Tip-of-the-tongue moments. Slip-of-the-mind situations. Seriously, where did I put those keys?
It’s totally normal to feel like your memory is failing as you get older, but don’t panic. It’s still possible to still learn, store and recall plenty of information. Here, we ask four experts to share their top recommendations for nourishing our brains.
Wendy Warner, M.D., founder of Medicine in Balance, an integrative healthcare practice located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Ginkgo biloba (one of the oldest living tree species in the world) and ginseng have been found to help enhance memory with their neuroprotective and antioxidant effects, explains Dr. Warner. Noting the brain works best with adequate nourishment, Dr. Warner says both Ginkgo biloba and ginseng can play a role in increasing blood circulation to the brain, thus boosting its function.
Also on her list: Bacopa monnieri for its antioxidant capacity, Rhodiola rosea for its neuroprotective and antioxidant effects, and licorice (Glycirrhiza glabra) for its ability to increase circulation in the central nervous system.
Dr. Warner recommends regular stress management techniques like yoga, qigong and tai chi as well, noting that “these all help lower inflammation and cortisol (an inflammatory stress hormone) and have been shown to improve memory.”
Heather Houskeeper, certified herbalist, long-distance hiker and author
When Houskeeper ventures out into the wild, she’s able to spot and identify hundreds of medicinal herbs, including her favorite memory boosters. Her top five includes Ginkgo bilobo as well as:
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), which supports healthy blood flow to the brain. It can be enjoyed through food, tea, or diffused as aromatherapy.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), traditionally ingested as food or tea, which can support mental alertness, focus, and clarity of mind. Mix ashwagandha powder with warm milk, hot water, or broth.
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), which is rich in antioxidants and supports cerebral circulation. Enjoy this delicious and fragrant herb as tea up to three times per day, use in cooking or take as tincture.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), which is a restorative herb that can support alertness and mental clarity. Also popularly used as a tea, tincture or extract for up to 14 days at a time.
Annie Fenn, MD, physician and founder of BrainHealthKitchen.com, which focuses on reducing cognitive decline with age
“Having a better memory now and in the future means taking care of your brain and making the right lifestyle choices to slow down the aging process,” says Dr. Fenn, noting that one the biggest lifestyle choices we make each day is what we choose to eat.
Foods high in antioxidants — like those rich in Vitamins C, E, Beta Carotene and Selenium — have been shown to slow age-related memory loss. Think: berries, grapes (which contain resveratrol, a memory-boosting compound), beets, broccoli, almonds, avocados, carrots, eggs, salmon, onions and dark, leafy greens.
Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, which can increase your “bad” cholesterol and lower your “good” cholesterol. Studies find high cholesterol diets can increase the risk of memory loss, among other cognitive functions.
Whole grains and legumes (like cracked wheat, whole-grain couscous and lentils) are complex carbohydrates. They boost your brain by providing a steady and sustained supply of glucose, and are high in folate (the memory-boosting B vitamin).
And finally, don’t forget to include culinary herbs like curcumin, rosemary, saffron, oregano and mint. They all help support brain health, especially saffron, which contains a potent constituent, called crocin, that is associated with slowing cognitive decline in human and animal studies.
Thomas M Holland, MD, Rush Institute for Healthy Aging
And while we’re at it, don’t cheat yourself on slumber. Insufficient sleep can result in a variety of cognitive problems, including memory loss. If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common sleep disorder condition that affects breathing, don’t ignore it.
High-quality sleep is key to reactivating memories, especially recalling people’s names whom you’ve recently met, found Northwestern University researchers. Still other experts have found a strong association between sleep and the formation of memories. Strive for uninterrupted and deep sleep:
- The ideal amount for most adults is between seven and nine hours a night.
- Wind down before bed with a consistent routine (like reading, stretching, or meditation).
- Keep your room cool (somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and dark.
- Shut down all electronics.
- Avoid late-day caffeine, alcohol and spicy, heavy meals too close to bedtime.
Treating OSA is important for improving both sleep and brain health, says Dr. Holland, explaining that “impaired sleep can lead to biochemical processes that can impact memory and cognition.”