Let Me Think

Having a few too many “senior moments”? Here, 17 integrative experts share tactics to help you keep your noggin in top shape.

Let Me Think
Pin it Catherine Ledner

Choose rosemary for remembrance The old adage “rosemary is for memory” dates back to medieval times, and there’s a lot of truth to it. In fact, science has proved it: In 2003, a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that rosemary not only improves memory, but it also boosts alertness and overall cognitive performance thanks to its ability to increase circulation to the surface of the brain. To reap those benefits, put one or two drops of rosemary essential oil on the top of each foot; deoxygenated blood must return quickly to the lungs from there, because it’s the end of the circulatory line. Choose a highquality, organic essential oil, such as those made by Simplers, Oshadhi, Original Swiss Aromatics or Acqua-Vita. You can use rosemary several times a day as needed, but don’t use it anywhere near bedtime or you’ll be lying in bed wide awake, thinking clearly. — SUZANNE CATTY, Toronto-based master aromatherapist and author of Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy (Healing Arts Press)

Go for some ginkgo biloba There is a growing body of evidence that ginkgo biloba works well in treating cognitive impairments, such as short-term memory loss and symptoms related to Alzheimer’s and dementia. But it’s not just for sick people: You can use it to increase short-term memory and processing speed so that you can do daily tasks—like memorize your grocery shopping list—more easily. Most of us should take one 60 milligrams tablet twice daily, though some studies have used up to 240 milligrams a day for more cognitively impaired people. Ginkgo works by increasing blood flow to the brain. Although studies suggest that it’s safe to take ginkgo if you’re taking blood thinners, you should talk to your doctor first. Also, start with a lower dose because it’s possible to feel overstimulated at higher dosages if you’re sensitive to ginkgo. — MARK BLUMENTHAL, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, editor/publisher of HerbalGram

Get fishy with it We now understand that the brain is roughly 60 percent fat. Our consumption of fatty acids affects the brain’s architecture, and that in turn affects its performance. That’s why getting enough omega-3 fatty acids is crucial to brain function. In particular, we need one omega-3 called DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid. DHA levels influence all aspects of brain function, including speed and clarity of thought. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, are good sources of DHA. However, it’s often hard to get enough DHA in your diet alone—so supplement with fish oil, krill oil or algae oil. Take between 400 milligrams and 800 milligrams a day. If you’re suffering from severe symptoms, or have been coping with memory loss for years, you may need to take 1,000 milligrams of DHA. To ensure that the fatty acids are properly synthesized, consider adding a B vitamin supplement, a trace elements supplement and 200 milligrams to 400 milligrams of elemental magnesium. — MICHAEL A. SCHMIDT, PH.D., author of Brain Building Nutrition (Frog, Ltd)

Play more Games and puzzles can help keep your brain sharp. But if you’re already really good at crossword puzzles, more crosswords probably won’t help you. You need to challenge new circuits in your brain to reap the most benefits (for example, crossword lovers should try Sudoku). One of my favorite activities for boosting concentration and building coordination? Ping pong. — DANIEL G. AMEN, M.D.

Turn to homeopathic helpers There are four remedies especially helpful in addressing brain health:
1. Gelsemium Take it if you’re suffering from impaired cognition because you are nervous and jittery, or you often feel anticipatory anxiety that leaves your mind feeling dull and unable to grasp anything.
2. Nux vomica Take it if you’re nearing burnout, or if you’re so overwhelmed that your brain starts to cut out.
3. Ignatia Take it if you you’ve recently suffered any kind of significant loss—a loved one, a pet, a relationship or a job. The mind can become preoccupied with grief, which can lead to a lack of focus and recall.
4. Sepia Take it if you’re menopausal or perimenopausal, feeling exhausted, emotionally flat or like you just don’t have enough mental steam to approach any project no matter how well rested you are. Buy these remedies in 30C strength and take two test pellets. It may take three days to see a result; if the remedy is working for you, take it on an as-needed basis. — JOSEPH KELLERSTEIN, N.D., D.C., FACH, founder of the post-graduate program Homeopathy By the Book

Give your brain a break I think a lot of us have trouble thinking because we’re overusing our brain energy. When you’re in the creative cycle of life, the thought process should work like this: You have an inspiration, which leads to action, which leads to manifestation, then to communication, then to reflection and then to a new inspiration. But in our culture, our minds are active all the time, and we don’t take time for reflection. You have to relax the mind to clear the mind. Think of your mind as the sky, and your thoughts are just clouds passing by. Sit quietly for a few moments each day and observe the thoughts coming and going, but don’t try to change them. Use this technique to conserve your mental energy and you’ll have more of it when you really need it. — ELSON M. HAAS, M.D., integrative medicine pioneer, Natural Health adviser, and author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition and The New Detox Diet (both from Celestial Arts)

Work your body I’ve looked at hundreds of studies and can say with confidence that if there is one slam-dunk way to improve brain performance, it is cardiovascular exercise. For many years, scientists thought that the brain was tucked away, protected by the blood-brain barrier; we thought that the body didn’t impact the brain at all. Now we know that nutrients do get through. The brain needs everything the heart needs to be healthy—including plenty of oxygen and healthy blood flow. We know that exercise feeds existing brain cells and even helps us create new ones. Aim for 45 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. — BARBARA STRAUCH, The New York Times health and medical science editor and author of The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain (Viking Adult)