Natural Mind and Memory Boosters

Phosphatidylserine: The Memory Molecule

Known as "the memory molecule," phosphatidylserine (PS) can genuinely give some oomph to the brain. A member of the family of phospholipids, it is essential for the health of the liver, immune system, nerves, and brain. It is especially plentiful in the brain, and there's increasing evidence that supplementing with it can improve memory, mood, stress resistance, learning, and concentration. The secret to the memory-boosting properties of PS is probably due to its ability to help brain cells communicate. This is because PS is the main component of the "docking port" for neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine.

While the body can make its own PS, we still rely on receiving some directly from diet, which makes it a semi-essential nutrient. The trouble is that modern diets are deficient in PS unless you happen to eat a lot of organ meats, which can supply about 50 mg a day. A typical vegetarian diet is unlikely to provide even 10 mg a day, so a supplement is usually needed.

PS is particularly helpful for people with learning difficulties or age-related memory decline. In one study, supplementing with PS improved the subjects' memories to the level of people twelve years younger. Dr. Thomas Crook from the Memory Assessment Clinic in Bethesda, Maryland, gave 149 people with age-associated memory impairment a daily dose of 300 mg of PS or a placebo. When tested after twelve weeks, the ability of those taking PS to match names to faces (a recognized measure of memory and mental function) vastly improved.

How it works: Increases acetylcholine production and improves reception.

Positive effects: Improves memory, cognitive function, concentration, coordination, and reaction time; improves communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Cautions: None.

Dosage: 400-1,000 mg daily.

How it works: Building material for neuronal membranes and neurotransmitter receptor sites.

Positive effects: Improves mood, memory, stress resistance, learning, and concentration.

Cautions: None.

Dosage: 100-300 mg daily. Omega-3 Fats: Why Fish Is Good for the Brain

As your grandmother may have told you, fish is good for the brain. But she may not have understood that the mind-boosting powers of fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are derived from the essential fats they contain. As we've already seen, EPA and DHA, found mainly in fatty fish and also in flaxseed, hemp, and walnut oils, are omega-3 fats that uniquely feed the brain.

DHA, more than EPA, is highly concentrated in our brains and nervous systems, and improves not only learning and age-related memory but also mood. The higher your blood levels of DHA, the higher your levels of acetylcholine and serotonin are likely to be. The reason for this is that DHA builds receptor sites and improves reception. According to Dr. J. R. Hibbeln, who noticed that fish eaters are less prone to depression, "It's like building more serotonin factories, instead of just increasing the efficiency of the serotonin you have."

In one study, when people with bipolar or manic depression were given 9.6 mg of omega-3 oils over a four-month period, they experienced substantial improvement. DHA has also been found to improve dyslexia (difficulty reading) and dyspraxia (clumsiness). Dr. Jaqueline Stordy of the University of Surrey found that DHA improves the reading ability and behavior of adults with dyslexia.

EPA is proving to be the more important omega-3 fat for treating schizophrenia. While not directly involved in building the receptor sites, EPA makes prostaglandins – unique information molecules that also tune up the brain and promote healthy brain function. So EPA is a fat that is more involved in the transmission of information, while DHA is more involved in the reception, which is why we need both.

An ideal intake of EPA and DHA is in the order of 500-1,000 mg a day, or double if you have one of the mental health problems we've discussed above. Most fish oils provide about equal amounts of EPA and DHA, so your actual DHA requirement is half this – 250-500 mg. Alternatively, you can eat a 3-ounce serving of fish, preferably mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, or salmon, three times a week.

The most concentrated supplements provide 700 mg per capsule. A good-quality cod liver oil supplement can provide up to 400 mg of EPA and DHA in total but should not be taken in higher doses because of its high vitamin A content. (While important, this fat-soluble vitamin should not be taken in excess.) For vegetarians, flaxseed oil is the most direct source of omega-3 fats. You need the equivalent of either a level tablespoon of flaxseeds or a tablespoon of flaxseed oil, also available in capsules. Since each capsule usually provides 1,000 mg of the oil, you will need eight of these to get the equivalent of a tablespoon of flaxseed oil. Or use algae-based DHA capsules.

Since these fragile oils are subject to oxidation, both in the bottle and in your brain, you need to accompany this with the antioxidant and fat-soluble vitamin E, 400-800 IU daily.

The omega-6 fatty acids, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) and LA (linoleic acid), are also important for brain function. The recommended ratio of the omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1. The former are abundant in our diets, in vegetable oils, meats, and dairy products, producing a ratio of 20:1 or 30:1, in favor of omega-6 oils. Thus, we generally have a relative deficiency in omega-3 over omega-6 oils. Nonetheless, when necessary to supplement, we recommend evening primrose oil, borage oil, pumpkin oil, or hemp oil, supplying 1,000 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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