Memory loss is a part of aging. It’s normal to start forgetting why you walked into a room in the first place. However, as we grow older we face the prospect of more severe conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions confront us with a prospect of spending our last years unable to recognize our homes, loved ones, or even ourselves. As in many other things taking better care of our health earlier in life offers the best hope of preventing, delaying, or at least lessoning the symptoms of memory loss. Foods that fight memory loss along with diet and exercise offer the best hope for keeping our wits sharp as we age.

In the following excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A. Duke and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain the multiple causes of memory loss, and explain what foods fight memory loss, and how they fight it.

Memory Loss

It may not be as likely as death and taxes, but memory loss is right up there on the list of things you’re probably going to have to deal with if you live long enough. You lose some brain cells here and there as you journey through life, and the natural chemicals that keep your brain well lubed and working properly diminish somewhat. So you’re apt to misplace your keys or forget a name now and again.

Then in your senior years, you face an increasing risk of developing dementia. Although it’s commonly associated with deteriorating memory, dementia is more than that. It can also change your behavior, personality, and ability to think clearly.

The most common cause of dementia in older people is Alzheimer’s disease, which is marked by brain shrinkage and the appearance of physical signs in the brain called plaques and tangles. Plaques are clumps of protein that develop between brain cells, and tangles are strands within the cells that become twisted. Experts still haven’t figured out what causes Alzheimer’s, but once you hit 65, your risk of developing it doubles every five years.

Another common cause of age-related memory problems is multi-infarct dementia, also called vascular dementia. This results from either a series of small clogs in the vessels that feed blood to the brain or the rupture of a vessel. Keeping your blood vessels healthy and resistant to stroke will reduce your risk of this memory robber (and possibly Alzheimer’s, too).

Healing Foods for Memory Loss

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do in the kitchen, garden, and dining room to help protect your memory. Here are some ideas…

Black-eyed peas. More and more, we learn that homocysteine contributes to many maladies, and Alzheimer’s may be one of them. According to the American Heart Association, this amino acid may be linked to coronary heart disease, strokes, and peripheral artery disease (a problem related to poor blood flow in the legs). Recently, an article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease—written by a team of top scientists from around the world concluded that “elevated plasma total homocysteine is a modifiable risk factor for development of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in older persons.” Fortunately, a variety of plant foods, including black-eyed peas, may offer some protection.

A study involving older men, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that high levels of homocysteine and low levels of folate and vitamins B6 and B12 indicated an increased risk of cognitive decline. A study reported in the Archives of Neurology found that people who consumed adequate amounts of folate (400 micrograms or more a day) had a 50 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Another study of 3,000 adults of all ages found that nearly 20 percent were deficient in B12, and memory loss can be one of the earliest symptoms of this deficiency.

As you can see, eating more foods rich in folate (a B vitamin also called folic acid) and vitamins B6 and B12 is among the most important changes you can make in your diet. In addition to black-eyed peas, other good sources of folate (from strongest to weakest) include lentils, avocados, sunflower seeds, spinach, asparagus, and orange juice. A mixed bean soup containing just 11 ⁄2 cups of black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, and pinto beans would provide more than the recommended daily intake of 400 micrograms.

Good food sources of B12 include clams, beef liver, fortified cereals, and trout. For B6 , they include baked potatoes, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds.


People who enjoy alcohol know about the double-edged sword of drinking: A little can be pleasant, but too much makes you feel terrible. The same goes for drinking and your cognitive health.

Light to moderate drinking has been associated with a lower risk of ischemic stroke—the most common kind, which is caused by blockages in blood vessels— and dementia. But if you drink more than a moderate amount, your risk of both these problems rises. Plus, in terms of your dayto-day memory, excessive drinking certainly isn’t going to help you stay sharp.

If you’re going to drink with an eye toward protecting your health, “moderate” means two drinks or less a day for guys and one a day for women. And from age 65 on, everyone should stick to one a day at most.

Plant oils. Some research in animals has linked diets higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats with improved cognitive performance. With this in mind, researchers reporting on a study in the Archives of Neurology gave 815 older folks a questionnaire about their food intake, then checked back with them a few years later. They found that a diet higher in saturated fat (found in meat, butter, and high-fat dairy foods) and trans fats (found in baked snack foods, margarine, and shortening) was associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. And in a study in the Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that saturated fat was linked to mild cognitive impairment (the stage of cognitive decline before dementia) and dementia. And it’s not surprising that another study shows that the Mediterranean diet—low in saturated fat and trans fat—lowers the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia by 33 percent.

This may be because eating trans fats decreases high-density lipoprotein (“good” cholesterol) and raises low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol), while eating unsaturated fats, such as those found in many plant oils, has an opposite, beneficial effect. Other research has shown a lower risk of Alzheimer’s among people taking cholesterol drugs called statins, so a healthful diet’s effects on your cholesterol may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

Try to get more of your fat calories from a moderate amount of fats like those in olive, canola, peanut, and sunflower oils and avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.

Citrus fruits. You just can’t say enough about the protection that plant foods offer your mind and body. Some researchers believe that the protein fragments in the brain plaques that form in Alzheimer’s create free radicals that cause damage in the brain. Antioxidant vitamins and other phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, found in fruits and vegetables may help protect your brain cells from damage.

A study involving more than 1,800 Japanese Americans found that drinking fruit and vegetable juice at least three times weekly was associated with a 76 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s risk compared with those who drank juices less than once a week. And a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging found that eating more fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s by 26 percent.

Another study, which followed 5,395 older Netherlands residents for several years, found that those with high intakes of vitamins C and E had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. The authors’ theory was that the antioxidants could reduce free radical–related DNA damage, death of cells, and plaque development in the brain. Another study of 4,700 people, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that those who took supplements of vitamins C and E were 64 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Supplements of vitamins C and E aren’t the ideal way to get your antioxidants, though. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of C, plus they have thousands of other components that work together to achieve powerful antioxidant effects. The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men; for vitamin E, it’s 15 milligrams for men and women. Here are good sources of vitamins C and E, measured in milligrams.

Vitamin C

1 papaya—188

1 cup orange juice—124

1 cup cooked broccoli—101

1 cup strawberries—98

1 kiwifruit—71

Vitamin E

1 cup canned tomato paste—11

1 ⁄4 cup sunflower seeds—8

1 ounce almonds—7

1 cup canned spinach—4

Grapes and tea. Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in grapes and red wine, has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. That may be why modest consumption of red wine can lower your risk of heart disease and may also help ward off Alzheimer’s. Population studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption—including wine—with a lower Alzheimer’s risk. Lab studies have shown that resveratrol reduces free radicals that result from a buildup of the “gunk” that creates cell-killing plaques in the brain.

Catechins, found in tea, may work synergistically with resveratrol—which means the sum adds up to more than the parts. Combining polyphenols may boost your protection from harm caused by plaques, according to a review in the European Journal of Pharmacology.

Drinking alcohol in excess has been linked to a greater Alzheimer’s risk, so more red wine is not better. But if you enjoy the occasional glass and have several cups of green tea daily, your refreshment habits may just give you some brain protection. In addition, grapes contain a host of other chemicals that may help protect you from Alzheimer’s, including some that may prevent those clumps in your brain, prevent blockages in your arteries, reduce inflammation and free radical damage, and protect brain cells.

In fact, a remarkable new study in the journal Experimental Gerontology showed the power of grapes to slow mental decline. Researchers studied 10 people with mild cognitive decline, giving half of them a “grape formulation” and half a placebo. After six months, people taking the placebo had “significant metabolic decline” in areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, while those getting the grapes had no decline. The study “suggests a protective effect of grapes” against Alzheimer’s disease, concluded the researchers.

Pomegranates. A recent 15-month study from an international team of researchers added a pomegranate extract to the diets of mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The extract increased nine separate “neuroprotective effects,” leading to less of the amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of the disease. “Long-term supplementation with pomegranates can attenuate Alzheimer’s Disease pathology,” concluded the researchers in the journal Oncotarget.

My database reveals that pomegranates contain salicylates, ellagic acid, polyphenols, and many other chemicals that act against inflammation, oxidation, and other harmful processes. Try some pomegranate juice today or dig into the seed-laden fruits themselves.

Sage. Part of the botanical name of this spice, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin for “to save.” If you want to save your memory, sage may help. Research with healthy young people found that those who took a sage oil extract performed better on a memory test an hour later than those who took a placebo.

In another study, albeit a small one, patients with Alzheimer’s took either a tincture of sage or a placebo for four months. Those in the sage group showed improved mental functioning.

Sage may have an effect by blocking enzymes that break down a particular neurotransmitter in the brain. This neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, appears in lower amounts in people with Alzheimer’s. Sage may also help protect your brain by discouraging the creation of free radicals and counteracting inflammation.

Include sage in recipes or simply add a teaspoon to a cup of hot water and let it steep for a few minutes, then strain and drink it.

Turmeric. Population studies have hinted that people in India may have a much lower incidence of Alzheimer’s because of the large amounts of turmeric they use in their cooking. This yellow-orange spice, derived from a root, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may counteract the inflammation and oxidation found in Alzheimer’s disease. It also, by the way, gives curry dishes a kick.

And now there’s new evidence showing just how effective turmeric—specifically, curcumin, its active ingredient—can be against mental decline.

In a recent 12-month study in the British Journal of Nutrition, 96 older people either took curcumin or a placebo—the placebo group had significant cognitive decline, but the cognitive powers of the curcumin group stayed the same. In a study from researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine, people who took curcumin boosted the power of their immune system to clear out amyloid-beta, the main component of Alzheimer plaques.

Researchers at the UCLA Longevity Center recruited 40 healthy middle-aged and elderly people (51 to 84 years old) for a study on curcumin and cognition. For 18 months. 21 people took a curcumin supplement twice daily, while 19 took a placebo. At the beginning and end of the study, the researchers conducted tests that measured short-term verbal and visual memory (remembering memorized words, and remembering images and their location on a page). They also performed a type of newly developed PET scan (FDDNP-PET) of eight areas of the participants’ brains—a scan that could measure the accumulation of toxic plaques (amyloid) and tangles (tau), two key signs of Alzheimer’s. The mind-blowing, mind-protecting results were published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

After 18 months, the people taking curcumin had significantly improved results on all the memory tests, on a test that measured focus and concentration, and on a test that measured mood (28 percent improvement in short-term verbal memory, 17 percent improvement in short-term visual recall, 24 percent improvement in focus and concentration, and 41 percent improvement in mood). The people taking the placebo had little or no improvement in any of the tests.

And in the areas of the brain that control memory, emotions, and decision-making—the amygdala and the hippocampus—the people taking curcumin had a decrease in amyloid and tau.

Blueberries. A basketful of evidence shows that blueberries can protect and improve memory. In a 6-month study from the University of Cincinnati, published in the Neurobiology of Aging, older adults with “cognitive complaints” who started to ingest blueberries had improved memory and fewer cognitive symptoms. In a study from scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, older people ingested either freeze-dried blueberries (equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries) or a placebo. The blueberry group improved in executive function—the ability to plan, organize, make decisions, and reach goals, including the “working memory” needed to do so. In a study from researchers in England, older people who took a blueberry concentrate had “significant increases in brain activity” compared to people taking a placebo—and better working memory. And several studies in children also show blueberries improve memory and executive function.

Bottom line: It’s possible that the powerful antioxidants in blueberries can help keep your brain healthy.

Celery. A recent scientific paper in the journal Experimental Gerontology reviews the anti-Alzheimer’s power of an anti-inflammatory plant compound call luteolin, pointing out that many studies show its “preventive and therapeutic value for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.” My database points to celery as a source of luteolin and many other components that could conceivably counteract risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including atherosclerosis, inflammation, and oxidative damage.

So toss some celery into your cart the next time you wheel through the produce section. And while you’re in the store, get some flaxseed to grind into your oatmeal, since flax also contains luteolin.

Garlic. There are dozens of scientific papers showing that garlic can fight memory loss and dementia—by improving memory, protecting neurons, boosting biochemicals that guard against the accumulation of amyloid-beta, and decreasing neuroinflammation. If you’re concerned about memory loss, it’s time to brush up on Italian, Asian, and other recipes that make liberal use of garlic.

Ginger. Although appearance-wise, it’s kind of a homely root, ginger contains more than two dozen antioxidants and two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds. A laboratory study suggests that ginger extract can slow brain inflammation triggered by plaques. It’s a long way between manipulating a few cells in a lab dish and protecting an actual brain, but it’s reasonable to think that ginger could offer something helpful when it comes to preserving your memory. Enjoy some candied ginger, brew up some tea with ginger root, or just use the spice liberally in your recipes.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

The herb ginkgo may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities that make it useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. It may also help neurotransmitters in the brain work properly. While some research has found a modest benefit for Alzheimer’s, ginkgo may increase your risk of bleeding. This risk may be higher if you’re taking aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or other blood-thinning drugs.

For additional advice on proven natural remedies for common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from

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