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Memory worries? Don’t bother with vitamins and supplements. Just get some exercise.

Memory worries? Don’t bother with vitamins and supplements. Just get some exercise.

By Christie Aschwanden

It’s a thought that crosses many middle-aged minds when a word is forgotten or a set of keys misplaced: Is this a fluke, or the first sign of dementia?

“Most of us will experience some cognitive changes with age,” says Molly Wagster, chief of the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch of the National Institute on Aging, who likens the mental change to the slowing of a marathon runner’s times with advancing years.

The ability to call up words is one of the first things to slip. “You might find it more difficult to recall someone’s name or the name of a book you read or favorite movie. Eventually, you’ll remember it, but it takes a little longer,” Wagster says. Such problems are irritating and frustrating, but they’re usually not a sign that your mind is going, Wagster says.

Still, most of us would like to retain our mental acuity as we age. Isn’t there something we can do that’s proven to keep our minds sharp? Right now, the short answer is no.

“There are a lot of things that have some evidence behind them, but it’s hard to find interventions that have convincing evidence behind them,” says Victor Henderson, a neurologist who studies cognitive aging at Stanford University Medical School.

Physical activity seems like the most promising thing you can do to keep your brain at its best, Henderson says. The evidence comes mostly from observational studies rather than the randomized, controlled trials that are considered the gold standard, but it’s consistent: People who engage in aerobic activity — for instance, walking several times per week — show improvements in their cognitive function, particularly in their ability to switch quickly from task to task, Wagster says.

A few small clinical trials and some animal research also support the role of exercise in maintaining cognitive health, but the evidence at this point, Henderson says, is not definitive.

Even so, exercise can help cut your risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and these are known risk factors for developing dementia, says Laurie Ryan, program director for Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials at the NIA. Clogged arteries and impaired circulation don’t just up your chance of a heart attack; they also can reduce the blood flow to your brain, and that puts you at risk for dementia.

Diet is another promising way to reduce your dementia risk, Ryan says. A 2009 study of more than 1,300 people found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet — low in saturated fats and red meat and rich in vegetables, fish, whole grains and omega-3-fatty acids — had a lower risk than others of developing mild cognitive impairment. “We can’t say for sure that this will help,” Ryan says, but improving your overall health seems like a reasonable way to promote healthy aging of the brain.

The Internet is packed with ads for supplements, vitamins and other products that promise to keep your memory sharp, but science so far has found little proof to support such claims.

After reviewing studies on interventions to stop or prevent cognitive decline, Raza Naqvi, a geriatric medicine fellow at the University of Toronto, concluded that there was no strong evidence for any of the herbal products or supplements often touted for this purpose. And medicines that once seemed promising for slowing memory loss — estrogen and anti-inflammatory drugs — seemed to do more harm than good, Naqvi says his review found.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/memory-worries-dont-bother-with-vitamins-and-supplements-just-get-some-exercise/2013/07/01/22fdcbc0-d850-11e2-a016-92547bf094cc_story.html?wprss=rss_health-science

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