Holly A. Taylor, Ph. D. is the author of a new study published in the nutrition journal Appetite that addresses this very problem. In her study, Taylor discusses how depriving our bodies of carbohydrates actually starves the brain of glucose, which is the brain's primary energy source. Did you know that? I didn't. Glucose is sugar, by the way. So if you're a diabetic, like me, that makes this news a little tougher to, if you'll pardon the pun, swallow.
Natural memory loss can come from a number of sources outside of things like dementia and Alzheimers. Temporary memory loss can result from anything from stress to hormonal shifts during pregnancy or menopause, If there is a big event happening in our lives, whether celebratory or not, our brain tends to hyper-focus on that event, in other words, we become distracted. Mental distraction can account for things like not being able to recall a certain word or name of a person in a given moment. "Chemo brain" is a phrase used by doctrors to describe what can take 7-10 years after chemotherapy treatments to resolve, particularly with use of the drug Taxol. Women and men who have gone through chemotherapy treatments using Taxol have often noticed difficulty with memory...even up to ten years AFTER their last treatment. With cancer diagnoses hitting more, and younger, groups of the general population, the thought of say a 20-year old in college having to deal with 10 years of memory issues is devastating to that person's future. The good news is, you can combat "chemo brain" by doing all the things you SHOULD be doing to improve your mermory, whether a cancer patient or not.
Stimulating mental activity is the best way to keep your brain, and your memory, in shape. But how do you do that AND keep your body in shape, given that brain food equals carbs??? Taylor's study recommends eating small amounts of starches. Participants in Taylor's study who were on low carb, low-cal diets performed poorly on all their memory tests but were able to regain some of that lost footing after eating starches more frequently. Why? Even if you feel like your body has enough fat stores to last you a lifetime, it's not about fat--the body doesn't store glucose--which means, in order to feed your memory, you have to eat carbs. Now, that's not a license to eat a loaf of bread every day, but it does mean that those of us out there dealing with things like a menopausal metabolism still have to find a place in our sluggish stomachs for carbs.
Carbs don't have to be cookies, cakes and bread (though the good carbs always are). Fruit and vegetables have natural carbs. Peanut butter or almond butter on an apple, for example, would be one way to up your carbs and keep a healthy diet. Try whole wheat pita with hummos or an ounce of cheese with whole wheat crackers. Fresh pasta is often made without the "bad stuff" and can be made with things like wheat or spinach--but you probably don't want to eat a serving right before bed if you're worried about weight-gain (try it as an early lunch a few times a week and watch your memory soar while your calories sink!).
Once you've fed your brain it's daily dose of glucose (and yes, you have to maintain eating carbs each day to keep feeding your brain...glucose doesn't store, even if fat does!), engaging your brain in activities like crossword puzzles, sodoku, learning a new language, reading a new book (and I'm not talking about romance novels--your brain needs to be stimulated, not anything else...ahem), and learning new activities, like rock climbing--anything with complexities will do it! Learn how to play cards or a musical instrument, learn how to build an engine, study astrophysics...you get the idea. Writing something new each day is also a way to keep your brain sharp...for all you writers out there, anyway. Daily meditation also not only improves stress, but your memory and general health as well. Regular medidators were found to have a much higher percentage of brain activity than those who didn't medidate at all.
And according to Columbia University Medical Center research, eating good quantities of foods low in saturated fats, like nuts, fish, and veggies, can lower risk of developing Alzheimer's by 42%!!!
So the saying, "You are what you eat," isn't just a cliche--it's reality. Eat more red, orange and dark green veggies and fruits, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and of course, supplement with "smart" carbs EACH DAY like whole wheat crackers, pasta and pita--work on your brain's elasticity by engaging in new learning on a regular basis--and you're memory will remain safe and, perhaps more importantly, sound.
Have you eaten your CARBS today??? And by the way, cupcakes, cookies and bread still work as your daily dose of carbs...if you're feeling naughty, that is....
Until next time, dearest readers!