Growing older is a beautiful blessing. It’s a privileged opportunity to reap the fruits of your hard labor. Unfortunately, as time marches forward, your mental acuity and cognition start taking a few steps back. Maybe you still remember when your father taught you how to drive a stick shift, but you don’t remember how old you are? Maybe you remember that you must use a different remote to turn on Netflix, but you can never remember which one? Or maybe you just stopped reading this blog because you forgot to take your blood pressure medication?...again?
This cognitive decline is a natural byproduct of aging. Taking a few moments to remember your son’s dog’s name or your wife’s birthday (a transgression that can stop aging entirely) is partially due to the actual shrinking of your brain. Both gray and white matter volume are lost as you get older. Additionally, your brain’s neurons undergo structural changes. These include the loss of dendrites (the root-like part of the cell that receives information), number of axons (the hair-like body of the neuron), myelination (fatty tissue that surrounds neurons and helps them fire efficiently), and synapses (the site where two neurons can exchange neurotransmitters). 1
So, if our brains naturally shrink with age, is there anything we can do to slow memory loss, improve cognition, and finally remember where we put our glasses down? Absolutely. Research suggests that genetics only accounts for about 25% of cognitive decline.2 The other 75% is most likely due to your environment, aka 75% of your cognitive decline can be mitigated by you!
There are two possible routes that, when employed regularly, can help improve focus, increase concentration, improve mood, and reduce overall age-related memory loss. They are lifestyle changes and appropriate supplementation.
DIET- A balanced diet is key to keeping your brain firing at top speeds. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, unsaturated fatty acids, fish, and limited in red meat. Studies on adherents to the Mediterranean style diet found a 21% decrease in incidence of age related cognitive disorders.3 This does not mean that you must follow a Mediterranean diet. It simply means that a diet rich in fiber, micronutrients, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent cognitive decline more than one of Coke and Dunkin Donuts.
ACTIVE MIND- An active mind is a productive mind. You may not think of your brain like a muscle but just like your impressive triceps, your brain needs consistent exercise. A study of thousands of adults found that 10 mental training sessions and 2 follow up training sessions were enough to significantly reduce age-related cognitive decline (even after 5 years).4 So, instead of mindlessly watching TV, try challenging yourself to a memory game or crossword puzzle.
WORKING OUT- You may associate a gym rat with grunts and big pecs, but those who exercise regularly are keeping more than their muscles in top shape. Regular walks of over 72 blocks per week was associated with a significant decrease in cognitive decline as youage. Further, adults who exercise at least 3 times per week experience less brain matter loss than those who don’t.5
Remember, it’s not just your muscles that are getting a pump in the gym. Working out naturally increases the blood flow to your brain and can help reduce cognitive decline as you age.5
APPROPRIATE SUPPLEMENTATION- NOOTROPICS
Lifestyle changes are great, but that is a long-term approach. Is there something you can do that will provide you with a brain boost today? That’s where nootropics come in. Nootropics are a class of supplements that have brain boosting properties. Below are some of the best nootropics to improve memory, increase alertness and focus, and prevent age-related cognitive decline.
MEMORY AND LEARNING NOOTROPICS
HUPERZINE- Huperzine is a potent cognitive enhancing supplement. Huperzine works by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down the learning neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. In your brain, neurotransmitters fire between neurons to communicate. This is how you learn a new skill, recall an old memory, or generally make a decision. Huperzine helps decrease breakdown of the learning neurotransmitters in your brain, leading to an overall increase in learning neurotransmitters and a greater brain boost.
BACOPA MONNIERI- Bacopa Monnieri has been used for centuries to improve cognition and brain power and recent research has backed this up. Studies in rats have shown that repeated supplementation of Bacopa Monnieri grows dendritic branches on your neurons. This dendritic growth happens in areas of the brain associated with learning.6 Therefore, Bacopa Monnieri can help decrease age related cognitive decline AND improve memory in healthy young people. Numerous studies have shown that Bacopa Monnieri greatly improves memory, attention, reaction time, and decreased forgetting. This is a supplement you should use daily to get the most benefit. Luckily, you’re less likely to forget to take it with each day on Bacopa.
ENERGY AND ALERTNESS NOOTROPICS- Maybe your memory is intact, but you find it more difficult to stay awake in the afternoons? A midday energy slump, particularly if you wake up early, is natural. It’s hard to be on top of your game if you keep fading in and out of conversations. Instead, take these nootropics to wake up, be alert, and stay focused.
CAFFEINE AND L-THEANINE - Everyone knows caffeine. It’s the magic that resides in every cup of coffee. It’s what keeps you going when your brain and body wanted to give up hours ago. It’s also a double-edged sword. Too much caffeine can make you jittery and anxious. Plus, if you end up using too much, you can easily build a tolerance which takes the caffeine from your secret weapon to your life support. You end up taking caffeine just to function.
L-theanine is the game changer. L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea. This amino acid is pivotal in helping you decrease stress, relax, and overall reduce your anxiety. Sounds kind of like the opposite of caffeine, right?
Well, these two together make the perfect duo. L-theanine and caffeine are synergistic nootropics meaning that they are better together than they are separately. Together, L-theanine can help reduce the jittery feeling of caffeine while enhancing the alertness, concentration, and brain boosting power of caffeine.7
ALPINIA GALANGA - Alpinia galanga, also known as Siamese Ginger, is a nootropic that can help improve alertness and focus. However, this nootropic really shines when it, too, is allowed to dance with caffeine. Alpinia galanga can help amplify the nootropic benefits of caffeine. When taken together, alpinia galanga helps improve sustained attention and mitigates the caffeine crash. That means you’re not just pushing a nap off until later in the day. Instead, you can take alpinia galanga with your caffeine to enjoy sustained energy until bedtime.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Your brain will shrink as you age, leading to decrease in cognitive function, memory, alertness, and focus. However, only 25% of that is predetermined. The rest is up to you.
This has been a lot of information (that will be easier to digest once you employ the suggestions in this article). To summarize, below are the changes you should make today so that you can wake up better tomorrow:
-Choose an active lifestyle that is fueled by nutritious whole foods.
-Challenge your brain daily with new tasks that rely on memory and learning.
-Start every day with an ideal blend of brain boosting nootropics.
- Murman DL. The Impact of Age on Cognition. Semin Hear. 2015;36(3):111-121. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1555115
- Gurland BJ, Page WF, Plassman BL. A twin study of the genetic contribution to age-related functional impairment. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2004 Aug;59(8):859-63. doi: 10.1093/gerona/59.8.m859. PMID: 15345739.
- Jennings A, Cunnane S C, Minihane A M. Can nutrition support healthy cognitive ageing and reduce dementia risk? BMJ 2020; 369 :m2269 doi:10.1136/bmj.m2269
- Willis SL, Tennstedt SL, Marsiske M, et al. Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults. JAMA. 2006;296(23):2805-2814. doi:10.1001/jama.296.23.2805
- Barnes JN. Exercise, cognitive function, and aging. Adv Physiol Educ. 2015;39(2):55-62. doi:10.1152/advan.00101.2014
- Vollala VR, Upadhya S, Nayak S. Enhanced dendritic arborization of hippocampal CA3 neurons by Bacopa monniera extract treatment in adult rats. Rom J Morphol Embryol. 2011;52(3):879-86. PMID: 21892534.
- T. Giesbrecht, J.A. Rycroft, M.J. Rowson & E.A. De Bruin (2010) The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness, Nutritional Neuroscience, 13:6, 283-290, DOI: 10.1179/147683010X12611460764840