We all want to keep our brains as sharp as possible – in fact, according to research by Alzheimer’s Research UK, 42% of UK adults admit that cognitive and memory loss is one of their biggest fears.
But as much as we try to resist memory loss and the gradual slowly of our minds, it goes hand-in-hand with growing old. Biologists believe that our bodies begin to degenerate from the third decade of life and so does our brain. There's evidence to show that our ability to form and use short and long term memories usually peaks in our mid-20s. It then gradually declines until our 60s, after which there's a more rapid decline.
However, functions such as our vocabulary, numerical skills and general knowledge seem to be resistant to decline. So while a change may to some extent be inevitable, it’s also possible that our memory performance could be influenced by a number of everyday elements.
Here, Natalie Lamb, nutritional therapist at Bio-Kult (opens in new tab) reveals the lifestyle factors that may be affecting your memory – and what you can do about it.
Lifestyle factors that may affect memory loss
"Our memories are not created equal. Some experiences are well remembered, while others are remembered poorly, if at all. Research indicates that emotionally significant experiences activate hormonal and brain systems that regulate memories. These effects are aided by adrenal stress hormones that fire up of certain areas of the brain. However, during times of heightened stress, our adrenal hormones have been shown to impair memory retrieval and working memory.
"Stress is unfortunately now a big part of our busy modern lifestyles. Various techniques to alter your perception of a stressor may help your body to cope with a possible perceived stressful situation. Try to be realistic with your time management by giving yourself more time than you need to complete a task, don’t take on too much or be afraid to say ‘no’."
2. Poor sleep
"Studies have shown that sleep benefits memory retention. A good quality, uninterrupted night’s sleep is one where we move through different stages of sleep patterns. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep introduce a sleep routine, to slow down the mind and body in tune with our natural daily circadian rhythm. Dim lights and avoid using tech with unnaturally bright white light such as a TV, laptop or phone at least one hour before bed. Instead, read a book, start a meditation practice, take a bath or drink a cup of valerian or camomile tea."
3. Low protein intake
"Research demonstrates the importance of a good quality protein source with each meal to enhance memory. Proteins are considered the building blocks of the body and are high in animal products such as meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy. Proteins from animal sources are considered highly bioavailable and easy for the body to utilise. Proteins can also be found in plant foods such as grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and are best combined to provide a wider range of amino acids.
"The daily Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) in the UK is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day in adults. This is approximately 45g/day for adult women. For example one medium egg or 50 pistachio nuts provides around 6g of protein, an 85g serving of beef or fish about 20g, and 1 cup (198g) of boiled lentils about 18g."
Want to up your protein intake? We've put together a list of high protein snack ideas.
4. Excess sugar and refined carbohydrate intake
"Glucose is the main fuel used in the brain. But over time, excess intake of refined sugar and carbohydrates could cause metabolic alterations such as insulin resistance and high blood glucose, both of which are also hallmarks of type-2 diabetes mellitus and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus is the brain region important for learning and memory, and is one of the areas affected by high glucose intake.
"Consume grains in their wholegrain form and eat them alongside a protein or fat source, such as scrambled eggs on sourdough spelt bread. Limit intake of sweets, chocolate, high sugar breakfast cereals and packaged foods."
5. Excessive alcohol consumption
"According to studies, frequent heavy consumption of alcohol alters brain function and decreases cognitive performance including memory, while regular light and moderate consumption may have a protective impact. There are reported benefits of polyphenol resveratrol – found in red wine on cognitive function such as memory. However, these benefits could also be gained by eating flavonoid rich vegetables and fruits such as grapes and berries."
6. Lack of cognitively stimulating activity
"'Use it or lose it'. as the old saying goes! Cognitively stimulating activity such as a daily Sudoku puzzle, crossword or reading a book, has the potential to improve memory function. However, research suggests that memory is further improved by group activity versus that undertaken alone. Why not join a local bridge group, or a book club where you can recall and discuss the plot of a great book club book, or enjoy a game of scrabble with a friend or family member?"
7. Imbalanced gut bacteria
Recent studies have found that there is a link between our gut bacteria and our brains. This has lead some experts to believe that a healthy gut can help keep a mind healthy too.
"Emerging evidence suggests that the trillions of microbes that live in our gut may play an important role in influencing brain health and cognitive function. Data now indicates that our gut bacteria communicates with us directly through the microbiota-gut-brain axis.
"Beneficial bacteria produces brain chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters that are important for attention, memory and movemen and promote healthy of brain cells. Recent studies have demonstrated an association between changes in the gut microbiota, cognitive function including learning and memory, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s.
"Try Bio-Kult Mind (opens in new tab), which contains live bacteria, bioavailable flavonoids, grape and wild blueberry extracts, and zinc. Zinc contributes to normal cognitive function and the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Zinc also contributes to the normal function of the immune system."
If you gave any concerns about memory loss, visit your GP.
Senior Health Writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including woman&home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent. She currently specialises in health and fitness content and loves sharing the best expert advice on staying well.
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