A worrying new study has claimed that our brain power starts declining when we’re in our 40s – not 60s as previously thought
We’ve all had days where keys mysteriously go missing and the names of people we know slip from our mind. But a worrying new study has claimed that our brain power starts declining when we’re in our 40s – not 60s as previously thought. The good news is, most scientists agree we don’t have to accept these age-related memory problems as inevitable.
“Many people, young or old, worry that mild forgetfulness must be a sign of dementia, but research shows that over 80% of people will never get Alzheimer’s,” says leading memory expert Dr Majid Fotuhi. “Most memory loss is down to other factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, certain medications, stress or poor diet,” he explains. And since many of these factors are caused by a person’s lifestyle, there is plenty you can do to combat hidden brain drains.
Why? New research suggests that your post-Christmas diet could help shape up your grey matter as well as your waistline. The Italian study found that eating fewer overall calories could help us remember more by boosting a type of protein in the brain vital to memory function. Lead researcher Dr Giovambattista Pani says that cutting 25-30% of daily calories is enough to make a difference.
Memory fix: Skip dessert. Cutting calories by 25% can be as easy as ditching that slice of cake after dinner. But you shouldn’t drop below around 1,300 calories per day without talking to your GP first.
Cutting out carbs
Why? High protein, low-carb diets are as popular as ever, but ditching the likes of bread, rice and potatoes can leave you fuzzy-headed and forgetful, according to a study by US scientists. The British Nutrition Foundation's nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam explains: "Your brain basically runs on carbs, so if you avoid them you're depriving this vital organ of its main fuel."
Memory fix: Include carbs - ideally fibre-rich varieties such as wholemeal bread, jacket potatoes or brown rice - in meals and snacks for a steady supply of glucose through the day.
Too little chicken
Why? Chicken contains the nutrient, choline, which a recent study by Boston University revealed helps keep the brain on top form. Researchers found that people who got plenty of choline (also found in eggs, fish and beans) in their diets performed better on memory tests and were less likely to show brain changes associated with dementia.
Memory fix: For a healthy, choline-rich meal, tuck into grilled chicken Caesar salad with slices of hard-boiled egg.
Why? We’ve all heard that booze can kill brain cells, but the latest research shows it may also damage our ability to lay down long-term memories. A study this year by Spain’s Santiago de Compostela University found binge drinking hampers the brain’s hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory. It found that students who admitted to regularly indulging in four or more drinks on a night out were not as efficient at learning new information in tests as those who abstained.
Memory fix: Spread out your units. Stick to a maximum of 14 units per week, and no more than two units per day. One unit is equivalent to a 125ml glass of wine.
Why? High stress events such as rows, deadlines and traffic jams have been found to release large amounts of the stress hormones cortisol and corticotropin – both enemies of good recall, as they prevent communication between our memory-forming brain cells. Researchers at the University of California found that having to deal with high-pressure situations damaged people’s ability to remember events afterwards.
Memory fix: Stay cool in a crisis easier said than done perhaps. But having a few calming exercises to hand can help. Try walking away from the situation and taking five minutes to lie down or sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed, then breathe slowly. The aim isn’t to fall asleep you’re simply reducing your heart rate and giving your body – and brain – a breather.
Untreated high blood pressure
Why? Over time, high BP can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow to the brain and triggering episodes of forgetfulness. One study by the University of Alabama found people with high blood pressure were more likely to have problems with memory than those with normal blood pressure - the higher the BP, the worse it is.
Memory fix: If you're over 40 or have a family history of high blood pressure, get yours checked. Losing weight and regular exercise can help control BP, but if it's very high, medication such as beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors can be prescribed.
Why? This common condition affects one in 10 women and memory problems are one of the main symptoms – alongside others such as exhaustion, weight gain and low mood. This is because an underactive thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone thyroxine, which can slow down your body’s whole metabolism – brain function included.
Memory fix: See your GP. A simple blood test can diagnose the condition, then tablets containing thyroxine are prescribed and symptoms should start to improve quickly.
Lack of sleep
Why? Experts say any sort of sleep deprivation - even losing as little as an hour a night - can hamper memory. This is because when you sleep a part of the brain called the hippocampus files memories from the day. Missing out on sleep disrupts this vital part of the memory process and can make you more forgetful.
Memory fix: Take a 20-minute nap. While interrupting sleep can disrupt the memorymaking process, a short afternoon power nap can help redress the balance by giving the brain a boost.
Slouching on the sofa
Why? “Lack of exercise can speed up the rate of age-related memory problems,” says Elia Siaperas, celebrity personal trainer at The Laboratory Spa & Health Club. “The brain shrinks naturally as we get older, resulting in fewer brain cells and poorer memory, but as little as three 40-minute workouts a week could reverse this shrinkage in the over-50s – and even encourage the brain to grow.”
Memory fix: Try a 10-minute brisk walk. One study found a short stroll before a word recall test improved people’s performance. All thanks, researchers said, to the extra rush of blood to the brain.
Why? Many mums-to-be swear they experience ‘baby brain’ and become more forgetful while expecting, and a recent Australian study suggests they’re right. The researchers at the University of New South Wales, compared the memory performances of pregnant and non-pregnant women, and found that the former had the worst memories, particularly in tasks that involved remembering new information such as phone numbers. Experts think this may be due to the elevated hormone levels affecting brain function.
Memory fix: Have the baby! A study by the University of Bradford found that although pregnant women’s memories did deteriorate and stayed affected for up to three months after the birth, they gradually returned to normal after one year.
Why? Medication to treat certain conditions, including high cholesterol, arthritis and asthma, can negatively affect memory. A recent review found that the popular cholesterol-lowering pills statins could help increase forgetfulness. Other research found that long-term use of high dose steroids can lead to recall problems.
Memory fix: There are alternatives for most medications so if you think your memory difficulties coincided with starting a particular medication, ask your doctor to try an alternative.
Listening to the wrong tunes
Why? The right music has been found to stimulate important parts of the brain. For example, some studies have demonstrated that classical music like Mozart enhances the memory of Alzheimer's and dementia patients and boosts scores in children's memory tests. Other types of music can be less helpful - one study found that trance music with a monotonous beat was a brain turn-off and lowered levels of concentration.
Memory fix: You don't have to become a classical music buff over night to gain brain-boosting benefits. Listening to guitar-based rock such as Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers was found to improve concentration and boost memory just as much as Mozart in a Scottish study.
Source: Daily Mirror