How to Enhance Memory
Memory loss is not inevitable. Even age-onset cognitive decline can be prevented and reversed. If you are beginning to forget things you learnt, it may be time to work to improve your memory. Before you decide on memory pills, here are 7 effective ways to enhance your memory.
The brain is a complex network of interconnecting neurons and the junction between each pair of neurons is made up of a synapse.
Synapses are important for every brain function but even more importantly in communication and formation of memories. The communication between neurons occurs through signaling across synapses. The signaling is mediated by a group of chemicals known as neurotransmitters.
Of all neurotransmitters, acetylcholine is the most important neurotransmitter for memory and learning.
All age-related cognitive decline, mental disorder and memory loss involve some form of damage done to synapses. Therefore, strengthening synapses can help restore the brain’s capacity for encoding, storing and retrieving memories.
The 3 most common causes of synaptic damage are stress, neurotoxins and lack of stimulation.
Neurotoxins are especially responsible for neurodegeneration. The reactive oxygen species and free radicals released from such reactions like lipid peroxidation can progressively damage neurons. Also, when glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, accumulates in synapses in high concentrations, it may cause cell damage especially in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Memory loss occurs when stress, toxins or lack of stimulation causes damage in the hippocampus and cortex where memory and learning are mostly processed.
Memory lapses are the classic presentation of memory loss. Having trouble remembering things can be embarrassing and distressing but you should not conclude that it is a “necessary evil” of aging.
There are a number of ways to enhance memory and the most effective ones are discussed below.
Some experts believe sleep is the best medicine for memory loss, and they are right given how important sleep is to the consolidation of memory.
While the brain encodes information about facts, events and associations during the waking hours, the actual process of storage and consolidation only happens when we sleep.
Even daytime nap does more to improve memory than most memory pills. When we sleep, the brain has far less external stimuli to process. Therefore, there is no interference as the brain strengthens the weak links used to anchor memories.
The studies done on the subject of sleep and memory identify the last 3 stages of the sleep cycle as the most essential periods of memory consolidation.
During the deep sleep of stages 3 and 4, the brain retrieves soft-coded memories and moves them over to the cortex. During the last stage or REM sleep, the brain consolidates these memories by hard-coding them, by retrieving them and cross-linking them to older and newer memories for easy retrieval.
Real memories are formed during sleep.
Sleep deprivation dulls the nerves in the brain but especially the hippocampus and the cortex where memory and learning are controlled. Soon, the damage done by sleep deprivation leads to cognitive decline and more glaring forgetfulness.
The optimum length of daily sleep to improve memory is seven to nine hours. This range represents total sleep. When nighttime sleep falls short of this range, daytime nap can make up for it. In fact, the power of nap extends beyond simply refreshing the mind but also improving the memory.
This is solid science: those who sleep well remember better.
Foods can do a lot for memory but you should remember that using diet to improve memory is about what you eat as much as what you avoid.
To reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life, you should avoid heavy drinking, smoking and high caloric diet of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates. These release toxins in the body and may cause neurodegeneration.
There are different types of foods that can help you improve memory. Some of these are:
Simple carbohydrates obtained from sugar, sugary snacks, soft drinks and refined grains can provide quick energy but also sugar crashes. In addition, these simple carbohydrates are unhealthy as they increase the risk of developing obesity and type II diabetes.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are healthy carbs. They can also provide a more stable energy balance to meet the body’s demand. Therefore, complex carbs fuel brain activity without harming the body.
Examples of complex carbs are oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, high-fiber cereals and brown rice.
Both green tea and red wine contain antioxidants that can effectively protect the neurons from oxidative stress of free radicals. However, green tea is superior to red wine.
Green tea contains polyphenol antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG. EGCG not only protects the brain from neurodegeneration but it also promotes neurogenesis (the generation of new brain cells).
Red wine, on the other hand, is rich in resveratrol which increases blood flow to the brain and is known to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, red wine should be consumed only moderately because in large doses, alcohol causes brain damage.
Fruits, nuts and vegetables are natural sources of antioxidants. These protect the brain cells against oxidative damage, and reduce the risk of neurodegeneration and memory loss.
Green, leafy vegetables and colorful fruits are especially rich in antioxidants and they are “superfoods” that contain other important phytochemicals that can help enhance memory.
Omega-3 fatty acids but especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have been shown to prevent cognitive decline and improve memory. Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, sardine, tuna, trout, herring and mackerel.
Fish oil and krill oil are likewise rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnut, soybeans and pumpkin seed.
Physical exercise does more than benefit the body, it also does wonder for the brain. You can jog your memory with only a little exercise daily. Experts recommend cardiovascular activity spanning half an hour for at least 3 days in a week.
Exercising gets the blood flowing to the brain. This improves the supply of nutrient and oxygen to brain cells while eliminating toxins. Therefore, exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells.
In one study, regular exercise was shown to enlarge the hippocampus (by triggering new connections) and stimulate the secretion of a neurotropic factor that is known to improve long-term memory.
Stress destroys the body and also the brain. During stress, the body primes itself for attack but leaves its defenses open.
During chronic stress, the body releases a different set of chemicals. Some of these chemicals destroy brain cells and can cause cognitive decline. Therefore, it is important to eliminate stress by relaxing.
Meditation is an excellent way to eliminate stress. It improves connection and activity in the cortex, one of the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Going out to play and forming engaging social relationships are other ways to overcome stress and enhance memory.
In addition, laughter is really the best medicine. It is the opposite of stress because they body releases healthful chemicals while we are happy especially while laughing. Therefore, relaxing and laughter can help boost memory.
There are a number of supplements marketed as memory pills. Some of these are quite effective. To choose the right supplements, you need to know the herbs, vitamins, minerals and other natural supplements proven to work.
Herbs that work to improve memory include ginseng, bacopa, gotu kola, ashwagandha and huperzia. Vitamins that work include vitamins A, C, D and E as well as B vitamins like folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Minerals that help the memory include calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc.
Other useful supplements include choline and DHAE.
The other drugs you use can also contribute to memory loss. Such drugs include antidepressants, anxiolytics, antihistamines and sleep aids.
For example, Xanax and Ambien block episodic memory and may lead to transient memory loss while using them. Antihistamines, on the other hand, block acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter necessary for consolidating memories.
Therefore, if you experience repeated forgetfulness, you should speak with your doctor especially if there are prescription drugs you are currently taking. Instead of simply stopping these drugs, your doctor may find you alternatives that do not affect memory.
Adults hardly experience new things unless they deliberately go out of their way to do. Therefore, it is possible for some parts of the brains to be underdeveloped while others are well developed.
In one aspect, the brain is just like the muscles: it needs to be exercised or it wastes away.
To help your brain enhance its memory capacity, you need to use it to learn new, challenging and fun things. New activities help your brain break new grounds and forge new connections. This opens up unused neural connections and helps anchor old memories in new applications.
Furthermore, the new activity must be challenging enough for the brain to extend itself. It must make you make a mental effort and not be achievable with the old computational routine your brain is used to.
Lastly, the new activity should be fun to engage you. Only if the activity is enjoyable will you be willing to do it long enough to learn all you can about it and form new memories from it.
If you are experiencing repeated forgetfulness or if you have a hard time learning new things, there are ways to help you improve your memory.
Some tips for enhancing your memory are:
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