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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 13, 2002

Some foods may help brain function properly

By Amy Tousman

Q.Although I am only in my 40s, I sometimes experience short memory lapses. I sometimes start a sentence and forget what I was saying. Are there any foods that improve memory?

A. Believe it or not, memory lapses can occur at any age, but become more frequent in our later years.

The brain functions best when the body is well nourished. Certain components in foods may play an important role.

The March issue of Environmental Nutrition reported that "eating a heart-healthy low-cholesterol diet helps maintain good functioning of your brain. Too much cholesterol in the blood causes inflammation of blood vessels around your brain. According to researchers at Tufts University, this may affect long-term memory and speed the progression of Alzheimer's disease."

There may be some truth to the old adage that fish makes you smarter. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help protect the brain cells from inflammation. Controlling inflammation may help maintain the mental processes related to thinking and reasoning. Fish, flax seed and walnuts contain a lot of omega-3s.

Fruits and vegetables may play a role in memory. The brain uses lots of oxygen, but has little protection from the byproducts of oxygen metabolism. These byproducts can wreak havoc on healthy brain cells. Fruits and vegetables contain substances called antioxidants that protect the body from these byproducts.

A recent study at Tufts showed that rats fed extracts of blueberries, strawberries or spinach slowed their decline in mental function as they aged. These foods are high in antioxidants. Those who ate the blueberries also improved their coordination and balance. (Keep in mind, however, that what applies to rats does not always apply to people.)

The herb ginko biloba also is a potent antioxidant. It seems to be a memory booster in older people who already suffer some intellectual impairment. These benefits have not been shown in younger folks.

Although research on nutrition and memory is still in the early stages, we do know that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish keeps your body healthy. These same foods may help memory by keeping your brain healthy. In addition, learning new skills and stimulating your brain with crossword puzzles and other activities are proven to help keep your mind sharp.

Amy Tousman is a registered dietitian at Straub Clinic & Hospital Inc. and a member of the Hawai'i Dietetic Association.

Send questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice. Articles and photos submitted to The Advertiser may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.