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Best Bets for Memory Sharpening?

What do you think of Prevagen, a product being promoted for memory repair?

Answer (Published 5/10/2011)

I wouldn't depend on Prevagen to aid memory or "boost brainpower" as its promoters claim. I've seen no compelling, independent evidence that it helps with either. If you're concerned about memory loss, some degree of which is normal with aging, I would focus on more proven protective strategies. Keep your mind active by reading newspapers and books, doing word puzzles, playing card games or musical instruments, participating in ongoing education, and learning a new language.

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In addition, accumulating scientific evidence suggests that physical exercise helps keep your mind sharp and your memory from slipping. A study at the University of Pittsburgh found that brain volume increased in areas associated with memory in seniors who took 40-minute walks three days a week for one year. And a study in mice at Columbia University found that exercise triggered blood flow and cell growth in brain areas linked to age-related memory decline.

Other evidence suggests that staying socially connected lowers risk of dementia and age-related memory loss. I believe that social and intellectual engagement is highly protective and an important strategy for healthy aging.

As for supplements to help memory, these are your best bets:

  • Ginkgo biloba is a well-studied botanical remedy with a reputation for enhancing memory. It may also slow the progression of dementia in early onset Alzheimer's disease. Look for products standardized to 24 percent ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpene lactones; the dose is 60 to 120 milligrams twice a day with food. (Ginkgo may cause mild stomach irritation.)
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine (also called ALC or ALCAR) is an amino acid derivative that has improved cognitive performance and memory in Alzheimer's patients in several clinical trials. The dose is 500 to1,000 milligrams twice a day on an empty stomach. ALCAR is nontoxic, but expensive. (It is combined with another beneficial natural product, alpha-lipoic acid, in Weil Juvenon, a product that I recommend.)
  • Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a naturally occurring lipid component of cell membranes that is considered a brain nutrient. Human studies have shown positive effects on memory and concentration: PS may improve cognitive function in normal adults and may help reverse age-related cognitive decline. These supplements are fairly expensive. The starting dose is 100 milligrams two or three times a day; if improvements occur after a month or more, it may be possible to take a lower maintenance dose. Like the other supplements listed above, PS is nontoxic.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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