Ginkgo biloba has been touted for its cognitive boosting properties, but the purported memory aid is being doubted these days. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, it didn’t help prevent Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia in more than 3,000 elderly study subjects.
Ginkgo manufacturers, predictably, say this isn’t true.
“There is a significant body of scientific and clinical evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of ginkgo extract for both cognitive function and improved circulation,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council.
No matter who is on the right side of the argument, there is one proven way to improve your memory and overall brain function: exercise. Researchers at Duke University demonstrated that exercise can be an effective antidepressant. Exercise produces serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which have been associated with elevated mood.
Also, studies have found that exercise seems to delay – or even prevent – specific aging-related changes in your brain. CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen gives five tips for keeping your memory sharp:
London makes sure her (elderly) mother takes vitamins A, C, and E. They’re antioxidants, which prevent cell damage and are believed by some to slow down diseases of aging. “There are studies that suggest antioxidants might prevent dementia,” she says.
Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging, says aging brains show signs of inflammation, and fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Phosphatidylserine supplements
Phosphatidylserine is a lipid found naturally in the body. Small says he’s not 100 percent convinced these supplements will help stave off dementia, but they’re worth a try. “If I start having memory problems when I get older, I’ll give them a trial run and see if they help,” says Small, author of the new book “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.”
Small, who’s 57, says that as he gets older, he might also try eating more foods with curry in them. “Some studies in Singapore show that those who ate curry once a week had better memory scores,” he said.
5. Cross-training your brain
“Our brains can be made stronger through exercise,” says Andrew Carle, assistant professor of in the department of health administration and policy at George Mason University. “In the same way physical exercise can delay many of the effects of aging on the body, there’s some evidence cognitive exercise can at least delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.”
But Carle says it’s not enough to do just one kind of brain exercise. “Doing a crossword puzzle every day is good, but it’s the equivalent of doing only pushups — your arms will get strong, but not the rest of your body.”
He recommends doing other activities in addition, such as computing numbers in your head instead of using a calculator, or using one of the “brain gym” computer games designed to enhance brain function.