7 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Memory
My earliest recollection regarding brain fog or memory loss is of my mother. We were sitting in the kitchen and she was taking her daily ginkgo biloba supplement. "It's because I can't remember anything," she told me. I sat there wondering what it must be like to constantly forget (my brother and I would tease her about it all the time). For some reason, that moment really stuck with me, and I always assumed ginkgo biloba was this cure-all pill that kept your mind sharp forever. And while it does help with difficulty concentrating, among other things, I've since been curious about other ways to improve your memory. If for no other reason than it seemed to plague my mother and the proverbial apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
To find out more, I did some research on other science-backed methods. Below, find six other proven, natural ways to keep your memory intact and your kids (or future kids) from teasing you at the kitchen table.
"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," said Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center. "Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts." And according to the research, the change can happen in just eight weeks (even with zero previous meditation experience).
In a 2013 study, researchers sought to discover if meditation would work to increase standardized test scores. Turns out, the mindfulness training improved GRE reading-comprehension scores, working memory capacity, and a reduction in distracting thoughts.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have shown to relieve stress and anxiety, lower the risk of heart disease, help with weight management, and reduce inflammation. And according to a 2012 study, fish oil is also linked to results in better cognitive function and the improvement of memory—especially in older adults.
In fact, a 2015 review of recent clinical trials and observational studies found DHA alone (or combined with EPA) improved episodic memory outcomes significantly, regardless of the participants' cognitive status at baseline.
According to Joel Salinas, a neurologist specializing in behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry, repetition better prepares your brain to remember whatever it is you'd like to recall. "With each repetition, your brain has another opportunity to encode the information," says Salinas. "The connections between brain cells are reinforced, much like blazing a trail in the woods. The more you walk the same trail, the easier it is to walk it the next time."
Apparently, supplementing your diet with blueberries can actually delay memory decline. Participants in a 2011 study did just that for 12 weeks (the effects began to take hold after just three) and women with a higher berry intake had delayed memory decline by up to two and a half years.
"Polyphenolic compounds, most prominently anthocyanins, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects," the study's abstract reads. "In addition, anthocyanins have been associated with increased neuronal signaling in brain centers mediating memory function."
Another study offered the hypothesis that chewing gum while you learn new things helps with memory recall. As it turns out, the participants' memories were more accurate if they were chewing gum during the study.
"These results provide the first evidence that chewing gum can improve long-term and working memory,” says Andrew Scholey of the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, UK. However, there isn't a ton of research to prove the theory entirely. "There are a number of potential explanations—but they are all very speculative," Scholey says.
Japanese researchers found in 2000 that chewing increases brain activity in your hippocampus (which is an important part of your brain for memory). In addition, Scholey says recent research finds chewing causes the release of insulin, and because insulin receptors in your brain are also involved in memory, it could explain the findings.
This is unsurprising, because it seems to fix everything, but a good night's rest is another element in maintaining memory. It "optimizes the consolidation of newly acquired information in memory," a 2006 study states. "Hippocampus-dependent memories benefit primarily from slow-wave sleep (SWS), whereas memories not depending on the hippocampus show greater gains over periods containing high amounts of rapid eye movement sleep."
Another study experimented with how napping would affect memorization. Both groups had to memorize cards, and only one was told to nap in between sessions. "The sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85% of the patterns, compared to 60% for those who had remained awake," the results read. "Reactivation of memories had completely different effects on the state of wakefulness and sleep," said lead author Susanne Diekelmann.