Vitamins: Boost for the Brain

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By Hara Estroff Marano

Increasingly, the kinds of memory problems that have long been seen as inevitable with age are now thought to be avoidable—or at least postponable. The more scientists look at the way we age, the more they recognize the value of eating right and exercising regularly.

If we provide our brains with helpful nutrients, and get sufficient exercise to keep our blood vessels clear, the better our minds will work right up until the end.

Among the most helpful nutrients to the brain are foods that work as antioxidants, those chemicals known for their cell-protecting properties. Antioxidants scavenge and fight off free radicals, wildly reactive rogue molecules of oxygen that damage cell membranes and the DNA, which contains the cells basic operating instructions.

The brain is particularly susceptible to free radical damage because it is exposed to a large amount of oxygen. It’s the body’s most metabolically active organ, consuming about 20% of the body’s oxygen, although it totals only 2% of our body weight. Free radicals enter our bodies through pollution, fried food and even just normal metabolic processes of the body.

The fatty membranes that cover all brain cells are particularly subject to oxidative damage. Free radical damage is implicated in cognitive decline and memory loss as people age.

A steady level of antioxidants—including vitamins C and E—has previously been linked to strong memories. The newest study suggests that simply taking supplements of vitamins C and E can slow the progression of memory loss. The two vitamins appear to act synergistically to prevent age-related dementia. Together they cut the risk of the disorder by more than 60%.

The study findings are preliminary. But experts agree that there is little risk to taking the vitamins. The dosage found to be helpful is well within the range of safety. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is 22 international units (IU) and 75 to 90 mg for vitamin C. Multivitamins typically contain amounts of the two antioxidants that are in this range; individual supplements may contain up to 1,000 IU of vitamin E and even more than 1,000 mg of vitamin C.

Psychology Today Magazine © Copyright 1991-2004 Sussex Publishers

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