Last updated on October 28, 2019
The Best Natural Medicine for Memory Loss Starts on Your Plate
Memory loss and dementia are valid concerns for everyone these days: one in three seniors dies of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. (1) Fortunately, dementia is largely preventable with many lifestyle and dietary adjustments. But what’s the best natural medicine for memory loss? A diet that includes plenty of greens is a great place to start. In this post, we’ll look at why greens are so beneficial for the brain, as well as a few other foods, herbs, and lifestyle choices that can make the difference in warding off or slowing cognitive decline.
Benefits of Greens for the Brain
A recent study shows eating plenty of spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens can help lessen mild cognitive impairment and slow cognitive decline. Researchers believe the high doses of vitamin K in these vegetables play a role in preserving brain function and reducing memory problems.
The study tracked almost 1,000 older adults over five years and showed significantly higher cognitive function in participants who ate leafy green vegetables. (2)
In fact, the elders who ate one to two servings a day of leafy greens had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger.
Researchers credited not only the vitamin K in leafy greens for slowing cognitive decline but also lutein and beta-carotene. Other brightly colored fruits and vegetables are also high in these vitamins.
Vitamins aren’t the only brain benefits of leafy greens—greens promote healthy gut bacteria.
The vitamins in leafy greens aren’t their only health benefits.
For one, leafy greens are also rich in fiber, which is good for the gut. Plenty of dietary fiber not only prevents constipation, but it also supports the healthy bacteria in your gut. People who eat diets high in plant fiber show a more beneficial composition of gut bacteria compared to those who eat a typical western diet. (3)
Scientists have increasingly been discovering how vital beneficial gut bacteria are to brain health. For instance, healthy gut bacteria promote the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, the lining that protects the brain.
Gut bacteria have also been shown to influence depression, anxiety, learning, and memory. This is because the gut and the brain communicate closely with one another through the vagus nerve, a large nerve that runs between the brain and the organs.
Eating greens is usually part of a healthy brain lifestyle.
Another factor to consider with this study is that people who eat greens every day are typically more conscious of their health. Someone who is taking the time to shop for and prepare greens every day is probably eating a healthy diet of whole foods and avoiding dementia-promoting junk foods, sodas, and sugars.
Other foods to eat for better memory
While green veggies have a lot of great health benefits, you have to eat more than that to function properly.
One great source of brain food is fish. Specifically, oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring are beneficial for working memory because the fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for brain function, development, and maintenance.
A very important omega 3 fat is DHA. A JAMA Neurology study found that Alzheimer’s patients have lower levels of DHA in their systems than older adults with good cognitive function. (4) Nuts and seeds including walnuts, pecans, pistachios, flaxseeds and chia seeds also contain those all-important omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts and seeds are also good for cognitive health because they contain a rich source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is known as the fertility vitamin, but it also lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s because it protects the neurons from oxidative stress damage which can lead to the disease.
Curry is also a good choice for a memory boost. It contains turmeric which has been linked to slowing down the onset of dementia thanks to a substance in the spice called curcumin. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties, and it can improve short-term memory function.
Exercise is the golden bullet to lasting brain health.
People who eat healthier also tend to exercise more regularly, whether it’s just taking a daily walk or hitting the gym every day. Both strength training and aerobic exercise have been shown to protect neuron health, ensure better blood flow to the brain, and protect the brain from the damaging proteins that increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
One study that followed more than 600 people ages 70 and older found those who engaged in the most physical activity showed the least amount of brain shrinkage. (5)
Another study found that older adults who walked as little as 30 to 45 minutes three days a week increased the volume of the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. (6)
Natural herbal remedies and supplements promote better cognitive performance.
A healthy diet and exercise are the best options for better brain health, but there is alternative medicine with a lot of great herbs and supplements that have positive effects on memory.
An herb that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for memory for thousands of years is Ginkgo Biloba. It’s been known to help blood circulation to the brain which can improve memory, concentration, and mood.
A supplement to keep your memory sharp is phosphatidylserine (PS). It’s a phospholipid in our bodies, but it decreases with age. This can also be found in soya beans if you don’t want to take a pill. PS is important to brain health and the supplement can help those with age-related memory loss. It’s especially helpful when taken with Ginkgo Biloba extract.
Ayurvedic herbal medicine has a long history in India for treating issues with memory and cognition. A few ayurvedic herbs that have been known to boost memory are Brahmi, Gotu Kola, and Amla or Indian Gooseberry. These herbs are naturally found in parts of Asia or Africa but they come in natural pill supplements too, just in case you don’t feel like traveling.
The best approach is a preventative one.
So although eating right is a great way to boost brain health (and gut health), if you keep up a healthy diet AND exercise every day, you drastically reduce risk factors of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Considering there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s—the neurons that die in these conditions cannot be recovered—the best approach is a preventive one.
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- “Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association. Accessed October 22, 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures.
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). “Eating green leafy vegetables keeps mental abilities sharp.” ScienceDaily. Last modified March 2015. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150330112227.htm.
- Champeau, Rachel. “Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows.” UCLA. Last modified May 2013. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617.
- Yassine, Hussein N., Meredith N. Braskie, Wendy J. Mack, Katherine J. Castor, Alfred N. Fonteh, Lon S. Schneider, Michael G. Harrington, and Helena C. Chui. “Association of Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation With Alzheimer Disease Stage in Apolipoprotein E ε4 Carriers: A Review.” JAMA Neurology 74, no. 3 (2017): 339-347. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.4899.
- Gow, A. J., M. E. Bastin, S. Munoz Maniega, M. C. Valdes Hernandez, Z. Morris, C. Murray, N. A. Royle, J. M. Starr, I. J. Deary, and J. M. Wardlaw. “Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain.” Neurology 79, no. 17 (2012): 1802–8. doi: 10.1212/wnl.0b013e3182703fd2.
- Arthur F. Kramer, Sowon Hahn, Neal J. Cohen, Marie T. Banich, Edward McAuley, Catherine R. Harrison, Julie Chason, et al. “Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function.” Nature 400, (1999): 418–419. doi: 10.1038/22682.