Memory Maximizers: Brain-Boosting Power of Omega-3; Musical Instruments’ Effect on the Brain

NEW RESEARCH ATTESTS TO THE BRAIN-BOOSTING POWERS OF OMEGA-3

For people who are interested in maintaining their brainpower in older age, yet another study has added to the case for consuming cold-water fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids. According to a report published in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, individuals with high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids appear to experience greater blood flow in areas of the brain involved in memory and learning, and do better on neurocognitive tests. The researchers looked at the blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in a group of 166 participants and used single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, to measure the blood perfusion in their brains while they engaged in various cognitive activities. Participants also completed an array of neurocognitive tests. A comparison between participants with high levels of the two omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and others who had low levels revealed that the high-omega-3 participants enjoyed significantly better cognitive performance. “This study opens the door to the possibility that relatively simple dietary changes could favorably impact cognitive function,” the co-author of the research said.

Good food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, fresh or frozen tuna, anchovy, crab, rainbow trout or shrimp (be sure to restrict consumption of fish that might contain mercury). Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, dark-green leafy vegetables, and foods such as eggs that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. If you prefer to take fish-oil supplements, look for well-known brands that combine both DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, and avoid any that indicate mercury on the label. A daily dose of 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids is sufficient. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting any new supplement.

MORE PROOF THAT PLAYING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT SHARPENS THE BRAIN

The brain undergoes immediate changes in response to a single experience of picking up an instrument and trying to produce a specific musical tone, a new study suggests. The findings indicate the astonishing plasticity of the brain, which is able to rewire itself after just one challenging effort, and suggest that musical training might help older individuals seeking ways to avoid cognitive decline. Researchers studied the brain waves of a small group of adults as they listened to the recorded sounds of a bell ringing. Half of the group was asked to play a bell with a mallet in an attempt to recreate the sounds they had heard. The other half of participants merely pushed a computer key to hear a repeat of the bell recording. Both groups then listened to the bell recording once again. A comparison of the two groups of participants revealed that those who actively tried to reproduce the note they had heard using a bell and mallet had experienced immediate and significant alterations in their brain activity that indicated improvements in listening and hearing skills, while the computer group’s brain waves indicated no change. “It has been hypothesized that the act of playing music requires many brain systems to work together, such as the hearing, motor, and perception systems,” said the senior author of the study, which was published May 24, 2017 in the Journal of Neuroscience. “This study was the first time we saw direct changes in the brain after one session, demonstrating that the action of creating music leads to a strong change in brain activity.” Earlier research has suggested that people who play a musical instrument in older adulthood are 36 percent less likely to experience cognitive impairment or dementia.

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