Wise Up!

Want to improve your memory, sharpen your focus, and clear fogginess for good? We asked 16 of the best minds in neuroscience and holistic health to share their expert advice for enhancing brain power naturally.

Wise Up!
Pin it

Work New Puzzles
Games and puzzles can help keep the brain sharp, but if you’re already good at crosswords, doing more of them probably won’t help. To challenge new circuits in the brain, do Sudoku instead. From what I’ve seen, new video games like Nintendo’s Brain Age and Big Brain Academy are great—they use new technology to enhance and challenge brain function. —Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Listen Carefully
Hearing is incredibly important to brain function—it’s a major way we receive and process information. Try these techniques to gradually improve your speech-perception abilities and improve your brain power:
1. Pick an unfamiliar song and memorize the lyrics. Try to hear each word and write them all down afterward. Once you’ve mastered the words, sing along. Then move on to another song. This exercise is designed to release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances brain plasticity.
2. Listen to a classical composition and try to discern individual instruments. Can you hear where the oboe comes in? What about the cello? Making these fine distinctions enhances speech comprehension.
3. Turn down the volume on your television to a lowerthan- usual level. Concentrate as you watch, and see if you can begin to hear just as clearly as you did before. This will improve your ability to focus on conversations so you can catch every word. —Michael Merzenich, Ph.D.

Sleep better
We suspect the purpose of sleep and dreaming is to sort through the millions of sensory impulses we experience each day so you can keep the ones that might be helpful and discard those that aren’t. To help promote sound, natural sleep, aim for a gradual deceleration of mental activity starting at 8 p.m. Don’t start working on your taxes or watch 24 close to bedtime. An hour before bed, run a warm bath; add a mind-calming aromatherapy oil, such as lavender; then put on some soothing music and dim the lights while you soak. Or write in a journal for 10 minutes to download your day. You want to clear your mind and bring attention to your body so your mind can rest and rejuvenate. —David Simon, M.D.

Supplement with PS
I used to have a bionic memory, but it’s getting harder to remember names. When I need to know who everybody is—say, at a big event— I take phosphatidylserine [PS] for a few days before. PS is the major phospholipid found in the brain’s nerve cells. Several studies have shown that PS can help maintain concentration and memory. Take 50 to 200 milligrams once or twice a day, up to 400 mg a day. Softgels work best, since PS degrades quickly when exposed to air. —Janet Zand, O.M.D., L.Ac., author of Smart Medicine for Healthier Living (Avery, 1999)

Choose Healthier Fats
Saturated fats such as butter and lard are correlated with heart disease, but they also increase the risk of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. All fat ends up in the cell walls; solid fats make them stiff so it’s difficult to get messages from one cell to another. By contrast, unsaturated fats such as those in olive oil and nuts make cell walls more flexible so they can communicate with one another more easily. —Katherine Tallmadge, R.D.

Solve it with Brahmi
Clinical studies show that brahmi, an ayurvedic herb also known as Bacopa monnieri, can enhance problem-solving abilities. For example, if you give a mouse brahmi before it goes through a maze, the mouse will learn the maze faster and remember it longer. Brahmi has an awakening effect, so take one 250-milligram dose early in the morning and another at lunchtime. —David Simon, M.D.