Memory Maximizers: Homocysteine & Mental Acuity; Nuts & Cognitive Performance

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Lower Homocysteine to Protect Your Mental Acuity

High blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which generally increase with age, have been linked with many negative health effects, including poor memory and cognition, and greater risk for dementia. Research suggests that over time, elevated homocysteine may disturb normal brain processes, lead to the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins, lead to lesions in the brain’s white matter, and promote the death of brain cells and brain atrophy. However, studies also suggest that B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, lifestyle changes, and other measures may help prevent a buildup of this potentially destructive byproduct of metabolic processes.

An important meta-analysis of eight studies published several years ago looked at the effects of homocysteine on risk for dementia. The meta-analysis involved more than 8,600 adults ranging in age from 47 to 81 whose homocysteine levels were measured and dementia incidence recorded, according to a paper published in the July 2011 issue of Alzheimer’s Dementia. Over a study period lasting five years or longer, the researchers found both a positive association between serum homocysteine and dementia, and also a 20 percent reduction in the risk of dementia in participants who had been treated with the B vitamins folic acid and B12. Another meta-analysis of 11 studies published the same year in the September issue of Nutrition found evidence that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements also reduced serum homocysteine levels. Other suggestions for lowering homocysteine:

➧ See your medical care provider to discuss whether you need a test to determine your current homocysteine level, if you have not had one recently. Ask if you should consider vitamin B or ome-ga-3 supplementation.

➧ Eat a healthy, low-fat diet high in nuts and cold-water fish (good sources of omega-3 fatty acids), folate (found in fortified cereals, asparagus, leafy green vegetables, and most beans), vitamin B6 (found in chickpeas, chicken, potatoes, fortified breakfast cereals, and bananas), and vitamin B12 (found in liver and other organ meats, dairy products, beef, and certain fish).

➧ Avoid excessive consumption of coffee and alcohol. Research suggests too much of either can increase homocysteine levels.

➧ Manage health conditions that can elevate homocysteine, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, and psoriasis.

Study: Eat Nuts for Better Cognitive Performance

Including frequent snacks of nuts in your diet may be a good way to boost your cognitive performance, according to a large study published in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. The researchers followed approximately 15,500 women aged 70 and older for six years, interviewing them about their diets and conducting periodic tests of cognitive abilities such as attention and memory recall. They found that those participants who ate five or more handfuls of nuts per week performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not eat any nuts. The difference in their scores was equivalent to about two years of age-related cognitive decline. “Higher nut intake may be related to better overall cognition at older ages, and could be an easily-modifiable public health intervention,” the researchers concluded.

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