Natural Mind and Memory Boosters

If smart drugs are out, what about smart nutrients? There are several natural mind and memory boosters that can restore your clarity of thought and banish memory lapses. They are:
  • Choline and DMAE – building blocks of acetylcholine.
  • Pyroglutamate, phosphatidylserine, and omega-3 fats – receptor enhancers.
  • Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) and vinpocetine – circulation improvers.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine and glutamine – fuel for brain cells.
  • Specific supporting vitamins and minerals.
With the exception of ginkgo, these are all substances found in food and the brain. They're becoming widely available, and you can buy combination state-of-the-art brain-boosting supplements in health food stores. We'll look at each in turn, then discuss why combining smart nutrients works best.

Choline: The Building Block Of Memory
The key brain chemical for memory is acetylcholine. A deficiency in this chemical is probably the single most common cause for declining memory. Acetylcholine is derived from the nutrient choline. Fish, especially sardines, are rich in it, hence the old wives' tale of fish being good for the brain. Eggs are also a major source of choline, followed by liver, soy beans, peanuts, and other nuts. Ever since egg phobia set in, the average intake of choline from the diet has dropped dramatically. From the point of view of memory enhancement, it is certainly worth eating more eggs. But just eating choline-rich foods won't do it. You also need vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B1, B12, and C to form acetylcholine in your body.

Supplementing choline has some truly remarkable effects. Recent research at Duke University Medical Center demonstrated that giving choline to pregnant female rats created the equivalent of "superbrains" in the offspring. The researchers fed pregnant rats choline halfway through their pregnancy. The infant rats of mothers who received choline had vastly superior brains with more neuronal connections and, consequently, improved learning ability and better memory recall, all of which persisted into old age. This research showed that giving choline helps restructure the brain for improved performance. Based on this and numerous other studies that support the brain-enhancing properties of choline, and the fact that choline has no known toxicity, supplementing with choline during pregnancy is likely to enhance an infant's brain development.

High doses of choline has also been proven to boost memory in adults. For example, Florence Safford of Florida International University gave forty-one people, ages fifty to eighty, 500 mg doses of choline every day for five weeks. The subjects reported having only half the number of incidents of memory lapses – such as forgetting names or losing things – as before. If you combine choline with other smart nutrients, such as pyroglutamate, you can achieve the same memory-boosting effect at lower doses.

In addition to making the memory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, choline is also a vital raw material for building nerve cells and receptor sites for neurotransmitters. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Dr. Richard Wurtman, piracetam and other nootropic drugs that stimulate the release of acetylcholine should always be taken with choline. Otherwise, if choline levels are depleted, your body will divert the choline needed to build vital nerve cells into the production of more acetylcholine.

Some forms of choline cross more easily from the blood into the brain, referred to as "crossing the blood-brain barrier." These forms include phosphatidyl choline and a precursor for choline called DMAE (short for dimethylaminoethanol), which we'll investigate below. Phosphatidyl choline, or PC for short, is also found in lecithin, a supplement widely available in granules or capsules. Pure choline imparts a fishy smell, so you may prefer to use lecithin or PC.

A form of choline called citicholine has been used as a precursor to acetylcholine. It also boosts levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. It has even been used to treat victims of head injuries and strokes, since it protects brain cells from ischemia (decreased blood flow). It has also been shown to improve memory and learning in the elderly.

Recently a more potent form of choline, derived from soy lecithin, has become available in the United States. Alpha-GPC (L-alpha-glyceryl-phosphorylcholine, or choline alfoscerate) has a long history of use in Europe. Research on more than 3,000 patients and volunteers has shown Alpha-GPC to be more effective than citicholine, and with very few side effects (fifteen reported cases of diarrhea, dizziness, insomnia, or restlessness that resolved when the product was stopped). Besides possessing all the positive effects of citicholine, Alpha-GPC has also been shown to enhance the release of human growth hormone, the master antiaging hormone. Research with athletes has shown that it improves coordination, balance, and endurance. A limiting factor in its use has been its unavailability. However, we have discovered a source, which is listed in the Resources. Their Web site carries further product information (www.futurefoods.com). The recommended dose is 500-1,500 mg daily.

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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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