Find yourself with a foggy memory, inability to focus clearly and an overall sense that, darn it, you’re just not as quick as you used to be? While your multi-tasking ways might have something to do with it, the truth is that mental decline is a normal part of the aging process. As we grow older, circulation to our brains may decrease, our brain cells burn energy less efficiently, messages between those cells can get muddled and the brain may even begin to shrink. It will happen to all of us, eventually. However, cognitive decline is happening to many of us earlier and earlier. “ ‘Senior moments’ are now dipping down into the 30s and 40s,” says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., author of Brain Longevity (Grand Central Publishing) and founding president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Ariz. “I attribute this to the stress associated with our modern lifestyles. Stress leads to higher levels of the hormone cortisol in our blood, which leads to memory problems and depression.” Which in turn leads to…what was this story about again? Oh, yes: optimizing brain function. The good news, says Khalsa, is that there’s plenty you can do to stop the process of decline, or even reverse it. We asked Khalsa and 16 other brain-savvy experts to share their thoughts on improving brain performance. Here, their best ideas.
Get by with a little help from your friends Socialization is extremely important for a healthy brain, and it goes handin- hand with mental activity. Social interaction forces you to use your brain’s memory circuits—you have to remember people’s names and follow along in conversation. And if you’re doing something like playing bridge, you have to remember the rules. There has been some research on how social activity maintains brain vitality and reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. There are many other good reasons to stay socially engaged as well. — MARIA CARRILLO, PH.D., senior director of Medical and Scientific Relations for the Alzheimer’s Association
P.S., I love you! I used to have a bionic memory. I could remember everyone’s name and everything in their charts, no problem. I still know everything in the charts, but I don’t necessarily remember names. When I need to know who everybody is—say, before a big event—I take phosphatidyl serine (PS). PS is the major phospholipid found within the membranes in the nerve cells in our brains. The results of 10 double-blind human studies in the United States and Europe demonstrate that PS can help maintain concentration and memory. When I recommend it to my patients, they report better concentration and improved memory. Take 50 milligrams to 100 milligrams, once or twice a day, up to 200 milligrams a day. — JANET ZAND, O.M.D., L.Ac., author of Smart Medicine for Healthier Living (Avery Trade)
Nosh on foods that are good for your noggin Eating a plant-based diet is essential for brain health. The complex carbohydrates found in plants are brain fuel; carbohydrates also aid in the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood. Another crucial diet move: Be careful about the kind of fat you eat. Everyone knows that solid fats, such as butter and lard, are correlated with heart disease, but they also increase the risk of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s. All of the fat we eat ends up in our cell walls; solid fats make cell walls stiff so that it’s difficult to get messages through from one cell to another. On the other hand, liquid fats (such as olive oil) make cell walls more liquid and flexible so that they can communicate with each other more easily. — KATHERINE TALLMADGE, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association
Pay attention to your scalp In Ayurveda, many memory and concentration problems are due to an imbalance of the vata dosha, which is sensitive to stress and governs circulation, thinking and movement. To balance vata quickly, give yourself a daily head massage. Put an ounce of sesame oil or brahmi oil in your hand and begin to rub your scalp in a clockwise motion, starting small and getting bigger and bigger. Once you reach your hairline, stop making circles and give yourself an all-over head massage with your fingertips. — JAMES BAILEY, L.Ac., Dipl. OM., Dipl. Ayu., founder of Sevanti Wellness in Santa Monica, Calif.
Drink your vegetables A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that drinking fresh vegetable juice may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help you with day-to-day brain performance. To make your own brain booster, juice some broccoli, celery, carrot and peeled cucumber (cucumber, especially, has some well-balanced minerals that are beneficial for brain health). If you’d like, add an apple for sweetness. Drink it, and you’ll feel like someone turned the lights on in your head. It’s like an IV infusion of the vitamins and minerals your brain needs to function well. — DHARMA SINGH KHALSA, M.D., author of Brain Longevity (Grand Central Publishing) and president of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation
Steer clear of toxins Skip caffeine, which constricts blood vessels, prevents the sleep you need to think clearly and dehydrates you—a big problem, considering the brain is 80 percent water. It’s also wise to limit your alcohol intake. People are walking around thinking its good to drink red wine every day, but alcohol is bad for the cerebellum, which controls our processing speed and coordination. Be careful with prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medications; they can diminish brain performance when used improperly. — DANIEL G. AMEN, M.D., founder of the Amen Clinics and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life and Making a Good Brain Great (both from Three Rivers Press)