By Ilene S. Ruhoy, MD, PhD

We need memory. Memory allows us to recall the good and learn from the bad. Without memory we would not be the sum of our experiences. Memory also allows us to maintain strong cognition. When we can recall the events of last week, last month, last year, we can then relate our lessons and use our learned intuition to make sense of the world and interact with our environment.

So can we all agree with really need our memory to function? For healthy memory, we rely upon our hippocampus, an area of our brain located on the deep parts of our temporal lobes, near the center of our brain. It is small but it is super important.

When patients tell me they lose their train of thought in conversation or they can’t recall where they left their keys, or their friends have to remind them of things they already told them, I recommend we boost their hippocampi (the plural term for hippocampus). But how does one focus on such a small and deep part of their brain? Well, it is not as hard as it may seem. And here are some ways to do it.
  1. MEDITATION.    Research has demonstrated, using MRI pictures of the brain, there are anatomical differences of the hippocampi between those who meditate and those who do not. Meditators have larger hippocampi. Importantly, other studies show that those who take up meditation can slow down the extent of atrophy (loss of brain tissue) of the hippocampi and even, in some cases, reverse the atrophy.

  2. BOSWELLIA.     The extract of the plant Boswellia has been show to increase the number of cells of the hippocampi. The result is improved learning ability, improved cognitive function, and improved memory. It can also help to decrease inflammation as commonly seen in this area.

  3. NO FATS AND SUGAR. The American diet includes higher consumption of fats and sugars. And while this may be of no surprise, research consistently confirms fats and sugars impair hippocampal memory and poor learning ability (such as learning from our mistakes). Fats and sugars are highly pro-inflammatory and all the anti-oxidants in the world are no match for regular intake of these substances.

  4. RHODIOLA. Rhodiola rosea can increase the levels of serotonin. And let’s face it, if we don’t feel happy we lose motivation to learn, recall, and think. In fact, Rhodiola can stimulate stem cells to make more hippocampal cells in those who suffer from depression. Even more, Rhodiola can help save damaged and inflamed hippocampal cells. All making for a happy hippocampus.

  5. ALPHA LIPOIC ACID (ALA). ALA is a compound that can have a major benefit on learning and memory. Studies have shown that neurodegeneration induced by exposures to metals such as aluminum, which targets the temporal lobes, or other environmental toxins, can be reversed by ALA. ALA helps to regenerate nerves and is a major part of a natural treatment plan for peripheral neuropathies.

  6. QUERCETIN. Quercetin is a flavonol that is incredibly anti-inflammatory. It has been shown to be neuroprotective in many areas but importantly it protects and heals those hippocampal neurons (brain cells). It will help prevent those cells from dying as much as it can. The good news is we can get quercetin from readily available foods including pineapple, blueberries, peppers, onions, and grapes.

  7. BRAIN GAMES. The brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it. You don’t have to do math for the fun of it but you can tackle crosswords, sodoku, word scrambles, name games, and other puzzles to help keep your memory flexible. Read novels, write novels, engage in conversation on topics not familiar to you, or simply decide to research something you have always wanted to know more about.

  8. TREAT STRESS AND DEPRESSION. I always help my patients deal with the stressors in the lives and the effects of sadness. These issues can conflict with efforts to improve your memory so it is important to find a practitioner that can help.

Aging is inevitable and it happens to all of us. The needs of our bodies change from decade to decade. If we address those needs head on, we can perhaps minimize the extent to which the aging process changes who we are and what we do. Keep your memory in check because life is too good not to remember it.

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