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Memory enhancers

Low nutrient intake, environmental toxins, day-to-day stress, overwork, stimulants like alcohol, tobacco and junk foods affect our mental function, writes Dr Anjali Mukerjee.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 29, 2009 17:04 IST

In the days before writing, people had only their memory to depend on. In fact, surnames like Tripathi come from an ability to remember things in three goes.

Examinations not only put to test our ability to understand a subject but also our ability to retain what we study. Exam time often translates to a lot of tension, anxiety and gruelling hard work. Such intense physical and mental activity requires a high level of fitness. The human brain is remarkably responsive to the food we eat.

Low nutrition equals stress
Low nutrient intake, environmental toxins, day-to-day stress, overwork, stimulants like alcohol, tobacco and junk foods affect our mental function. You may have noticed that some people, who normally handle a stressed situation with ease, begin to overreact to a similar situation at times. This is because, often, a lack of nutrients throws one into a stress response. Although memory loss happens primarily due to ageing, stress can also lead to forgetfulness, which is why you’ll hear people saying they went blank during an exam.

Brain matters
We must remember that our brain controls metabolism, thoughts, emotions and physical health. Most of us tend to ignore the brain’s biological needs. As a result, the older we grow, the more difficulties we face in remembering names and dates. Our alertness levels dip and little tasks are often forgotten.

The brain is the largest consumer of the energy produced by our body. To process, store and access information efficiently the brain needs oxygen, glucose and other nutrients. A lack of these leads to short term memory loss and mental fatigue, and in some cases, permanent memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and senile dementia.

Apart from a daily intake of protein, certain vitamins and minerals help supply the raw material for making neurotransmitters like dopamine, acetyl-choline, and serotonin, all of which are responsible for the transfer of information, and regulation of memory and mood.

Must-have nutrients
Vitamin B6:
It protects the brain from stress and helps create neurotransmitters. About 2 mg a day is sufficient. When taken along with a B-complex supplement and vitamin C, it clears the mind, improves mood and helps control emotions.
Vitamin B12: A deficiency of this vitamin affects memory, concentration and mood, besides also causing disorientation and problems of the nervous system. Animal products like milk, chicken, fish, and eggs, and dairy products like curd and cheese are rich natural sources of this vitamin.

B-Complex: Even a mild deficiency of the B-complex vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) impacts memory and thinking capabilities.

Lecithin and Choline: Both play an important part in maintaining a healthy nervous system. Lecithin keeps cholesterol in liquid form and prevents formation of gallstones. It improves memory and protects the brain against damage due to stress. It is also an effective liver cleanser.

Choline is used in making of acetyl choline, which is a neurotransmitter needed for memory. Good sources of Lecithin include egg yolk, almonds, sesame seeds, soyabeans, whole wheat and wheat germ.

Studies reveal that ginseng can increase memory, learning ability and mental functioning. Another useful supplement is acetyl-L-carnitine, which helps those facing loss of memory and declined mental alertness due to age. It improves logic and reasoning, protecting the brain from the effects of everyday stress and pollutants.

These supplements help your brain function better. Exercising regularly helps increase blood circulation to the brain and protects it from stress. Teenagers should avoid alcohol, tobacco and such other stimulants, which damage the brain ‘tissue’. Correcting your lifestyle, adopting a regular exercise regime and practicing meditation techniques go a long way in reducing stress. Adequate sleep also helps recharge your brain.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre