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Can these 12 nutrients and supplements protect memory?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

A problem with memory is a big fear for many of us but is there anything that can be done to prevent it - or at least reduce the risk? Memory problems can be related to dehydration or anaemia, through to stress and worry which prevents us from concentrating well on a topic. Some memory loss and forgetfulness is common as we age, but with most of us living longer, one of our key worries is the risk of developing dementia.

If you are worried you or a family member is showing signs of this it's important to get medical help and a diagnosis. There are medications available to help slow progress of the condition.

If you just want to keep your mind as sharp as possible for as long as possible can vitamins or memory supplements help? We've looked at the evidence. Memory problems can take years to show fully, so it's sometimes difficult to know if the results of a 6-month study are a good indication of what happens long-term.

Before taking any supplement consult your GP to make sure it is suitable for you, or in case it interacts with a medication you are currently taking.

What we do know about dementia is that vascular dementia, which can happen alone or along with Alzheimer's disease, is down to circulation problems due to poor blood vessel health. So following a Mediterranean style diet can help reduce your risk of this type of dementia. A diet that's good for your heart is also good for your brain.

1. Eating fish

In a study of 260 people, the 160 people who ate fish 1-4 times a week had less shrinkage of their brain (as measured by MRI scan) 10 years later when compared to non-fish eaters. They also had a better 'working memory' (the sort we use more often in day-to-day activities). But the beneficial effect of fish was lost if fried. The study didn't separate white fish from oily fish, so the amounts of omega-3 fats being eaten was unknown.

Darker-fleshed fish, called oily fish, are rich in omega-3 fish oils called EPA and DHA. These are also available as supplements.

Some research has suggested a higher dietary intake of omega-3 may be related to a lower risk of age-related mental decline, whether or not you take them from supplements or from fish. A recent review suggested a benefit of fish oil supplements providing 1g or more of EPA and DHA daily.

"While some studies have suggested that taking omega-3 supplements could help support brain function as people get older, there is as yet insufficient evidence to support this claim," says Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK.

"The only way we can get to the bottom of this is through more research. Alzheimer's Research UK is currently supporting a clinical trial to investigate whether omega-3 fish oils could help support memory and thinking skills in a group of people who are at an increased risk of developing dementia," adds Carol.

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