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DHA, folate, ginkgo biloba and more keep memory sharp

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid), folate, ginkgo biloba, selenium, and vitamin B12 slowed or lowered the risk for mental decline (dementia) in five new studies.

Published in the November 2006 Archives of Neurology, researchers from Tufts University in Boston followed 899 men and women, median age 76, for nine years and found that those who had the highest blood-fluid (plasma) levels of DHA were 47% less likely to develop dementia and 39% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with lower levels. Those with the highest DHA levels consumed about 180 mg of DHA per day and ate an average of three servings of fish per week.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore studied 451 high-functioning, fully independent Chinese men and women without dementia aged 55 or older and found that those with higher plasma levels of folate (folic acid or vitamin B9) could more easily recall a list of words than could those with lower levels.

The European Journal of Neurology reported in September 2006 that ginkgo biloba treated dementia as well as the pharmaceutical drug Aricept (donepezil). The 24 week double-blind trial examined 76 patients aged 50 to 80 with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who took 160 mg of ginkgo biloba per day, 5 mg of donepezil per day or a placebo. Scientists determined the treatments reduced symptoms equally. Four patients taking donepezil had adverse reactions, while no ginkgo biloba patients had adverse reactions.

French researchers followed 1,389 men and women aged 60 to 71 for nine years and found that among those whose plasma levels of selenium decreased, those who lost the most selenium were more likely to have mental (cognitive) decline than those who lost the least selenium. Selenium levels decrease with age.

In a vitamin B12 study, Welsh researchers examined 42 men and 42 women without dementia, aged 69 to 93, and found that 43% were deficient. Those who were most deficient in vitamin B12 had more mental decline, were less able to understand language and were less able to express themselves than those with higher levels.

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