Blog

21 Apr
2012

Optimise Your Memory

There is a lot in the press at the moment, on the radio and the television about how to slow down the ageing process and among other things, to protect and even enhance your memory as you move through life.

Doctors used to think that memory lapses like forgetting where you had left your keys, struggling to remember the names of people you had recently met and generally getting a bit 'forgetful' were due quite literally, to nerve cells in our brains dying off.

But the latest research indicates things may not be as straight forward as this which is great news since it also means that there are things that we can actively do as a result to keep our memory in great shape.

Take a look below and start an action plan to get the best from your grey matter.


The Problem

Blocked messages

Your brain contains a network of literally billions of nerve cells. These cells don't work in isolation but send each other messages via connections called synapses. It seems that as we get older some of these connections get clogged up or completely close down. A bit like having road blocks stopping you from trying to get from one place to another, blockages between nerve cells mean that messages which involve among other things, memory, are slowed down or actually stopped.

How to Help

Cut out trans fats

To help keep your synapses in good shape and messages whizzing from one nerve cell to the next, it is important to cut right, right down on trans fats in your foods and drinks. Trans fats are made when vegetable oils are processed to turn them into margarines. They appear to squat in the synapses and block communications, a bit like a massive boulder falling on to a dual carriageway and stopping all traffic from passing.

Manufacturers add these margarines containing trans fats to foods because they are cheap and quite tasty. Typical foods you will find them in range from biscuits and cakes to crackers, ready meals and fast food meals. If a food has a list of ingredients then look out for the words 'partially hydrogenated fat'. These are other words for trans fats and the foods are best avoided.

Eat good fats

The good omega 3 fats you find in oily fish like sardines and mackerel and in foods fortified with omega 3′s like certain brands of milk, yoghurt, bread and eggs appear to help keep the synapses in good working order. Aim to have some omega 3 rich foods each day in you can.


The Problem

Free Radicals which age your brain

Free radicals are natural by-products of living, – we make them for example when we exercise and under normal circumstances, they are made safe by so-called antioxidants that we also produce and those we eat. However in contemporary lifestyles with excess pollution, exposure to sunlight and diets poor in antioxidant nutrients their quantities can get out of hand.

When this happens they can cause oxidation. Too many free radicals can break down vital cell membranes everywhere in the body, including your brain which may also stop messages moving from one brain cell to another efficiently and slow up memory.

How to Help

Pack in the fruit and veg

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables every day (aim for three vegetables and two fruits) and include as big a variety as possible. They are literally bursting with natural antioxidants. Aim for vitamin-C-rich ones like peppers, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruits and parsley) and those rich in beta carotene, the orange pigment you eat in carrots and sweet potatoes. Good levels of vitamin E from dark green vegetables, avocados and also nuts and seeds are also linked with better memory.


The Problem

Poor Blood Flow

If the amount of blood and oxygen it transports to your brain slows up, then the chances of any part of your brain working at full speed is reduced.

How to Help

Eat fewer saturated fats

Really cut back on saturated fats which are the ones found in fatty cuts of meats, pies and ready meals and in full fat dairy foods like cheese, butter and cream. Saturated fats tend to cause fatty build ups on blood vessels in the brain and may reduce blood flow and slow down messages and memory.


What Else you Can Do To Maintain Memory?

  • Exercise: it appears to help protect your brain and memory by increasing blood flow and decreasing the risk of diseases that interfere with memory.
  • Lower stress: Stress appears to alter brain structure making it more prone to free radical attack. Try relaxation techniques like mediation, yoga and T'ai chi.
  • Do mental exercises: Stimulate your brain by doing word puzzles, socialising, reading, going to the theatre and having a good chin wag on the phone. Literally anything that makes you engage your brain will help to increase blood supply and strengthen cells and links between cells.
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