By Drs. Arielle Levitan and Romy Block
It seems that everyone either suffers from problems with memory or they are concerned about developing them. Many people even in their 30s and 40s fear they are heading down the road to Alzheimer’s Disease as they see their memory slip. And they should be. Recent data shows that nearly one third of Americans over the age of 70 have some form of memory problem. As people are living to older ages due to great treatment breakthroughs in heart disease and cancer, they are sticking around longer in body but their mind’s often decline.
But wait, it’s not that bad. There are plenty of things you can do to help preserve and improve your memory! Any easy step to take is finding the right vitamins for memory. There is a great deal of research out there about many different vitamins for memory, with several showing some conclusive evidence that these vitamins prevent memory loss.
First, there are the B vitamins for memory.
It has been clearly established that people who are low in vitamin B12 have a number of neurological issues. Included in the symptoms of B12 deficiency are memory loss and low energy (among other things). Replacing B12 either through oral daily doses or occasionally, high dose injections (discuss with your doctor), or prescription nasal preparations, can improve these symptoms. B12 is an established vitamin to help with memory and brain function in those who need it. People who eat little meat are often low in this important vitamin.
However it remains unclear if taking this B vitamin helps memory in someone who does not have a deficiency. One smaller study showed some improvement in memory in cognition in people taking a combination of vitamin B12 and folic acid. B6 is another vitamin for dementia prevention that showed some promising effects when combined with B12 and folic acid. Another study showed some delay in onset of memory loss in those taking these vitamins for dementia. We conclude that these vitamins are potentially helpful as B12, B6 and folic acid for brain and nerve function are a known phenomenon. There is little downside to taking them in appropriate doses.
Other research about vitamins for memory loss have included some data on the antioxidant vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
There is some conflicting data, but some good information to suggest that reasonable doses of these vitamins may help prevent memory loss. They seem protect more against vascular dementia (related to small strokes) as compared to Alzheimer’s type dementia. However, many people with memory loss have features of both type of disease, so helping the vascular component would be useful. Vitamin C and Vitamin E seem to help prevent dementia because they have an anticoagulant or blood thinning effect. For this reason they should only be taken in moderate doses and with caution in someone who has a risk of bleeding (check with your doctor).
Perhaps one of the most compelling bits of recent research in regards to vitamins for memory and cognition is that regarding Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins we recommend. It is essential for bone health, general well being, energy and immunity. A recent study looked at people with different blood levels of vitamin D and found that those with very low levels of Vitamin D were about 50% more likely to develop dementia. From this one can conclude that raising vitamin D levels may help prevent memory loss, though it has not yet been proven.
It is known that Vitamin D may play a role in inflammation in the brain and this inflammation could be part of why people lose memory. We conclude that for this, among many other reasons, taking supplemental vitamin D to prevent memory loss is important. The majority of us are in fact Vitamin D deficient to varying degrees depending on where we live (since our best source of Vitamin D is the sun). Very few food sources provide a significant amount of Vitamin D3 (mainly wild caught salmon and beef liver are about the only ones).
Vitamins are not the only supplements that can help brain fitness – we will look at some of the additional ones in our next article.