Hint: It’s probably not Alzheimer’s.
In February I posted a video on YouTube, “The link between stress and memory!”In this video I discuss why people who suffer from chronic stress tend to have memory problems. In a nutshell, when under stress, the memory center of the brain, called the hippocampus, can’t activate the way it needs to in order to encode memories well. This is because the hippocampus is covered in cortisol receptors, and when we’re under stress our cortisol increases, flooding the hippocampus and making it difficult to activate properly. In the short term the result is that we don’t encode very stressful or traumatic things as well as we otherwise would (hence the controversy behind eye witness testimony). Over the long haul, the chronic stress, which causes ongoing cortisol flooding of the hippocampus, leads to atrophy of the brain’s memory center. This in turn makes it difficult to encode not only traumatic events well, but any memories. Information can seem to “go into one ear and out ther other.”
Thus, for many people memory issues aren’t due to early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, rather, the culprit is too much stress. So what can we do about it? The good news is that neurogenesis, which is the growing/regeneration of neurons, is possible in the hippocampus. Here are some quick recommendations to help your memory center become healthy and strong! The following have been shown to promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus:
1. Get moderately-intense exercise: You don’t have to be a marathoner. Just get approximately 30 minutes of moderate exercise about three times per week.
2. Eat chocolate and blueberries: Hippocampus neurogenesis has can be promoted by eating foods rich in flavonoids, such as cocoa and blueberries.
3. Practice mindfulness: Incorporating mindfulness practices, including yoga, meditation, and diaphragmatic breathing is another great way to strengthen the memory center.
4. Get plenty of Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids are a great way to increase neurogenesis in the memory center of the brain, and may also help manage depression.
Stress, anxiety, and trauma can wreak havoc on the brain. The best thing you can do for yourself if you believe you might be suffering from one of these conditions is to seek professional help from a licensed mental health provider. However, many people find that making small changes (I call them “one degree changes”) can make a large difference in how they feel over time. Think about it like this… If you are traveing in one direction and veer to the right by one degree, it won’t take you far off course in the short term, but 1,000 miles later you’d be in a totally different place. That’s the idea behind one degree changes. Slightly change your habits now, and reap the benefits later!