Mental health and memory are important cognitive attributes supporting overall health. Foods and supplements aid in supplying nutrients and other substances that augment brain functioning. According to the University of Oxford, one in six individuals over the age of 70 experiences cognitive impairment. Among those with cognitive decline, 50 percent of these individuals will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s within five years of initial impairment. You can protect your brain by eating foods or taking supplements with necessary vitamins, minerals, herbs and enzymes.
Vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid regulate levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with Alzheimer’s disease. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging, these same B vitamins slow the rate of brain shrinkage, a common impairment among individuals with Alzheimer’s. Individuals with the slowest rate of brain shrinkage scored significantly better on cognitive tests. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency may cause symptoms of depression, sleeplessness, mood swings and fatigue. Vitamin D promotes healthy cell growth throughout the body, including the brain.
Iron is needed for proper development of brain cells and a required component to synthesize neurotransmitters. Deficiency of iron among pregnant women can cause permanent cognitive changes in performance and behavior in a child. Iron deficiency during or around the time of birth produces continual deficits in memory and learning. Additionally, zinc deficiency during fetal development can result in brain malformations, and zinc deficiency in pre-adolescent brain development is associated with learning, memory and attention deficits. High levels of zinc are needed in the brain where cellular activity occurs, aiding in cellular formation and regulation.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, scientific research supports ginkgo as a method to enhance memory and circulation. Ginkgo contains two chemicals, flavonoids and terpenoids, believed to have antioxidant characteristics, which rid the body of free radicals causing cellular damage. In clinical studies, ginkgo improves the blood flow to the brain and supports cognitive functioning among individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Verna Case, professor at Davidson College, ashwagandha, an herb of the pepper family, has shown effectiveness for treating stress, improving mental clarity, increasing memory and slowing the aging process.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one enzyme, PKMzeta, is responsible for maintaining long-term memory. The PKMzeta enzyme is thought to make connections between brain cells in which others cannot. Blocking this enzyme can erase components of one’s long-term memory. Stimulating the production of this enzyme may enhance long-term memory and counter cognitive degeneration that occurs in the aging process. Thus, researchers suggest the PKMzeta enzyme can be used to block harmful memory experiences in post-traumatic stress disorder or enhance brain functioning among individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, further research is need before treatment is available.