It’s not uncommon for us to forget things from time to time. We live in stressful times where we are constantly having to multitask that puts considerable drain on the brain. We need to be able to pick up new information quickly and store it into long term memory for future reference. The more we use our brains, the more often various proteins, antioxidants, and lipids have to be replenished to keep us working at peak performance. With all our processed foods and eating on the run, our diets are often lacking in the proper nutrients to keep our memories sharp. This is where supplementation comes in. There are specific ingredients available along with proprietary blends that have been specifically formulated to boost memory and learning that can be taken on a daily basis.
What you want to look for are powerful antioxidants, acetylcholine boosters, esterase inhibitors, membrane components, energy boosters, and ingredients that will increase blood flow to the brain.
What’s of interest here is short-term memory. This involves paying attention to what is currently going on. This is not only important to multitasking but without short-term memory you can’t lay down long-term memory. The brain system involved with short-term memory makes use of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine and Memory
Short-term memory is all about the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. So, to enhance short-term memory you need to boost acetylcholine levels. There are two ways you can do this: take in the precursor to acetylcholine which is choline or block the enzyme responsible for breaking it down which is known as acetylcholinesterase. By blocking the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine remains longer in the synaptic cleft allowing for stronger signal strength on your short-term memory. Choline is available in a number of forms such as Alpha-glycerylphospherylcholine (alpha-GPC) and is very bioavailable (absorbable in the gut) and Huperzine A is taken as an anti-cholinesterase. You can take these separately or stack them for greater enhancement.
Lipids and Memory
Going beyond enhancement of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, its a good idea to take in ingredients that can replenish your cell membranes. After all, acetylcholine can’t be released into the synaptic cleft if your cholinergic neurons have damaged membranes. So what you want to do is take in membrane lipids or their precursors so that you can repair damaged membranes. Remember, neurons are constantly releasing neurotransmitter so their membranes are used a lot and can become damaged easily. This calls for supplementing with a wide range of lipids or their precursors. Any of the omega-3s are good whether coming from fish, krill, flaxseed oil, borage oil, etc. Look for supplements that contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) as these are your omega-3s. If your looking for a high-end source of omega-3s consider krill oil sources. Phospholipids are also a good source omega-3s. Some of the best supplements contain phosphatidylcholine (PC) and/or phosphatidylserine (PS) which is highly bioavailable and is used by the brain in this form. Phosphatidylcholine actually has a dual purpose here because your brain will use some of it to replenish your membranes and the rest of it as a choline provider to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (two birds with one stone here). Your omega-3s are generally in the form of triglycerides and have to be metabolized and restructured before they can be used whereas PC and PS are used directly so in reality they are the best but triglycerides are okay.
Blood Flow and Memory
Increasing blood flow to the brain is a good idea as well. One of the best botanicals for this is Vinpocetine but you can take Ginkgo biloba as well. Vinpocetine specifically increases blood flow to brain and heart by inhibiting phosphodiesterase activity in blood vessels allowing them to dilate. There are different phosphodiesterase enzymes in different parts of the vasculature and it turns out that Vinpocetine inhibits only those that are in the vasculature of the brain and heart. Increasing blood flow to the brain increases oxygen and nutrient availability to your neurons as well as take away waste products faster. Some supplements contain Ginkgo biloba which also increases blood flow by a different mechanism. Ginkgo acts as a blood thinner by slowing the clotting process and acts on the entire vasculature. Ginkgo is also a powerful antioxidant. If you are taking blood thinners such as coumarin (warfarin), it is best to stay away from Ginkgo. Your best bet here is Vinpocetine but Ginkgo is okay otherwise.
Antioxidants and Memory
Next to consider is a supplement that contains antioxidants. There are many but you only need a few. There are some that are lipid soluble only, water soluble only, and those that are both. You need both. Water soluble antioxidants can only scavenge free radicals in liquid spaces in the body. Fat soluble antioxidants can get into cell membranes and scavenge free radicals in the lipids (fats) environment. Those antioxidants that have both abilities can scavenge anywhere. Consider supplements that contain two or more of the following; resveratrol (fat and water soluble), green tea, coenzyme Q10 (fat soluble), alpha lipoic acid (fat and water soluble), Bacopa (water soluble), Ginseng, vitamin E (fat soluble), and/or vitamin C (water soluble). Bacopa is also a nootropic (smart drug) and that’s an added plus here. It is a smart drug because of its powerful antioxidant properties.
Energy and Memory
Now, we need to consider an energy source. Something that can help you make ATP to run your metabolic pathways. Coenzyme Q10 is not only a powerful antioxidant it is directly involved with the making of ATP in the mitochondria. It is part of the Kreb cycle (tricarboxylic acid cycle) and is required to make ATP. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is required to make red blood cells. More red blood cells means more oxygen delivered to your cells which means you can make more ATP. But, B12 does more than that. It’s needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and myelin. Myelin is a fat wrapping around neuronal axons that act as an an insulator responsible for rapid action potentials. Myelin keeps the electrical current inside your axons preventing leakage to the outside. This ensures rapid electrical signaling. B12 deficiencies bring about dementia (short-term memory loss), depression, fatigue and the list goes on. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is also required to make ATP. Vitamin B1 deficiencies generate a whole host of neurological disorders including loss of short-term memory and motor disorders. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is required in more than 100 different enzymatic reactions and is required to make ATP. It is extremely important for fetal and infancy brain development. B6 is involved with neurotransmitter production such as serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, and dopamine (good for anxiety and depression) and is required to make myelin. Vitamin B6 is required to make vitamin B3 (niacin). Acetyl-L-Carnitine is also important because it is involved with fatty acid metabolism in the mitochondria where ATP is made and it is also a powerful antioxidant.
When buying a memory supplement keep in mind the above requirements. That is to say, look for acetylcholine enhancers, powerful antioxidants (they improve memory too directly and indirectly), blood flow enhancers, lipids for your membranes, and last but not least energy boosters (make more ATP). It is interesting to note that some components have more than one function such as Bacopa which is a nootropic and a powerful antioxidant as well.
Basic research and clinical trials support the use of nutrients and nutritional supplements to promote memory. Talk to your healthcare provider about specific supplements that are known to support enhanced memory function for more information.
Ingredients to Look for that will Enhance Short-term Memory:
- B vitamins especially B12, B1, B6, acetyl-L-Carnitine
- For production of ATP and neurotransmitter synthesis
- Vinpocetine and/or Ginkgo biloba
- To increase blood flow
- Phospholipids and/or omega-3 fatty acids (PS, PC, DHA, EPA)
- To replenish damaged neuronal cell membranes
- Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (Huperzine A)
- Allows acetylcholine to remain around longer
- Choline sources such as alpha-GPC, Phosphatidylcholine or other form
- This provides a precursor for the production of acetylcholine
- Antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, resveratrol, alpha lipoic acid, green tea, CoQ10, Bacopa, acetyl-L-Carnitine
- This protects neurons from free radical damage and keeps metabolic pathways running properly
- Energy generators such as B12, B1, B6, CoQ10, and acetyl-L-Carnitine
- These are required to make ATP directly or indirectly