Memory Enhancers That May Be Unsafe
Before adding any memory supplements to your diet, have a pharmacist check for potential interactions with any drugs or supplements you're taking, advises Lausier.
"And, remember that 'natural' isn't always safe," she says. "When you think about nature, you often think of beautiful and harmless. But think about a lion and a wildebeest -- that's nature, too."
- Bacopa. Used for millennia in India, bacopa is an Ayurvedic herb that shows some promise for memory problems, says Lausier. But it is an example of a memory supplement that carries a higher risk of drug interactions. For this reason, she doesn't recommend using it until further study is conducted.
- DHEA. A hormone that declines with age, DHEA has garnered lots of interest. Taken long-term or in high doses, however, it may increase the risk for certain types of cancer, as well as other serious side effects.
As you evaluate other potential memory supplements, keep in mind that the FDA does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. It treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.
This makes it harder for you to assess their strength, purity, and safety. Fugh-Berman advises doing your own research on effectiveness and adverse effects, using reliable, unbiased sources.
Changing Your Lifestyle, Enhancing Your Memory
While there is no specific diet to prevent Alzheimer's, studies have shown that a healthy diet may help lower the risk. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's, and may even help prolong life in people with Alzheimer's. The Mediterranean diet has very little red meat. The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, and nuts, with moderate amounts of dairy, fish, and poultry. Olive oil is an important source of healthy fats. Moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly wine, may also lower the risk of Alzheimer's. However, doctors don't recommend that people start drinking alcohol to prevent disease.
Researchers speculate that there may be a small protective quality of caffeine from the risk of dementia. But more research needs to be done in this area. In the meantime, Lausier recommends the "common sense" steps for enhancing your memory, such as not smoking and avoiding too much caffeine or alcohol. "Some of these changes may make more difference in the outcome than a lot of expensive drugs or supplements."