Could a shrimp boost your memory power?
Galway businesswoman Pauline Staunton Forde was concerned that her memory was starting to let her down - then she discovered the oil of a humble shrimp and hasn't looked back, writes Áilín Quinlan
HAVING the personal touch has always been important to pharmacist Pauline Staunton Forde – so when she noticed she was slower to put a name to a customer's face, she took action.
Once she hit her forties, recalls the Galway woman, she noticed that her memory wasn't as razor-sharp as it used to be.
"I'd always been very sharp about remembering customers' names," recalls the 50-year-old, who is also a qualified beauty therapist – she runs both a pharmacy and a hair and beauty salon in Salthill.
"However, I noticed from about the age of 43 that I was slower to put a name to a face – and in my business it's important to know your customers personally."
What Pauline experienced is not unusual; age-related memory loss, it seems, is a natural phenomenon which often occurs as we grow older.
Memory, explains William O'Connor, Professor of Physiology at the Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick, is about the making and breaking of synapses, or nerve contacts, in the brain.
"In a young healthy adult brain, the making and breaking of these connections goes on without a problem and it's how you learn and remember," he explains.
However, as you get older, he says, it takes longer to make and break the contacts in the brain, "so your capacity to learn and remember slows down."
Concerned, Pauline decided to investigate the situation and see if she could find a way to improve her once sharp memory.
Internet research threw up information on Krill Oil, which was available in America. Pauline had always been a fan of Omega Three oil.
"I know from my pharmacy and beauty training that Omega Three oils generally are healing for the skin and that they're also good for the joints. I'd always recommended Omega Threes to clients of both beauty and pharmacy."
Pauline herself also suffers from osteo-arthritis and has cystic acne and asthma.
The research she found claimed that Krill Oil contained powerful antioxidants, and was easier for the body to digest than the fish oils she was so used to. Intrigued, Pauline decided to order it from the USA – and the results, she recalls, were significant.
"I noticed a real increase in the power of my memory. I could once again pin a name to a face immediately. I also noticed my overall mood improved – it's pure brain food," she comments.
Other benefits, she says, included a reduction in the pain in her joints and a reduction in scarring from her cystic acne.
These days she can purchase the product in Ireland – it's now being made by a young local company, Galway Natural Health, and she ensures that her two children take it as well.
Age-related memory problems are all too often an inevitable part of ageing for many people but, says Professor O'Connor, there is a wide range of techniques which we can use to keep our brains agile and our memories strong.
Everything from having a good diet and taking plenty of exercise to doing crosswords and learning a foreign language can help, he says.
Here's how it all works. As we get older, explains O'Connor, the cells in our bodies are dealing with more and more 'insults'.
The body is getting older and more battered, and there can be a build-up of chemicals called free radicals which O'Connor compares to "fireworks going off in your cell".
"Normally you can dampen them, but as you get older they can cause a fair bit of physical damage to the cells," he explains.
"What the body does to defend itself is to throw a 'fire-blanket' on the fireworks in the form of antioxidants – for example, many vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E are very good at mopping up these little fireworks.
"Fish oil goes to make chemicals in our bodies, which work as antioxidants. They are essentially anti-inflammatories."
That's one reason how diet can help retain memory efficiently and even play a role in preventing conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease.
However, Omega Three fatty acids can actually be found in a variety of sources, such as walnuts, meat from grass fed animals, flax seed, flax seed oil as well as oily fish and cod liver oil, says Consultant Dietitian Paula Mee.
"Omega Three fatty acids reduce the productions of Cytokines, which cause inflammation in the brain – and if you take Omega Three fatty acids regularly, it can help to reduce brain inflammation, which is important in terms of the ageing brain; brain inflammation accompanies brain damage," she says, adding that Omega 3s also help preserve brain cell membranes, which are important for the efficient functioning of the brain.
"It's never too late to start with Omega Three fatty acids," she says, adding that the Mediterranean diet, which is high in oily fish, has been associated with the prevention of dementia. Aerobic exercise is also good, according to O'Connor. Not only has it been found to improve mood, and to be good for your heart and lungs, it also increases the blood flow and supplies more oxygen to the Hippocampus, a part of the brain which plays a crucial role in memory function.
The Hippocampus, he explains, acts like a butterfly net, essentially "capturing everything that happens to you every day."
It holds memories in suspension for eight hours, and then either loses it or sends it into long-term memory.
"For the ordinary person, the Hippocampus slows down just like every other part of the body, and that is frustrating," he explains.
Lifestyle and leisure pursuits are another very important element in keeping the brain active, he says. "It's important to immerse yourself in things you love doing when it comes to the brain. It's a case of use it or lose it."
"You must engage your brain every day," he continues, adding that he recommends, hobbies, crosswords and reading. "I would also recommend learning a language, which has been shown to raise your IQ."
He's got another, deceptively simple exercise, which can help to keep the brain agile. "If you're right-handed, try using your left hand for the day – you'll see it takes a lot of mental effort and is a great way to strengthen your brain."
The truth is, says Dermot Power, Consultant Geriatrician at the Mater Hospital Dublin, if you live long enough, it's inevitable that you will at some stage experience cognitive problems associated with ageing. "There is an inevitable trajectory toward cognitive issues, just as your bones and muscles become weaker," he explains.
However, Dr Power believes, it's possible to stave off those problems with good lifestyle habits, for a time at least.
"They can be postponed; they can be truncated to a very small proportion of your life," he says.
Here's how: "Avoid smoking, sleep seven or eight hours a night and get your blood pressure under control – this is very important for cognitive function later in life.
"If you have elevated blood pressure in your forties to sixties, and it goes undiagnosed and untreated, it brings an increased risk of cognitive problems later in life."
Dementia is progressive cognitive decline, and the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease, he explains.
However, the next most common cause is vascular dementia. This is a poor blood supply to the brain, which can be caused by high blood pressure, which can in turn lead to mini strokes.
Keep your salt intake low, advises Dr Power; research indicates that too much of it also seems to cause problems.
And, while he emphasises that it hasn't as yet been definitely proven, he says there does seem to be an association between cognitive health and eating oily fish.
"There are retrospective studies which look at older people who are cognitively healthy, and eating fish seems to be relevant," he says.
"However, there is no proven study that shows, going forward, that starting to eat oily fish at 40 will help you at 70. Although there is a proven association, there is no proven cause."
Social connections – such as having a strong network of friends and interests – are also very important because this means you're more likely to keep the brain stimulated, he adds.
"Vacuous TV watching will literally melt your brain – you need conversation, you need to talk about challenging things and politics. You need to get into a scenario where you use your brain," he warns.
The science of food and the brain may on the surface appear impossibly complex, but it's logical.
"As you age, your mind starts to deteriorate because you may have lower levels of nutrients and vitamins, explains Dr Daniel Jones, Research and Development Director of Galway Natural Health.
Set up in 2010, in the midst of the recession, the company has just launched its second product, Revive Active Krill Oil.
"Everyone has essential fatty acids which they ingest in the diet but, as we age, our bodies become less effective in metabolising and absorbing them even though we may be taking in the same amount.
"For example, when you were 20 you were efficient at absorbing these products but at 40 and 60 this starts to deteriorate a bit," says Dr Jones.
As we age, he explains, we need to ensure we are getting adequate amounts of essential fatty acids in our diet.
"Memory is made up of connections within the brain and, like anything, you need fuel to drive the new creation of connections. Omega Three oils are that fuel – they are the fuel that gives your brain the essential energy to make connections.
"New research has shown that krill, which are crustaceans and look like little shrimp, can have huge benefits, which include boosting your body's ability to absorb essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
"Krill oil is water soluble, which means it dissolves in the body and is absorbed very easily by the cells. Krill oil also contains a powerful antioxidant called Astaxanthin, which helps eliminate harmful free radicals from the body."
Health & Living