Memory Improvements Review

By Wendy Wells, NMD.

How can we grow new brain cells, and protect our existing ones? Adult neurogenesis research may help provide answers for reducing "senior moments."

By definition, neurogenesisExit Site is the production of new neurons, astrocytes, and glia from neural progenitor stem cells. Researchers now accept that neurogenesis occurs in two brain regions in adult mammals, the hippocampus and olfactory bulb. In both regions new neurons arise from a resident population of progenitor cells that are maintained throughout adult life. 1

The serious loss of cognitive abilities, known as Dementia, is increasing as older adult populations expand. Researchers admit that in the absence of effective therapies, preventive approaches are essential to address this public health problem.

What are the Causes of Memory Decline?

Oligodendroglia are the cells that form and maintain myelin sheaths.

The Sleep Factor

A small amount sleep loss can interfere with the process of neurogenesis as associated with learning processes. Extended sleep loss can effect the rate of cellular reproduction and repair of the Hippocampus. 2

See also: Better memory requires better sleep

The Inflamed Brain

In chronic autoimmune diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction have been associated with structural changes in the hippocampus. This indicates how inflammatory responses within the central nervous system controls newborn cells in the adult dentate gyrus, a specific area of the Hippocampus. 3

The dentate Gyrus is a part of the hippocampus formation thought to contribute to new memories. For example, researchers in Germany found the shape of the environment, in which rats are exploring, can substantially alter correlated activity patterns among cells in the dentate gyrus. 4

Myelin Sheath and Bare Wires

What impairs our brain's wiring? Researchers believe that the white matter surrounding nerve cells, called myelin, acts like protective electrical insulation, covering our conductive neural wires.

The loss of myelin's protective layer results in nerve fibers becoming exposed, losing their conductive signaling ability.

Myelin protects the nerve cells, so impulses can travel along them free of corruption or diversion. With age myelin deteriorates, nerve fibers begin to fray, resulting in forgetfulness. 5

Free Radicals - Run'n All Around The Brain

Changes in the brain can be the result of decades of exposure to a wide range of free-radical toxins, causing oxidative stress. Research reveals that oxidative stress provides the pathogenesis of many nuero-degenerative diseases. 6

List of Neuro-degenerative Diseases:

Since the brain contains a large amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, consumes up to 20% of oxygen used by the whole body, and shows low antioxidant activity, it seems to be especially vulnerable to oxidative stress. 7

Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that damage healthy cells. Over time, this oxidation process can also cause dangerous amyloid plaques to form in the brain.

Amyloid plaques also destroys mitochondria, a cell's energy-producing power plant. As a result the brain doesn't make enough energy to work efficiently. This makes the brain slow down even more by disrupting axonal signal transport. 8

There is a strong relationship between beta-amyloid deposits and brain cell atrophy. This can occur very early in the disease process, perhaps before symptoms are recognized, as the disease progresses from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer disease. Aggregated beta-amyloid deposits might be responsible for this ongoing disease process. 9

Brain Speed Slows With Age

As humans age, sensory responses decline, while neural data transmission rates slow. These changes could contribute to age-related impairments in the brain's processing of sensory information. Studies in older animals indicate that conduction velocity (i.e., the speed at which an action potential travels down the axon) decreases for a wide range of nerve cells including, neocortical, cerebellar, as well as, peripheral sensory and motor neurons. The cause of this reduced conduction velocity is unclear, but it may result from alterations in the myelin sheath. 10

The micro-architecture of white matter called myelin, influences the speed of signal transduction along axons. This in turn may slow the signaling abilities and potential firing action and responsiveness. 11

A fully active brain, ignites specifically distributed binding circuits that allow rapid and early development of speech acquisition and semantic understanding. Near instant signal activity within a complex web of circuits, researchers measure the conduction delays between cells in various regions of the brain, accounting for comprehension related activation differences in the millisecond range. 12

Nutritional Approaches Affecting Memory Decline and Enhancement

How do we overcome the challenges of limited sleep, dietary inflammation and toxic accumulations that damages myelin, which in turn effects brain speed with age? Below are the nutritional approaches researchers are studying that have been shown to offer positive effects for better cognition.

Limiting Brain Inflammation

Lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease by ingesting certain nutrients was published in the April 2010 issue of Archives of Neurology and suggests that a diet combining key super foods may prevent Alzheimer's. The nutrients identified include folate, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are believed to reduce inflammation, which has been shown to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

Folate

High levels of this amino acid in the blood have been linked to reducing Alzheimer's disease, creating plaque that is less toxic, or inflammatory.
Leafy green such as kale and spinach are high in folate. Black-eyed peas, Great Northern white beans and other legumes are also rich in this valuable nutrient. 13

Omega 3

Cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines are high in omega-3s, we well as flaxseed oil. Walnuts and almonds contain high levels both omega-3s and vitamin E, making them solid choices that do double duty in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. 15

Turmeric

The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. 16

Resveratrol

Resveratrol has been shown to provide 50% decreases the activity of inflammatory cytokines, suggests a mechanism for reducing mortality in cardiovascular disease and cancer. Resveratrol inhibits COX-1 and COX-2. 17

Active Learning

Researchers in Argentina, from the Laboratorio de Biologia del Comportamiento, have demonstrated for the first time how learning a reward-dependent task, promotes neurogenesis, astrogliogenesis, survival and neuronal maturation. 18

Learning new dance steps can help create new neural pathways. The Bronx Aging Study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reviewed 500 people for more than 20 years, documenting the relationship between learning activities and brain health. Participants in the study who engaged in mentally stimulating activities, including interactive games, and dancing, four times a week, showed 65 to 75 % better probability of high cognitive functions over those who did not participate in learning activities.

Researchers have found a specific area of the brain called the Hippocampus where neurogenesis is associated with cognitive disorders and depression. 19

Memorable Nutrients

A growing body of research indicates key dietary supplementation maydelay the progression of age-related cognitive decline. The nutrients listed below have been shown to limit oxidative damage to brain cells, while improving mental and learning performance. 20

Other beneficial brain nutrients include, folic acid, B12, vitamin E, s-adenosylmethionine, n-acetyl cysteine, and have been shown to improve cognitive performance in Alzheimer's disease. 21

Brain Nutrients

Here's a list of functional nutrients that have been shown to effect cognitive functioning and chronic neuro-degenerative diseases. Each individual has specific supplement and dosage needs based on symptoms, blood work and other testing. Below are some of recommendations

Glutathione

Exposure to mercury can speed up mental decline. The heavy metal, mercury, is recognized as a potent and widely distributed toxin having the ability to accumulate at various levels of food chain besides possessing ability to cross placental and blood-brain barrier. 23

More Neurotransmitters via Choline

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter. To make acetylcholine, our brain needs a nutrient called choline. Choline deficiency appears to activate brain cell death. 27

When animals and humans are deprived of choline, they circulate more methyl-THF into homocysteine, found within the liver, thereby increasing requirements for dietary folate. Conversely, when they are deprived of folate, they use more methyl groups from choline, increasing the dietary requirement for choline. 28

A specific form of choline called, Alpha-Glycerylphosphorylcholine, induced the most notable effects, over other phosolipid choline types, throughout the differentiation processes of astroglial cell's proliferation, and development. 29

Bacopa Leaf - GABA Neurotransmitter Effects

GABA is a crucial neurotransmitter that calms the mind and filters out distractions. When the brain doesn't make enough of it, thinking is impaired, and concentration is limited.

A natural herbcalled bacopa monnieri is used an indian cooking spice, but it also provides neural cell support. In one study, Bacopa significantly improved memory acquisition and retention in healthy older Australians. This study validates previous findings and traditional use. 30

Breathing Boosts Brain Functions

It's no surprise that when our brain doesn't get enough oxygen, memory and thinking suffer.

Blood flow carries' oxygen to the brain, helping memory and preventing mental decline.

Low awake oxygen values mark individuals with low cerebral oxygen reserves and generally lower cognitive function. Marginal awake oxygen values that fall during sleep may indicate loss of cerebral oxygen reserve and an increased risk for cognitive decline. 33

One study has demonstrated how breathing through each nostril effects different sides of the brain. Breathing through the left nostril, affected the right hemisphere of the brain, where increased spacial skills where observed. Breathing through the right nostril affected the left cerebral hemisphere, an area known for processing verbal skills. 34

A type of yoga breathing exercise called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga meditation was shown to increase hearing memory. This yoga exercise begins with breathing exercises, and ends with concentrative (Sahaj Samadhi) meditation. Researchers where able to show how concentrative meditation practice enhances pre attentive hearing processes, enabling better detection in auditory sensory memory. 35

Niacin

Due to various stresses over time, the DNA of brain cells become fragmented. 36 Niacinamide, or niacin, also named vitamin B3, has not been shown to have any effect on beta-amyloid formation, a common marker of Alzheimer's. However, the administration of niacin has been associated with the creation of microtubules. Micro tubles are tiny pathways in the neural axion, shuttling packets of information from neuron to neuron. Niacin has the effect of producing wider and stronger neural microtubule pathways. 37

Periwinkle PlantExtract - Vinpocetine

Periwinkle extract is called vinpocetine. It's been researched and used in Europe for more than two decades. Studies show it helps people recall new information more easily.

Observed beneficial effects of vinpocetine on spatial memory may be due to its ability to favorably modulate cholinergic functions, prevent neuronal cell damage, possibly through it's antioxidant mechanisms. 38

Ginkgo Biloba Herb

Ginkgo Biloba has long been used in Chinese medicine to boost memory and heart health. Alternative doctors have recommended it for decades. Ginkgo Biloba was found significantly superior to placebo in the treatment of patients with dementia with neuropsychiatric symptoms. 39

A double-blind trial conducted at the National Medical University, in Kyiv, Ukraine, included 400 patients aged 50 years or above with Alzheimer's disease, and vascular dementia, received either a Gingko extract called "EGb 761," or a placebo for 22 weeks. The EGb 761 treatment group showed cognitive testing improvements while the placebo group showed a deterioration on their testing scores. 40

Blueberry Fruit and Antioxidants

Antioxidants help ward off the effects of free-radical damage. One of the most powerful antioxidants is the common blueberry. USDA researchers now know blueberries have the highest levels of free-radical fighters compared to over 40 other fruits and vegetables.

Studies show adaily dose of blueberries juice helps keep a sharp memory while fighting off amyloid brain deposits. 41

Blueberries contain polyphenolic compounds, most prominently anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, anthocyanins have been associated with increased signaling in brain centers, mediating memory function, as well as, improved glucose disposal, benefits that would prevent neuro-degeneration. 42

In 2010 at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, Concord grape juice was shown to enhance cognitive function for older adults with early memory decline. 43

Caffeine and Coffee

Study results indicate a surprising ability of moderate caffeine intake (the human equivalent of 500 mg caffeine or 5 cups of coffee per day) to protect against or treat Alzheimer's disease in a mouse model for the disease and a therapeutic potential for caffeine against Alzheimer's disease in humans. 44

Alzheimer's diseased mice given a moderate level of caffeine intake (the human equivalent of 5 cups of coffee per day) are protected from development of otherwise certain cognitive impairment and have decreased hippocampal amyloid-beta (Abeta) levels due to suppression of two proteins, beta-secretase and presenilin 1/gamma-secretase. 45

Growth Factors

Insulin-like growth factor-I, platelet-derived growth factor, fibroblast growth factor, and ciliary neurotrophic factor are multifunctional growth factors which are found in the central nervous system. Oligodendroglia are the cells that form and maintain myelin sheaths and many in vitro experiments have shown that these growth factors promote the proliferation, differentiation and survival of oligodendroglial cells. 47

Fumaric Acid

Researchers at the Josef Hospital, Ruhr-University Bochum, in Germany set out to demonstrate how inflammation and oxidative stress are thought to promote tissue damage in multiple sclerosis. Therapeutic application of dimethylfumarate ameliorated the disease course and improved preservation of myelin, axons, neurons and astrocyte activation, providing neuro protective mechanism of action. 48

Natural Sources of Fumaric Acid:

Cinnamon Extract

The extract of the pilippenese cinnamon tree 49 "Cinnamophilin," exhibited potent antioxidant, radical-scavenging, and anti-inflammatory actions, and reduced acute ischemic brain damage. 50

Reducing Stress

Memory improvements using stress reduction techniques.

Amino Acids / Growth Factors

Foods

Plants / Extracts

  • Gingko biloba
  • Bacopa
  • Vinpocetine
  • Turmeric
  • Resveratrol
  • Vitamins

    Body / Mind

    Other Considerations

    Memory Resources

    A review of nutrients and botanicals in the integrative management of cognitive dysfunction. PMID:10383479

    Covering the latest neuroscience research on adult neurogenesis, memory and plasticity. www.functional neurogenesis.com

    Increasing Neurogenesis Might Prevent Drug Addiction and Relapse  www.sciencedaily.com

    Memory Assessment Tests

    Short-term interactive memory test:washington.eduExit Site

    Memory test from Psych Today, holds more value: psychologytoday.comExit Site

    References

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    5. Age-related myelin breakdown: a developmental model of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Department of Neurology, UCLA Alzheimer's Disease Center, Los Angeles, CA 90095 PMID:14675724

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    9. Relationship between atrophy and beta-amyloid deposition in Alzheimer disease. PMID:20373343

    10. Neurophysiology of Old Neurons and Synapses. PMID:21204354

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    12. Understanding in an instant: neurophysiological evidence for mechanistic language circuits in the brain. PMID:19664815

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    20. Dietary supplementation reduces oxidative damage to murine brain and improves cognitive performance. PMID:19185780

    21. A vitamin, nutriceutical formulation improves memory and cognitive performance in community-dwelling adults without dementia. PMID:20191258

    22. Folic acid with or without vitamin B12 for the prevention and treatment of healthy elderly and demented people. PMID:18843658

    23. Glutathione as an antioxidant in inorganic mercury induced nephrotoxicity. PMID:

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    30. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. PMID:20590480

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    34. Immediate effects of right and left nostril breathing on verbal and spatial scores. PMID:19130866

    35. Concentrative meditation enhances pre attentive processing: a mismatch negativity study. PMID:17921873

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    37. Nicotinamide restores cognition in Alzheimer's disease transgenic mice via a mechanism involving sirtuin inhibition and selective reduction of Thr231-phosphotau. PMID:18987186

    38. Amelioration of intracerebroventricular streptozotocin induced cognitive dysfunction and oxidative stress by vinpocetine, a PDE1 inhibitor. PMID:19699735

    39. Efficacy and safety of a once-daily formulation of Ginkgo Biloba extract EGb 761 in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomized controlled trial. PMID:21140383

    40. Ginkgo biloba special extract in dementia with neuropsychiatric features. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. PMID:17341003

    41. Age-related toxicity of amyloid-beta associated with increased pERK and pCREB in primary hippocampal neurons: reversal by blueberry extract. PMID

    42. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. PMID:20047325

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    44. Caffeine and coffee as therapeutics against Alzheimer's disease. PMID:20182037

    45. Caffeine reverses cognitive impairment and decreases brain amyloid-beta levels in aged Alzheimer's disease mice. PMID:19581722

    46. (Xu 1995),(Cheng 1996) PMID:

    47. Growth factors and myelin regeneration in multiple sclerosis. PMID:9291164

    48. Fumaric acid esters exert neuro protective effects in neuro inflammation via activation of the Nrf2 antioxidant pathway. PMID:21354971

    49. Cinnamophilin a novel thromboxane A2 receptor antagonist, isolated from Cinnamomum philippinense. PMID:8026563

    50. Cinnamophilin offers prolonged neuro protection against gray and white matter damage and improves functional and electrophysiological outcomes after transient focal cerebral ischemia. PMID:21283002




    Wendy Wells

    Author Wendy Wells is a licensed naturopathic physician in the state of Arizona.
    Say hello and connect with Wendy at Google+ | LinkedIn | iconWebsite Newsletter

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