Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Memory loss is a major health concern, only behind heart disease for the main issues among elderly individuals.
While it us unavoidable to have some moments of forgetfulness every now and again, a consistently poor memory is a huge issue with aging.
Although genetics definitely play a role in memory loss, diet and lifestyle also have a significant influence on brain function.
Here are some evidence-based supplements to help prevent memory loss.
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements are a rich source of essential fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
DHA in particular plays a key role in maintaining the structure and function of the brain and is pivotal for its development throughout life. In brain cells, it makes up ~25% of the total fat content, and ~90% of the omega-3 fat content.
Interestingly, DHA is particularly prevalent within the brain regions that are associated with memory and attention, including the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus.
For this reason, many studies have found that a decline in DHA concentrations is highly correlated to cognitive decline in both healthy individuals and patients with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimers disease .
Further, consuming DHA supplements has resulted in improvements in memory, thinking skills, and reaction times in people who had low DHA intakes .
Other evidence reports that higher DHA intakes are inversely correlated with the relative risk of Alzheimer's disease .
It is clearly of great importance that people aim to maintain normative values of DHA that are adequate for optimal brain development and function.
The mechanisms by which DHA acts are not fully known, but is proposed to be due to its incorporation into the neuronal membranes, thus promoting neurogenesis (development of nervous tissue) and the maintenance of membrane fluidity (structure of cell wall). In turn, these actions can improve the activity of neurotransmitters  and better regulate energy uptake to the brain .
Creatine is a natural substance, found mainly in muscle cells and the brain, that plays an important role in energy metabolism.
In the brain, much of the ATP production stems from the breakdown of phosphocreatine into creatine, releasing energy in the process.
Thus the amount of phosphocreatine available to the brain for energy use may be important for its optimal functioning and could be a part of one’s ability to have good memory abilities .
Adding to this, creatine has been shown to be neuroprotective in various neurological conditions due to its ability to increase the creatine pool and availability in the brain .
In addition, interestingly in animal models the deletion of creatine kinase, the enzyme which degrades phosphocreatine to creatine to release energy, can slow the learning of cognitive tasks .
In regards to creatine supplementation, it has been shown to reduce mental fatigue and decrease task-responsive oxygen demand to brain regions during various cognitive performance tasks, showing a greater efficiency of energy production .
This suggests that creatine supplementation is acting to reduce fluctuations in oxygen demand from brain activation, possibly by altering rates of ATP synthesis in the mitochondria .
A scientific review concluded that creatine supplementation can reduce neuronal loss and prevent neurological diseases .
Vegetarians may also want to note that creatine supplementation is likely more beneficial for them as they do not consume creatine through animal products. Supplementation in this dietary group increasing performance in memory tests by 25–50% .
People carrying the apoE 14 gene, a known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, are also related to lower creatine levels and memory issues .
3. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement derived from the Ginkgo biloba tree.
It contains active components such as various flavone glycosides (quercetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin) and terpene lactones (ginkgolides A, B, and C and bilobalide).
Ginkgo biloba is thought to act predominantly on the parieto-occipital region of the brain which is strongly implicated in memory and cognition .
In addition, ginkgo biloba may relieve cerebral vasospasm and ischemic damage by reversing any pathological dysregulations of nitric oxide metabolism .
It has been proposed that ginkgo biloba can improve microcirculation and at least partly reverse cerebral vasospasm .
A human study is also available which confirms this can help memory and thinking skills in healthy people .
Another large study also found that treatment with ginkgo biloba significantly improved cognitive deficits in subjects with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia .
However, not all studies have found these benefits and the literature in this area is fairly limited to make any conclusive statements .
Phosphatidylserine is the major acidic phospholipid class in cell membranes, that accounts for ~15% of the phospholipids in the human cerebral cortex region of the brain.
It is a cofactor for a variety of enzymes and is thought to be important in cell excitability and communication.
In humans, phosphatidlylserine is located within cell membranes where it serves many functions including the regulation of receptors, enzymes, ion channels, and signaling molecules. In other words, it transports substances in and out of cells by influencing the interaction between synaptic vesicles and the target plasma membrane .
This regulates the release of acetylcholine, dopamine and adrenaline through neuroendocrine responses.
In the plasma membrane, phosphatidlylserine also forms part of protein docking sites necessary for the activation of several key signaling pathways that stimulate neuronal survival, growth, and synapse formation .
Importantly, abnormalities in phosphatidlserine metabolism is linked to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease .
Human studies are available that conclude 300mg of phosphatidylserine a day helps to prevent age-related declines in cognitive function , and up to 400mg of phosphatidylserine supplementation per day improves thinking and memory skills .
Frequent memory loss is a major issue that often comes as part of the aging process.
Certain supplements have shown to help slow down natural brain aging and improve memory skills, including fish oil, creatine, ginkgo biloba, and phosphatidylserine.
In addition to supplementation, it is advised that people consume a healthy diet and avoid the intake of processed foods to avoid accelerating aging processes.