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Natural Memory Boosters

February 1, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a mind like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci or Socrates? It’s an intriguing daydream to “guesstimate” what we could accomplish if only we had greater cognitive faculties. But at the end of the day, we’re all at the mercy of our genetic blueprint, environment and upbringing. That is unless you’re willing to dig deep in order to try to stretch your mental boundaries. There are, in fact, certain steps that can be taken by ordinary men and women to optimize brain function. I’m not claiming that it’ll turn an average Joe into a 21st century genius, but it just might give you enough of an edge to get further in life than you ever suspected.

In a recent column I wrote about the essential role that minerals play in the function and health of the body and mind. The latest example is presented in the January 28th edition of the journal Neuron. A joint study conducted by neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tsinghua University in Beijing discovered that supplementing with a special form of magnesium can lead to greater magnesium concentrations in the brain and ultimately improvements in cognitive function.

  • A new magnesium compound (magnesium-L-threonate) was used as an intervention in a group of old and young rats.
  • Magnesium-L-threonate supplementation caused a significant increase in brain magnesium levels in both old and young rats.

The elevation in magnesium levels resulted in “enhancement of learning abilities, working memory, and short and long-term memory”. Older rats also demonstrated an improvement in “pattern completion ability”. Perhaps the most dramatic finding is that rats treated with magnesium-L-threonate: a) exhibited higher density in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory and; b) improved the communication between neurons in the brain, a process known as synaptic plasticity. The authors of the study concluded that “an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions”. (1)

  • Note: Magnesium threonate doesn’t appear to be commercially available at this time. According to the full text of the previously cited study, magnesium citrate may be the next best option.

The old adage about studying hard in order to succeed is as true as ever. However, new research suggests that resting may also be an important piece of the learning puzzle. New evidence from the the Center for Neural Science at New York University reveals that wakeful rest periods function in a similar way to a good night’s sleep in helping to retain memories. The mechanism behind this phenomenon appears to be due to enhanced activity between two key memory processing sites in the brain – the hippocampus and neocortex (lateral occipital complex). This revelation was detected by utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a group of 16 test subjects before, during and after the performance of a mental task. Similar brain activity was noted when the study volunteers were engaged in the task and when they were resting, but thinking about what they had just learned. (2)

Two new studies report that physical exercise should be included in any holistic program with the intent of supporting healthy cognition at any age and protecting against age-related memory decline. The first experiment determined that adult mice who voluntarily exercised on a “running wheel” could increase the number of neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampal region. This positive development in turn improved their performance on tests measuring “spacial learning” – the ability to recognize new objects and surroundings. A trial just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine also points to resistance exercise as a therapeutic tool for improving “executive cognitive function” in seniors. A group of 155 men and women in nursing homes was enrolled in a resistance exercise program or a “balance and tone training” class over a 12 month period. The participants engaging in a once or twice-weekly resistance training demonstrated significant benefits with regard to “selective attention” and “conflict resolution”. An improvement in walking speed was also evidenced in the resistance exercise group alone. (3,4)

Exercise May Improve Mental Performance Regardless of Age
Source: PNAS December 8, 2009 vol. 106 no. 49 20906-20911 (link)

The issue of attention span is nearly as important as memory recall. If you’re unable to concentrate on any given topic you’re far less likely to retain it. An amino acid in tea known as l-theanine may be a reasonable aid to consider if this is a problem for you. Proof comes in the form of a new trial involving 29 healthy adults who were regular coffee and tea drinkers. The group of men and women was either given a glass of iced tea with 97 mg of theanine + 40 mg caffeine added to it or the same amount of regular iced tea. All of the subjects were asked to take a mental test before consuming the beverages, and 10 minutes and 60 minutes after consuming the respective liquids. After a period of 1-2 weeks, the participants were then asked to use the opposite drink and re-take the tests as a means of comparison. The results indicated that “The combination of l-theanine and caffeine improved attention on a switch task as compared to the placebo”. Furthermore, the authors remarked that there was an enhancement of test accuracy and speed in those receiving the supplemented tea. It’s also interesting to note that the theanine/caffeine benefits extended to both auditory and visual forms of learning and processing. (5,6)

As you’re reading this column today your brain is functioning at certain level. The conventional wisdom, or lack thereof, is that your cognitive ability is destined to decline with age. But what would happen if you started eating or supplementing with more magnesium? How about giving yourself a break between study periods and possibly drinking some tea with it? This might also be a good time to consider implementing a resistance exercise or running routine. As you can see, there are plenty of health promoting and inexpensive options that we can call upon in order to support optimal mental functioning at any age. The brain is a living organ that responds positively or negatively to the environment, lifestyle factors and stimulation in all forms. The bottom line is that we’ll likely get much more out of it if we provide it with what it needs.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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32 Comments & Updates to “Natural Memory Boosters”

  1. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    The only product that I found that contained magnesium-L-threonate was this multi-mineral tablet, and it didn’t specify how much was in each dose. http://www.vitaminproline.com/c-ultratabs-1000-mg-90-tabs-metagenics.html

  2. Paul Fanton Says:

    Hi JP:

    Very timely and stimulating article! Well defined pointed suggestions, some of immediate ease to implement! Exercise is once more rated of paramount importance! Please keep us posted when the Magnesium Threonate becomes available as a supplement.

    Thank you for your prompt proding!

    Paul

  3. JP Says:

    Iggy,

    I wasn’t able to find a stand alone product either. However I suspect that’s only a matter of time. I’ll keep an eye out for any developments on this matter.

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Thank you, Paul! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP :-)

    it would be interesting to know if one eats a magnesium rich diet with lots of spinach and pumpkin seeds etc. also has more magnesium in the brain. Do you know if the magnesium-l-threonate is high in a special food or is it completely artificial?

    Hope you two had a nice weekend here is still toooooo cold :-)

    Nina K.

  6. anne h Says:

    To be “smarter” I sometimes think we need to forget certain things!
    Like all the “wrong” things we learned before.
    But then RE-learn them again in an updated version.
    Good post, JP!
    You have such a divergent outlook, yet your research is detailed and convergent.
    What a rare and refreshing perspective! Thanks for all the work. I’m sure it’s a labour of love.

  7. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina! :)

    The full text of the magnesium study suggests that other forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, may also be an effective means of getting magnesium where it needs to go. I think that’s a hopeful sign with regard to dietary sources of magnesium as well.

    We had a busy but otherwise lovely weekend. I’ll wish for warmer temps in your part of the world very soon! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you, Anne! :)

    I think your comments make a lot of sense. One might describe that philosophy as “thinking smarter, not harder”. If we could only de-clutter our minds and try to incorporate only the most constructive thought processes … there’s not telling how much better our brains and lives would function.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Aurora Says:

    Really interesting information. I think it’s great to know that an increase of physical activity is god for our brain functions and memory. I feel like that is somehow common sense. If you move around, you will just be better than if you don’t, and personally, I’m not surprised to see that it’s true about cognitive function as well.

    Thanks for the information!
    Aurora

  10. anne h Says:

    Perhaps de-cluttering one’s mind is the physical manifestation of de-cluttering one’s thoughts.
    A “pictorial representation,” so to speak!
    Oh, JP!

  11. Max Pesce Says:

    Hello,

    useful information. I knew some positive effects of magnesium, but I did not know the memory and learning effects described in the article.

    Best Regards

    Mario Pesce

  12. JP Says:

    Anne,

    Where does de-cluttering one’s life fit into that equation? ;) I’m working on all three!

    Be well!

    JP

  13. JP Says:

    Thank you, Aurora and Max! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  14. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) Says:

    Don’t forget all the recent research on omega 3s helping prevent cognitive decline! See http://www.wellwire.com/news/brain-food-2.

  15. JP Says:

    Thank you for the link, Orna. :)

    I didn’t include the recent fish oil data because I’m planning an upcoming blog or two that will focus on fish oil in particular. There’s been a lot of encouraging research on omega-3s lately!

    Be well!

    JP

  16. chrono Says:

    The product mentioned in the first post (Metagenics C-Ultrababs) does not contains the threonate, but 35mg of magnesium ascorbate. As yet, there appears to be no commercial source.

  17. JP Says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Chrono.

    Be well!

    JP

  18. GUIDROUX Says:

    Where you have the possibility to buy the threonate de magnesium

    Thanks

    ALG

  19. JP Says:

    ALG,

    Magnesium threonate doesn’t appear to be commercially available yet. Until it hits the market, you might consider an alternative form of magnesium such as magnesium citrate. That’s what I use.

    Be well!

    JP

  20. chrono Says:

    I would recommend malate, glycinate or taurate over the citrate salt. Comparably high bioavailability, with much less chance of GI problems like loose stool.

    Magnesium taurate is especially helpful at night as a sleep aid.

  21. JP Says:

    I agree that those are also good sources of magnesium. Thanks for adding that suggestion, Chrono! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  22. Jenine Says:

    I notice a lot of people wanting to obtain magnesium l-threonate. There is a research lab in California called Sabre Sciences. They sell magnesium l-threonate in a high grade powder form. It is available on its own or blended with inositol For now, this is where I am obtaining it and finding it truly does help with mental function.

    Hope this helps!

  23. Jenine Says:

    Oh, Sabre Sciences doesn’t advertise this product so you need to call or email them.

  24. JP Says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing that with us, Jenine! I really appreciate it!

    Be well!

    JP

  25. Mike Barnes Says:

    Hello all,

    I am distributing both Magnesium L-threonate for personal use and in bulk quantities for manufacturing.

    Please contact me at Mbarnes@nutritivemarketing.com

    Mike

  26. MB Says:

    There’s a new company that is looking to sell magnesium l-threonate supplements here in the U.S., but they would like to get commitments from about 300 customers before they begin manufacturing. You can read the details on their website:

    http://www.mlt500.com

    I have no financial stake in the company, but I have signed up on the “interested” list. I may be a sucker, but I really would like to try this supplement out for myself without buying it in bulk.

  27. JD Says:

    Swanson Vitamins now carries the Magnesium L-threonate. I was reading in a forum where someone emailed Sabre Sciences asking where they got their from. They never got an answer. Sounds like some of these “bulk” places may get theirs from China.

  28. JP Says:

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention, JD. Swanson usually offers pretty reasonable prices. However, this is not the case here. This product is outrageously expensive. I’m not assigning blame to Swanson. In all likelihood, the price tag is a result of the cost of the raw material – which boasts seven patents! Still, it’s awfully pricy in comparison to other forms of magnesium also with relatively good bioavailability. Just my two cents.

    Be well!

    JP

  29. JD Says:

    Yeah I thought it was pricey too. This is something I’d wait for them to have a sale on. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone else starts selling it, and what their price(s) will be.

  30. JP Says:

    Note: Magnesium threonate is now widely available and sold under the trade name, “Magtein” (http://www.magtein.com/)

  31. JP Says:

    Updated 07/16/15:

    http://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/437157

    Obes Facts. 2015 Jul 1;8(4):261-272.

    Diet-Induced Weight Loss Alters Functional Brain Responses during an Episodic Memory Task.

    OBJECTIVE: It has been suggested that overweight is negatively associated with cognitive functions. The aim of this study was to investigate whether a reduction in body weight by dietary interventions could improve episodic memory performance and alter associated functional brain responses in overweight and obese women.

    METHODS: 20 overweight postmenopausal women were randomized to either a modified paleolithic diet or a standard diet adhering to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for 6 months. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain function during an episodic memory task as well as anthropometric and biochemical data before and after the interventions.

    RESULTS: Episodic memory performance improved significantly (p = 0.010) after the dietary interventions. Concomitantly, brain activity increased in the anterior part of the right hippocampus during memory encoding, without differences between diets. This was associated with decreased levels of plasma free fatty acids (FFA). Brain activity increased in pre-frontal cortex and superior/middle temporal gyri. The magnitude of increase correlated with waist circumference reduction. During episodic retrieval, brain activity decreased in inferior and middle frontal gyri, and increased in middle/superior temporal gyri.

    CONCLUSIONS: Diet-induced weight loss, associated with decreased levels of plasma FFA, improves episodic memory linked to increased hippocampal activity.

    Be well!

    JP

  32. JP Says:

    Updated 03/17/16:

    Note: MMFS-01 is magnesium threonate.

    http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad150538

    J Alzheimers Dis. 2015 Oct 27;49(4):971-90.

    Efficacy and Safety of MMFS-01, a Synapse Density Enhancer, for Treating Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.

    BACKGROUND: Cognitive impairment is a major problem in elderly, affecting quality of life. Pre-clinical studies show that MMFS-01, a synapse density enhancer, is effective at reversing cognitive decline in aging rodents.

    OBJECTIVE: Since brain atrophy during aging is strongly associated with both cognitive decline and sleep disorder, we evaluated the efficacy of MMFS-01 in its ability to reverse cognitive impairment and improve sleep.

    METHODS: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-designed trial in older adult subjects (age 50-70) with cognitive impairment. Subjects were treated with MMFS-01 (n = 23) or placebo (n = 21) for 12 weeks and cognitive ability, sleep quality, and emotion were evaluated. Overall cognitive ability was determined by a composite score of tests in four major cognitive domains.

    RESULTS: With MMFS-01 treatment, overall cognitive ability improved significantly relative to placebo (p = 0.003; Cohen’s d = 0.91). Cognitive fluctuation was also reduced. The study population had more severe executive function deficits than age-matched controls from normative data and MMFS-01 treatment nearly restored their impaired executive function, demonstrating that MMFS-01 may be clinically significant. Due to the strong placebo effects on sleep and anxiety, the effects of MMFS-01 on sleep and anxiety could not be determined.

    CONCLUSIONS: The current study demonstrates the potential of MMFS-01 for treating cognitive impairment in older adults.

    Be well!

    JP

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