sleeping
- Classical music: Also called the Mosart effect, listening to classical music is believed to activate the left and right side of the brain at the same time, which can maximize your ability to retain new stored information
Simple techniques for overcoming Short-Term Memory loss:
One way to do this (as mentioned above) is by challenging your mind with activities that are unfamiliar or pioneering. This could include more social engagement or taking interest in a new genre of learning that you are totally unfamiliar with.
Other tactics for managing short term memory loss:
- chunking – Using the example of a shopping list, this is like any vertical list of items you would write out. Except, when you make this list, make a space between every 3 of those items (essentially grouping them together in sets of 3). This method is most commonly used in phone numbers, as the area code, prefix and last four digits are separated.
- Association – A good example of this (again) is phone numbers. One strategy I use, such as for remembering the last 4 digits of a phone number, is to think of the jersey number of 2 professional sports athletes that combined, match the 4 digit number.
3. Mnemonics – Similar to association, mnemonics is a method where you attach a word, phrase or image to an object. This technique of using mental imagery to intensify memory was discovered by the ancient poet Simonides (c.556-c.468 B.C.E.). He surmised that persons desiring to train in this means (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember. read more here Examples of mnenonics
Exercise and physical activity could be as or more important to the well-being of the brain as using it to think. We are all aware that exercise is great for muscles, heart and lungs, but it also increases volume in the brain.
Scientists in recent years have discovered that exercise can build a brain that resists physical decline in size and heightens cognitive flexibility. In 2011 Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, led a team of researchers in study where 4 sets of mice were gathered and placed in 4 different living conditions. 2 with running wheels and 2 without. As to the results of the study, Rhodes stated:“Only one thing had mattered and that’s whether they had a running wheel.” The mice that exercised, despite what other luxuries they were accommodated with, had healthier brains and performed better in the cognitive tests.
In recent years scientists are recanting the long held belief that humans are born with a certain number of brain cells and cannot generate more. From autopsies performed in the 1990s, researchers concluded that adult human brains contain many new neurons. New cells were especially rife in the hippocampus (a key component of the brain related to memory and certain types of learning), demonstrating that neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) is taking place in that area of the brain. source
Video: Neurogenesis in the adult brain
Cardiovascular forms of exercise (running, interval training, cross fit and yoga) are considered to be the single most valuable way of stimulating neurogenesis. This type of exercise has been shown to increase levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell line-derived trophic factor (GDNF), which are 2 key facets in proliferating neurogenesis. source
On page 30 of Dr. Sahalian’s book, he specifies how physical exercise leads to deep sleep. During deep sleep the brain has the opportunity to reinforce and re-balance hormones and brain chemicals to prepare us for a new day.
With all the above the information that has been aggregated, presented and sourced, I would infer that any one of these methods of could likely be a viable course of action for empowering brain function and in particular, memory.
With that said, there are a number of items in the various subsections of this article that I feel need to be reflected and expounded upon.
I spoke to a naturopath today about his thoughts on Kava. I thought it would be worth his insights as he is of Polynesian descent and Polynesians have used Kava for centuries. He mentioned that it was and still is mainly used in ceremonies as a “relaxant drink” predominately by men in their culture. He said he is aware of the studies on brain function, but is skeptical of the German studies claiming that it has been shown to cause liver damage, stating that, those subjects likely had other health issues that were the causative factor. I’m not suggesting Kava won’t cause liver damage, but just citing one individual’s perspective.
Thoughts on Pregnenolone:
One of the chief effects of pregnenolone is that it blocks the neurotransmitter Gaba. As mentioned in the section on pregnenolone, one the functions of Gaba is to prevent the brain from overheating, but there are also some other benefits such as, improves sleep, reduces depression, Increases GH (growth hormone) and (one that caught my attention) Improves focus in adults and children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) source.
So here’s my conundrum, so you are taking a hormone (pregnenolone) that blocks a neurotransmitter (Gaba) that sharpens brain function, but Gaba is beneficial in aiding in mental focus. Myself, I would want to learn more on the give and take implications.
As for the side effects, the one that concerns me the most is, heart palpitations have been reported in doses as low as 5 mg. For me, I would start at a 1 mg dose and slowly work up and after that only take it occasionally (or take hormone holidays) as Dr. Sahelian mentions in the book.
Also, on pg. 100 of Mind Boosting Secrets, Dr. Sahelian recommends having a beta blocker handy if you are taking high doses in the event of palpitation such as, propranolol which, as mentioned in this article, has been shown to some adverse side effects (especially in terms of memory loss). I’ve heard some very scary stuff as to the use of beta blockers in the past and would be very leery myself about using them but, maybe there is a point to having some on hand for such an emergency.
Sleep and physical exercise:
Earlier, I cited page 30 of Dr. Sahalian’s book, where he mentions how physical exercise leads to deep sleep which re-balances hormones and brain chemicals. In my post Weathering The Cold Months: How To Stay Healthy In The Winter, I would suggest reading the section on understanding and balancing your Circadian rhythms (especially for managing your sleep cycle in the winter months).
Can sulfur play a role in deep sleep?
I think so. This is something that I believe I need to elaborate on regarding deep sleep and it’s role in providing for better brain function and that would be sulfur. In one of my previous post (mentioned above), I touched on briefly on melatonin and the pineal gland as the pineal gland (also known as the third eye) serves as a source for the production of melatonin. There are many toxins such as halides like fluoride and chlorine that are common in municipal tap water and have been shown to cause adverse effects to the body. One of which is the calcification of the pineal gland.
So, lets connect some dots:
- The pineal gland produces melatonin
- Melatonin is important for deep sleep and balancing with circadian rhythms
- Deep sleep is a factor in promoting better brain function
- Elements such as chlorine and fluoride calcify the pineal gland inhibiting it’s proper function
Thus the question: Is there a remedy for decalcification of the pineal gland for restorative function?
This is where I believe sulfur can help. However, the first thing I would do is quit ingesting and off gassing(showering) these noxious elements like fluoride and chlorine into your body as they attract calcium to the pineal gland (and other parts of the body) resulting in calcification. Hong at Organic Sulfur For Health pointed out to me in a recent email correspondence that sulfur can aid in pineal gland decalcification. She has some great articles on the benefits of sulfur that I highly recommend.
Also there are a couple other sources on how sulfur can help with decalcification of the pineal gland here and here. Bottom line: a healthy pineal gland=melatonin=deep sleep=better brain/cognative function. Makes sense to me.
Two final comments:
I’ll mention once again, as I do in all posts, if you are going to use any of the above supplements and or herbs mentioned in this article and particularly the ones of the hormonal variety (like pregnenolone), it’s always good to consult with your doctor or specialist so as to keep them in the loop.
In addition, I would highly suggest reading Dr. Sahelian’s book “Mind Boosting Secrets” and of course the sourced links throughout this article and below if you are truly interested in increasing your brain power.
There is so much data on this particular topic. A fair amount of which was likely overlooked and thus, not covered here. My hope is that you will find some value and direction in the information provided that will be favorable in seeking out some resolutions for this facet of wellness and of course, I would delight in you sharing your comments as well.
Best of health to you