Supporting Brain Health Throughout Life
Full article published in MegaZEN Volume 7.
It was once thought that memory was something we couldn’t improve and that our ability to remember things was static and unchanging. Now, we know that’s not true. Memory is a skill, and like any other cognitive abilities such as mathematics or foreign languages, we can strengthen it by consciously using it.
When people say they want to improve their memory, they usually mean their short-term memory, the function of the brain that helps us store and recall small bits of information like the name of a new co-worker or the phone number from a For Sale sign. Typically, the short term memory can hold up to seven pieces of information at the same time. After that point, something has to go. Long-term memory is for those things we don’t need to recall in the immediate moment, such as important experiences and facts about our lives.
While there are many things we can do to improve our memory, it’s important to realize that memory is a function of the brain. As such, anything we can do for brain health will automatically work toward a better memory as well. In the same way, a healthy body means a healthy brain, so anything we do for our overall physical health will also benefit us on a cognitive level. When we learn to feed and exercise our brain properly, we don’t have to accept memory slippage as a natural part of aging, because it’s not.
Answers & Alternatives
Eat a brain boosting diet.
The brain is 60% fat and functions best when we eat healthy saturated fats that contain essential fatty acids like omega-3, which are crucial for brain function. Some healthy fat sources high in omega-3s are herring, mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, anchovies, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and pasture-raised meat and eggs. A Mediterranean diet, which is high in these foods, along with vegetables, non-sweet fruits like avocado, and a daily glass of red wine has been shown to boost memory and delay age-related cognitive decline.1 Seniors on the MIND diet, a version of the Mediterranean diet developed by neurologists, showed a 53% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.2 A ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb, moderate protein) has also shown promise in improving mild cognitive impairment.3 Avoid sugar. High blood sugar levels have been shown to decrease activity of the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory, along with instigating attention and short-term memory deficits.4 Other brain boosting foods include broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and curry.
Physical exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain. In particular, aerobic exercise causes the nerve cells to release proteins called neurotrophic factors that trigger numerous chemical reactions beneficial to cognition and learning. Research also shows that not only does aerobic exercise help the brain learn better and faster,5 but it expands the memory center (hippocampus) of the brain, even in aging people.6
Get good sleep.
Getting a full eight hours of sleep every night is essential for overall health, but especially brain function. Studies show that not only is good sleep vital to memory,7 but deep REM sleep improves problem-solving capability and significantly increases creativity and generating new ideas.8 If you need tips for better sleep, see our article “Rest & Rhythm” in MegaZEN Volume 4.
Even people with the best diet don’t always get the proper amount of nutrients they need. To ensure optimal brain function, take a food-based multivitamin every day. Proper amounts of vitamins C, D, E, K and B complex are vital to brain health, as well as magnesium, iron, iodine, and zinc. Plan on taking a good omega-3 supplement, as well, in the form of cod liver or krill oil. You might want to consider these additional supplements that have been shown to enhance memory: acetyl-l-carnitine, citicoline, curcumin, Ginko biloba, American ginseng, magnesium threonate, Arctic root, and vinpocetine. There is no need to take lots of pills, just a high quality vitamin, omega-3 supplement and anything else that works for you.
 Hardman, Roy et al. (2016). Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet and effects on cognition in adults: a qualitative evaluation and systematic review of longitudinal and prospective trials. Frontiers in Nutrition, 3(22), 125-129, (http://bit.ly/2KFPzz3)
 Bennett, D et al. (2005). The rush memory and aging project: study design and baseline characteristics of the study cohort. Neuro-epidemiology, 25(4), 163-175, (http:// bit.ly/2H3dmrz)
 Krikorian, R et al. (2012). Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of Aging, 33(2), 19-27, doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2010.10.006.
 Aubele, Teresa, “Why a sugar high leads to a brain low”, Psychology Today, (October 18, 2011),
 Rhyyu, I et al. (2010). Effects of aerobic exercise training on cognitive function and cortical vascularity in monkeys. Neuroscience, 4(2), 1239-1248, (http://bit.ly/2MZDTKn)
 Brinke, L et al. (2014). Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(4), 223-229, (http://bit.ly/2MYxvmn)
 Ellenbogen, J et al. (2006). Interfering with theories of sleep and memory: sleep, declarative memory, and associative interference. Current Biology, 16(2), 1290-1294, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.05.024.
 Berlin, Leslie, “We’ll fill this space, but first a nap”, The New York Times, (September 27, 2008), (https://nyti.ms/2Kxm3g1)
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.