(09/11/12) - Forget where you put your keys? Have trouble remembering little things? A little forgetfulness is one of those things we consider part of getting older. But it may not have to be.
From what you eat, to strokes you don't even know you have had, there are things that could be hurting your memory.
A simple, but memorable creature, the sea slug, is helping neuroscientist Dr. Jack Byrne study how memory works. For example, the slug learns to associate food with touch.
So, Dr. Byrne says, after being hand-fed, when anything hits its lips, "it will start to bite in response."
The idea here is to find out which genes and proteins are involved in the memory and learning processes. "We can apply that knowledge to help individuals that have learning disabilities."
There are also plenty of things we may be doing to hurt our brains that have little to do with genes and proteins. A UCLA study found sugar could decrease brain activity. Mice given sugar had a harder time getting through a maze than mice given sugar and omega-3s. Omega-3s are fats, found in things like walnuts, salmon, and soybeans. Adding omega-3s to your diet could protect you from sugar's bad side effects.
Gum could be bad or good for your grey matter, depending on who you ask. A recent study out of Cardiff University finds chewing gum hurt people's short-term memory when they tried to recall lists of words and numbers. But other studies show gum chewing could help your brain. One found that people who chewed gum outperformed non-chewers in memory exercises.
Neurologist Dr. Paul Schulz, says small silent strokes, that go un-noticed, can affect memory and attention span. He says he treated one woman who had hundreds of them. "The majority of people I've seen who have attention changes related to strokes have no idea they've had a stroke."
A Harvard report finds you could lower your risk of silent strokes by controlling blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, keeping a healthy weight, not smoking, and managing atrial fibrillation.
Finally, to eat carbs or not to eat carbs? It turns out low-carb diets could also be draining your brain. One study found women who eliminated carbs from their diets had a decline in cognitive skills, especially on memory tests. The compromise? Instead of wiping out carbs completely to lose weight, eat healthy carbs found in foods like fruits, grains and nuts.
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