Memory: Supplements against small forgetfulness. Which ones and when are beneficial?

Memory: Supplements against small forgetfulness.  Which ones and when are beneficial?


In Spain, 4 out of 10 people between 18 and 74 years old consume some type of dietary supplement. Almost a quarter of all these people turn to these products in the hope of improving their memory. And they often do it without professional advice and letting themselves be carried away by publicity. How can we not do it when we notice, with age or stress – or both – that we increasingly forget things or find it difficult to concentrate? If we know that there are nutrients that help the brain function, we take a pill that includes them and that’s it. The problem is that things are not that simple. Are these supplements really effective? It depends.

“There are a series of nutrients that are essential for the proper functioning of the brain, either because they are part of its structure or because they are involved in different metabolic functions,” says María José Alonso Osorio, collaborating professor of the Health Sciences Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). It turns out that “a balanced diet already provides these nutrients.” To give an example: a 70-gram sardine has 190 milligrams of phosphorus, ninety times more than one of these capsules.

Alonso explains that a good diet for the brain has to be rich in fish –especially blue, which provides more omega-3 fatty acids–, dried fruits and seeds, fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, olive oil and limit Maximize saturated fat and alcohol.

A 2017 meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trial studies on healthy older adults, published in ‘Advances in Nutrition’, concluded that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had better cognition.

But when the diet is inadequate, there is stress or there is a decrease in the absorption of nutrients due to physiological causes or aging, there may be a decrease in some brain functions. In these cases “these supplements can be beneficial,” says Alonso. In any case, the expert emphasizes that a healthy person with normal cognitive capacity and a correct diet will not improve their memory by consuming this type of product.

And then there is another factor to take into account, that of the quality of the supplements themselves. There are well designed ones, based on scientific knowledge of the activity of nutrients and appropriate doses. But there are also those that contain nutrients that, being ‘good’ in themselves, are ineffective because the doses are not. “And ineffective at best,” warns the specialist.

The right vitamins

If you need to consume these types of supplements, what vitamins should they have to be effective? All B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and C, carotenes, polyphenols from certain plants and minerals such as Zn, Se and Mn, can play a beneficial role in preventing neurodegeneration and could reduce neuronal damage caused by free radicals in the body when there are not enough antioxidants to eliminate them. There are also studies that suggest the “protective effect” on the brain of plants such as turmeric or Bacopa and Centella extracts.

One of the causes of the notable consumption of dietary supplements in Spain is the increase in life expectancy, up to 86 years in women and just over 80 in men. “There is evidence that shows that elderly people are at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, which negatively affects physical and mental capacity,” says the UOC professor.

Many older people worry when they begin to experience normal age-related forgetfulness. What to do about this situation? Consult your family doctor to rule out cognitive impairment that requires pharmacological treatment and medical follow-up, since treatment in the early stages is essential for a good evolution. Alonso gives similar advice for people who suffer from normal age-related forgetfulness or inattention due to stress or intellectual overwork. “You should consult with a professional, who will help you choose the most appropriate food supplement for your situation and will give you the necessary dietary and lifestyle instructions.”

The expert warns that the wrong or excessive intake of these supplements can cause adverse effects. «There is also another risk: many people take different supplements at the same time without taking into account that they may interact with each other or may contain one or more nutrients of the same class, leading to an excess that can be harmful. For example, an excess of antioxidants will cause the opposite effect of what is intended.



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