Memory Loss

  • 27 Jan 1998
  • Reading time 4 mins
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Every year in Europe, a million people are diagnosed with memory decline, and 400,000 of them go on to be diagnosed with dementia. If you are over 35, it’s time to think about Alzheimer’s. As strange as this may sound, we now know that it takes approximately 40 years to develop Alzheimer’s and there are no obvious signs, except perhaps a minor deterioration in memory and concentration, for at least the first 20 years of the disease process. Many people think of this as ‘getting old’, but you can age without excessive memory loss.

Most of the current medications – donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Reminyl) – can temporarily improve or stabilize the symptoms of dementia, but once you stop your prescription, you’ll deteriorate rapidly and within six weeks you will be no better than someone who has never taken the drug.

What all this adds up to is that Alzheimer’s, which accounts for the vast majority of cases of dementia, is preventable. What is equally clear is that there is no drug that can do anything except, at most, briefly delay the debilitating symptoms. The nutritional approach, however, could play a role beyond the preventative, as valuable as that is. It may also reverse early signs of memory and mental impairment without any associated side effects. If this proves to be so in ongoing trials, the nutritional approach should certainly be the first port of call for anyone with memory problems.

What Works

Test your homocysteine level. If you have a relative whose mental gears are starting to slip, make sure they have a simple memory test, just to get a measure of the situation, plus a homocysteine test, which is the best indicator of risk. If their (and in fact, your) homocysteine level is above 9 units and there are any signs or symptoms of memory problems, we recommend supplementing with a homocysteine-lowering formula. This should provide vitamin B6 (20 to 100mg), B12 (100 to 500mcg), and folic acid (1,000 to 2,000mcg) a day or, better still, take an all-round homocysteine-lowering formula containing TMG and B2 as well. N-acetyl-cysteine (500mg a day). Alternatively, choose a homocysteine formula incorporating a special form of B12, methyl B12, which works best.

Up your omega-3s. To help reduce brain inflammation, we recommend supplementing with omega-3 fish oils, as well as eating oily fish two to three times a week. The ideal amount for maximizing memory and mental health is likely to be in the region of 300mg of EPA and 200mg of DHA daily, doubling this if you have age-related memory decline.

Increase your antioxidants. To ensure you are getting the proper types and amounts of antioxidants, eat lots of fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours. Think blueberries, raspberries, apples, broccoli, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots and so on – antioxidants such as the anthocyanidans found in red and purple fruit and vegetables are powerful and highly efficient at scavenging free radicals. On top of this, supplement 2,000 mg of vitamin C a day, taken in two divided doses, plus 400iu (300mg) of vitamin E, as part of an all-round antioxidant that contains N-acetyl-cysteine and/or reduced glutathione.

Stay mentally and physically active. Keep learning new things and using your mind, and exercise at least three times a week. Even walking 15 minutes a day makes a difference.

Dig deeper by reading Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs for all the evidence to support this approach, and its comparitive effectiveness and safety compared to the conventional treatment of memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Also read The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan by Patrick Holford with Shane Heaton and Deborah Colson.

Working with Your Doctor

Ask your doctor to measure your homocysteine level (or you can measure your own homocysteine level with a home test. If your level is high, you should take a supplement with B vitamins as well as zinc, TMG and NAC, and top up daily with plenty of B-rich fruit and green, leafy vegetables.

What if your doctor draws a blank or needs convincing? Show them the evidence: either lend them a copy of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan by Patrick Holford, or refer them to the work of Oxford’s Optima Project or the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

If you, or a relative of yours, is prescribed Aricept, monitor changes in their memory. If it makes no difference, there’s little point in taking this drug.