Memorizing new knowledge gets increasingly harder as we mature. Remembering a name, a location, or a specific event might be difficult at times. Although this is a fully natural occurrence, it can rapidly become annoying. Fortunately, simple and effective measures may be done to mitigate its most harmful consequences. David Moreau, a research scientist at Princeton University, shares some ideas on how to avoid memory issues and enjoy our intellectual talents for as long as feasible.
how to sharpen your brain and memory
1/ Don’t panic!
First, let’s remind ourselves that a slight decrease of our cognitive abilities is natural as we age. This is an important point, because it allows putting most daily memory failures into perspective and thus alleviates unnecessary increases in stress levels, which have negative and long-lasting consequences on memory. Most memory problems do not reflect underlying cognitive or neurophysiological dysfunctions, as the brain is part of a living organism, with the variations it implies. However, if these fluctuations begin to be problematic and more permanent, simple measures can provide some relief on a daily basis.
2/ Memory or attention?
Many so-called memory problems are in fact due to temporary attention deficits when new information is presented. The good news is that these are easy-fixes: all that is needed is to pay more attention when facing new elements to memorize. More specifically, this can be achieved through three successive steps – identifying that the situation requires full attention, dedicating corresponding mental resources while ignoring potential distractions, and finally binding new information with pre-existing knowledge. This last point is critical: it is the technique used by memory champions.
Let’s take the example of a name to memorize. The idea is to associate this new information with another one already memorized, such as the image of a celebrity of the same name. Similarly, a phone number will be quickly forgotten unless its series of digits is associated with other numbers, such as well-known historical dates for instance. Once elements of information are linked with one another, our minds have multiple and durable ways to access them, resulting in better recall.
This might sound surprising, but one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp is to exercise regularly. Until recently, researchers thought that the adult brain couldn’t grow new neurons, leading to irremediable decline. Despite this natural process, we now know that exercising is the most effective way to promote the genesis of new neurons, along with more general health benefits. This process, called “neuroplasticity”, relates to the capacity of the brain to change and evolve throughout life, thus allowing us to adapt to environmental demands. Walking, jogging, or dancing: regardless of the activity, the key-point is to be active!
4/ Understand your sleep cycles
Sleep has an extremely important role in the process of acquiring new knowledge. In early stages, the body favors deep sleep, allowing general physical recovery. Later during the night, stages of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, during which most dreaming occurs, become more and more prevalent. Because REM sleep is critical in memory consolidation, a short night of sleep, particularly detrimental to REM stages, often results in a decrease in the ability to retain new content.
5/ What about dietary supplements?
Contrary to what pharmaceutical industries would like us to believe, complementing natural dietary intakes with vitamins, minerals, or herbal extracts such as ginko biloba does not seem to have an effect on memory. To date, only vitamin E supplements have induced cognitive improvements in people with early stage dementia, such as Alzheimer disease for example. However, do not rush to this type of supplements too quickly: large doses of vitamin E have been associated with greater risks for cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer.
As it is often the case, all is about finding the right balance – a balanced diet will usually bring the essential nutrients the brain needs to function in an optimal way. Ideally, dietary supplements should be restricted to cases where deficiencies have been identified, for short periods of time.
These few tips are easy to apply on a daily basis, and will allow you to enjoy your cognitive capabilities fully, for as long as possible. The brain is an extremely malleable organ, and therefore responds remarkably well to novelty and change. So don’t waste any more time, and use the plasticity of your brain to your advantage!
Neuropil, boost your brain
Many people talk about it but what is a neuropill? It can be defined as a pill that will stimulate the brain, in one area of activity or another, to increase its capacities and make us more efficient, more efficient, more alert.
Neuropills have been used for a long time by the student and artistic circles, with some success, and this since the end of the Second World War: a student to pass an exam (especially in medicine for that matter!), an artist who wants to keep his creativity for several days, or to stimulate it… so many reasons to use them. We could also add today a trader, an airplane pilot, etc. We dope our body, we seek to improve our physical appearance through aesthetic medicine, so why not boost our brain?
This notion of “brain gain” (brain gain), because we know that we probably only use 10% of our cerebral capacities and the associated neuropills are perhaps the first elements of a long list of new “drugs” that will appear. They are also called “cosmetic brain”. Already in 1964, Timothy Leary, an apostle of LSD, took a scientific approach to explaining the expansion of consciousness. He published “the psychedelic experience”, a sort of practical guide to experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs (with John Lennon).
What products are available on the market?
1- Psychostimulants: Among the many psychostimulants include piracetam, which increases cognitive abilities. It works by protecting the brain and nervous system against lack of oxygen. Many other molecules do the same, including plants such as Ginko Bilobé or Ginseng.
2 – Amphetamines: Most famous Modafinil, (Provigil ®, Modiodal ®, Alertec ®) nicknamed the “Viagra of the brain” is an amphetamine. It accelerates the propagation speed of the impulse between the neurons, increases the attention, the concentration, allows much less sleep and amplifies the memory.
Amphetamines are medications that are used to treat exhaustion. Amphetamines, like cocaine, raise the levels of dopamine, particularly in the so-called “reward” system (involved in the sensation of pleasure), but by a different method. They obviously generate physical and psychological reliance, and one of the drawbacks is that taking them might lead one to fail and fall unexpectedly. Modafinil usage is permitted in the United States for those with jobs that have staggered hours (firefighters, hospital staff, etc.).
Be cautious; the addiction develops quickly, and the lack produces exhaustion and pain. There has been an upsurge in the usage of amphetamines, including Modafinil, in recent years, notably among sportsmen (previously, the murdered cyclist Tom Simpson used it). More recently the sprinter Kelli White, the cyclist David Clinger, the basketball player Diana Taurasi…).
Amphetamines are really contraindicated in case of cardiovascular problem, psychiatric disorders, severe allergy, headaches…)
3- Methylphenidate: Another of the most widely used smart drugs is Methylphenidate (Ritaline ®, Concerta ®), prescribed to treat hyperactive children or in cases of narcolepsy. Its mechanism of action is very similar to that of cocaine. It is used to improve concentration, as a weight loss or for recreational purposes, but it can cause cardiac (tachycardia), digestive (nausea, vomiting) and neurological disorders: muscle spasms, visual disturbances, nervousness, anorexia, insomnia, seizures. anguish, exhaustion…
There are a lot of misappropriations and misuses (especially by students) and it is therefore rightly that it is closely monitored by the AFSSAPS. Watch the series Dr House (episode 11, season 2). A patient is a victim, among other things, of the consequences of an excess: spasms, hypervigilance, irritability, cardiovascular complications…
Some psychiatrists are totally opposed to its use, even for hyperactive children or narcoleptics. Indeed, it would damage the dopaminergic systems in the long term and therefore increase the risk of addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, etc.). In addition, studies have shown other long-term negative effects, such as stunting of the child, cancers etc. Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s disease.
4- Donepezil: It is used to treat Alzheimer’s patients and increase serotonin (an antidepressant that preserves cerebral “calm”) and acetylcholine levels in the brain, which are quite high while you are young and rapidly decline with age. This substance boosts memory, increases attention, and facilitates all learning. Serious side effects include rhabdomyolysis, or the destruction of muscular tissue. Neuroleptic malignant syndrome is an uncommon but life-threatening condition defined by a chemical imbalance that affects the neurological, circulatory, and musculoskeletal systems.
5- DMAE :– DMAE or Dimethylaminoethanol is one of the main amino acids in the human body, found in small quantities in fish oil. You can also get it on medication. It increases acetylcholine, dopamine and noradrenaline and stimulates energy, speed of thought. It is used in people of a certain age, effectively, safely, in small doses, increasing endurance, mental and physical. DMAE increases memory, learning, but can also have side effects (constipation, depression, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, hives, insomnia, breathing problems, muscle tension).
6- Caffeine, theine…: Finally, note that caffeine, theine and many elements contained in chocolate, for example, are already real non-toxic psychostimulants, and this is the reason why many of us take them. The success of coffee for humans is well established and that of chocolate either!
Psychostimulants are not smart drugs, neither short-term nor long-term, and have nothing recreational about them. “Smart drugs” could be considered as a solution to unlock our potential in a society dependent on technology and devouring exploits, but it must be remembered that the effect of a psychostimulant or a smart drug on a brain determined is quite unpredictable currently. We cannot predict the effect of a molecule, neither in the short term, nor even more so in the long term.
The social pressure of performance dictates the taking of these products, but in a context where their effects remain poorly understood. Fame and fortune are social keys to American and European culture for much of it. The search for happiness may be through an optimization of the cerebral faculties, which are certainly currently far from being fully exploited, far from it. “Positive” psychology uses this search for happiness, and these new means may be part of it?
So are neurologists going to become our quality of life consultants?
In any case, it is already certain that we will need experts to guide us through this molecular labyrinth. Is medicine really the guardian of the gates of mental happiness? In any case, we are heading towards “the best of possible brains”, because many people secretly dream of an intelligence pill. In the meantime, let’s have a little coffee with a chocolate if you don’t mind.
Omega3 mental faculties and depression, DHA EPA or ALA
Omega 3 fatty acids
Inexhaustible subject for a few years, omega 3 fatty acids are fatty acids unsaturated, say essentials because they are essential for our body.
They can be classified into 3 groups: docosahexaenoic acids (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and alpha linoleic acid (ALA). The latter is so named because it is present in large quantities in linseed oil but also in various plants (lamb’s lettuce, lettuce, walnuts, rapeseed, purslane, etc.). EPA and DHA (not to be confused with DHEA, precursor of sex hormones) are present in animal flesh and in particular that of fish.
Products offering omega 3 intakes do not necessarily contain the same quantities of these groups or even all the groups. Check on the packaging.
Several studies have shown that the intake of omega 3 could improve the symptoms of depression in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment and reduce the risk of progression to senile dementia. Some studies have shown that these improvements are attributable to EPA and DHA and not to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) given alone. It is classic to hear that DHA are indeed the group of omega 3 favorable to the mental faculties. However, we will see that the studies are not so definitive and that the human body can still modulate things.
A study published in March 2013 (1) confirms the impact on mental faculties of high doses of DHA. 176 adults (18 to 45 years old) with low intakes of omega 3 were supplemented daily for 6 months, either with 1160 mg of DHA and 170 mg EPA, or with a placebo of olive oil. The results show a significant improvement in memory (episodic and working, attention) and reaction time in the pilot group. This is more strongly marked in women. As anti-aging specialists, we regret that the subjects were not older, even if the information remains of primary interest.
But another study (2), involving 50 subjects over the age of 65 with a mild memory disorder and presenting depressive symptoms, divided into 3 groups, analyzed the performance differences between DHA, EPA and a placebo. For 6 months, the EPA group received daily 1670 mg of EPA and 160 mg of DHA, the DHA group 1550 mg of DHA and 400 mg of EPA and the placebo group safflower oil (vegetable). It would be demonstrated here that the 2 DHA and EPA groups showed the same improvement in their signs of depression and memory compared to the placebo group. The DHA group would show a slight superiority of its effects only on speech and the feeling of well-being.
Scientists conclude here that all Omega 3 would reduce the risk of developing dementia, with DHA showing a slight lead.
You should also know that in the long term, the human body would be able to retroconvert between the different omega 3s. Clearly, our body would be able to transform DHA into EPA and vice versa. Thus, the effectiveness of these essential fatty acids would be mainly linked to the regularity and duration of the dose taken of omega 3.
We do not yet know everything about fatty acid metabolism. However, it has recently been shown that ALA (in large quantities in vegetable oils) is unfortunately not converted into DHA (found rather in fatty substances of animal origin). The scientists themselves say that further studies are still needed.
Omega 3 for memory in practice
Let’s not forget that, in any case, the doses must be sufficient to bring noticeable effects. On the other hand, the form of the omega 3 supplement is important. It must be easily assimilated and preserve omega 3 from oxidation. Indeed, some studies using margarines, for example, did not show the expected effects.
ANSES (3) recommends 1.8g of ALA, 250mg of DHA and 250mg of EPA per day. But, as we saw above, in certain contexts (age, illness, etc.) this dose must be doubled or even more to see improvements in health.
Let us therefore remember that it is necessary to make the difference between complement physiological intakesi.e. for a subject to remain in good health and supplement Omega 3 to obtain improvements in health problems, related or not to aging. Let’s not mix prevention and treatment of health problems. This is fundamental and valid, of course, for all the essential micronutrients: vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids.
At last, know the difference between omega 3 and omega 6 because their needs and their effects are very different.