Q: What can I do to improve my focus and sluggish memory?
–Dolores Powell, Hurley, NY
A: Brain fog, forgetfulness, memory loss—whatever you call it—is a symptom that many midlife women worry about. The big fear is that you’re sliding into early dementia.
Brain activity slows with age, but in the vast majority of cases, it’s not a sign that anything is seriously wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to live with it, though. Declining nutritional status, stress, and changing hormonal patterns also play roles, and these factors are under your control.
For example, fatten up your brain. Your brain craves fat. In fact, it’s made up of about 60% fat, which keeps brain cell membranes flexible so nutrients and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that allow nerves and cells to communicate with each other) readily flow in and out of the cells. Omega-3 fats in fish and medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil are so important that many Alzheimer’s prevention experts suggest significantly increasing consumption of them. (Bonus: coconut oil also boosts beauty!) Eating more fish or supplementing with 2,000 to 3,000 mg of omega-3s a day may help. B vitamins are also key for brain health. Take a B complex with at least 25 mg of B6; 1,000 mcg of B12; and 800 mcg of folic acid.
Then, get your blood flowing. Poor blood flow to the brain due to age, heart problems, or stress can be at the root of memory and focus problems. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat this. Just 30 minutes of cardio a day can do the trick. Consider taking 500 mg of ginkgo biloba (be sure to first ask your doctor about possible drug interactions) and 100 mg of CoQ10 daily to boost blood flow and increase focus and concentration. (See which supplements are best for you in our ultimate guide.)
And don’t forget to balance your hormones. Declining levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as you age can lead to brain fog. If diet and stress-management changes don’t help you stay focused, discuss hormone therapy with your doctor.
TASNEEM BHATIA, MD, is medical director and founder of the Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine.