It's a scientific fact that what we eat affects our ability to reason, recall information and even our emotions. Clinical studies have proven the benefits of many whole food nutrients to improve and protect memory. Below, I've listed the most effective brain nutrients and the foods that contain them.
Foods for better memory
- sunflower seeds
- Brussels sprouts
- jalapeno peppers
- cayenne peppers
- chili peppers
- tabasco peppers
- cucumber skin
- black currants
The vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal) not only vital to brain development during pregnancy and infancy, it protects the brains of adults into old age and improves memory. According to a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, “Positive effects of vitamin B-6 supplementation were only found with respect to memory, especially concerning long-term memory. … The general conclusion is that vitamin B-6 supplementation improves storage of information modestly but significantly.”1
Vitamin B6's ability to improve recall is not surprising when you consider that both past and recent research has proven that it's a deficiency of this nutrient (and other B vitamins) that leads to lowered cognitive performance. Also, “subclinical deficiencies”2 of vitamin B6 and other brain nutrients are considered “relatively common in the general population and in older adults in particular.”2 So, obviously, avoiding these deficiencies is key to improving and protecting your memory.
Another important brain nutrient, Phosphatidylcholine (choline), has been found to have an anti-aging effect on the brain, which, of course, helps prevent memory problems. Studies have demonstrated that populations with “higher concurrent choline intake”3 performed better on cognitive tests. And “higher remote choline intake”3 was associated with little to no white-matter hyperintensity (WMH). High WMH is associated with impaired cognitive functions and Alzheimer's disease.
Another study, using mice with dementia, demonstrated that phosphatidylcholine has the ability to improve memory and generally increase brain choline and acetylcholine levels to or above that of the normal control mice. BUT “in normal mice, phosphatidylcholine treatment did not affect memory or acetylcholine concentrations in spite of the great increase in choline concentrations in the three brain regions.”4 This suggests that phosphatidylcholine is only useful for treating dementia and memory loss when there is a deficiency.
Capsaicin, the active component of hot peppers, is another memory improving nutrient. A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology showed that capsaicin could overcome the brain damage in Mongolian gerbil test subjects to improve “ischemia-induced memory impairment”5. Overall, the researchers demonstrated “that capsaicin protected gerbil's brain from global ischemia. ... These findings contribute to develop new exogenous [capsaicin receptor] agonists as valuable targets for therapy against brain injury.”5 And while scientists search for ways to get the same effect from mass-produced chemicals, you can simply eat chiles, cayenne and other tongue searing peppers to improve your memory and protect your brain.
The flavonoid compound Fisetin is rarely mentioned in health or nutrition circles, but it's importance to arterial health and cell function cannot be overstated. Fisetin prevents amyloid plaque formation around the synapses in aging brains, while building long-term memory strength. FYI, amyloid plaque is found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Fisetin also protects nerve cells from damage during stroke, while also maintaining critical energy production in the brain. An animal study published in the PNAS also demonstrated that “the flavonoid fisetin activates ERK [(extracellular signal-regulated kinases)] and induces cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) phosphorylation in rat hippocampal slices, facilitates long-term potentiation in rat hippocampal slices, and enhances object recognition in mice. Together, these data demonstrate that the natural product fisetin can facilitate long-term memory, and therefore it may be useful for treating patients with memory disorders.”6
Fellow flavonoids Anthocyanins are more popular with the scientific community and media, and widely considered a necessity for building a better brain. There have been hundreds of studies concerning anthocyanins and memory over the years, but the following two stand out, for me:
The study 'Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory', was one of the first to suggest that the high levels polyphenolic (flavonoids) and their high levels of antioxidant activity was what gave certain fruits and vegetables their brain boosting reputation. “Our laboratory found that various fruit and vegetable extracts, particularly blueberry (BB), were effective in reversing age-related deficits in neuronal signaling and behavioral parameters following 8 weeks of feeding, possibly due to their polyphenolic content.”7
Another study, published in the journal Menopause, proved that “anthocyanins improve learning and memory of rats with estrogen deficit caused by ovariectomy.”8 Whether or not a significant decrease in estrogen can negatively affect information recall and other cognitive abilities in humans is still considered a very controversial topic. This is probably why, six years later, there are still no definitive human studies to prove whether the answer is yea or nay.
In any case, like fisetin, anthocyanins are readily available to those who regularly eat colorful whole foods. In fact, pretty much every food listed above is chock-full of anthocyanins and other flavonoids, IF you don't toss the skin. Flavonoids evolved as a protective measure for plants, so, they tend to be more concentrated in the skin of fruits and vegetables. Something to think about before reaching for the vegetable peeler. Also keep in mind that the foods I've listed above are just a starting point. There are plenty of foods containing each of those nutrients. Do your own research and try as many as you can find at the grocer. Mix it up! The more colors of the rainbow you consume, the better for your brain, overall health and well-being.
1 Deijen JB, van der Beek EJ, et al. “Vitamin B-6 supplementation in elderly men: effects on mood, memory, performance and mental effort”. Psychopharmacology, 1992. Web. November 23, 2015
2 Calvaresi, Eva; Bryan, Janet. “B Vitamins, Cognition, and Aging”. The Gerontologist, September 5, 2000. Web. November 23, 2015
3 Poly, Coreyann; Massaro, Joseph M.;Seshadri, Sudha, et al. “The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2011. Web. November 24, 2015
4 Chung SY, Moriyama T, Uezu E, Uezu K, et al. “Administration of phosphatidylcholine increases brain acetylcholine concentration and improves memory in mice with dementia”. The Journal of Nutrition, June 1995. Web. November 24, 2015
5 Pergorini S, Braida D, Verzoni C, et al. “Capsaicin exhibits neuroprotective effects in a model of transient global cerebral ischemia in Mongolian gerbils”. British Journal of Pharmacology, March 2005. Web. November 24, 2015
6 Maher P, Akaishi T, Abe K. “Flavonoid fisetin promotes ERK-dependent long-term potentiation and enhances memory”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), September 6, 2006. Web. November 24, 2015
7 Andres-Lacueva C, Shukitt-Hale B, Galli RL, et al. “Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory”. Nutritional Neuroscience, April 1, 2005. Web. November 25, 2015
8 Varadinova MG1, Docheva-Drenska DI, Boyadjieva NI. “Effects of anthocyanins on learning and memory of ovariectomized rats.” Menopause, March-April 2009. Web. November 25, 2015
L.J. Devon. “Natural flavonol compound in fruits and vegetables prevents Alzheimer's disease”. Natural News, February 4, 2014. Web. November 25, 2015
Yarlagadda, Atmaram; Clayton, Anita H. “Blood Brain Barrier: The Role of Pyridoxine”. Psychiatry (Edgmont), August 2007. Web. November 23, 2015
Carpenter, Siri. “Does estrogen protect memory?” American Psychological Association, January 2001. Web. November 2015.