It looks like the best information yet about how to boost brain power, improve our memory and fight dementia hasn’t come from the FDA, but rather from the NFL.
And it makes sense. After all, NFL players receive more blows to the head during one game than the average person does in an entire lifetime.
Certainly all those hits take a toll. And it’s been found to lead to early dementia, depression and memory problems.
The CDC recently said that players are three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and ALS. And these kinds of brain injuries are the reason San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland recently said he was leaving the game at 24 — and giving up a $2.93 million contract.
But a discovery during research to help current and retired players may also be the answer for us “Monday morning quarterbacks.”
The power of periwinkle
Dr. Daniel Amen, a physician and psychiatrist who specializes in brain research, called his work with 130 active and retired NFL players “one of the most exciting discoveries in medicine today.”
He started with several kinds of brain-imaging studies as well as tests to measure the players’ cognitive function. And yes, in case you had any doubt, being a professional football player is very hard on the brain.
After testing, he started the players on what he called a “brain healthy program.”
Along with losing weight and an exercise plan (apparently being post-NFL can turn you into a couch potato), as well as mental “exercises,” Dr. Amen also gave the group a number of nutritional supplements.
And that’s where things really get interesting.
For six months, the players took:
- EPA and DHA from fish oil
- Ginko extract
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Acetyl L-Carnitine
- Huperzine A
- N-acetyl- cysteine
- A high-potency multivitamin, and
At the end of the study Dr. Amen repeated the brain-imaging tests. And he called the outcome “nothing short of amazing.”
He was so encouraged by the results that he’s since published three peer-reviewed studies on his findings. Not only did the players’ mood, memory and “cognitive function” improve, but tests showed significantly improved blood flow to certain areas of the brain.
And that’s something every brain needs to function well.
You’re probably very familiar with some of these supplements, like fish oil, ginko and alpha lipoic acid, but one that really caught my eye in Dr. Amen’s study is vinpocetine.
Vinpocetine is derived from the seeds of periwinkle plant. And it’s been found in study after study to improve blood flow to the brain. That could be the very reason it’s such a remarkably potent memory enhancer.
But aside from just helping you remember where you put your car keys, vinpocetine has also been studied for use in people with dementia. One study from Hungary concluded that vinpocetine can be “recommended” for people with “mild cognitive impairment.” And in India, researchers are looking at ways to make a vinpocetine “patch” to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The compound has also been found to be a potent anti-inflammatory, especially the “kind” of inflammation found in those who have Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
And the dose of vinpocetine Dr. Amen gave the players was just 15 mg a day.
Dr. Amen (who is also an author with five books about brain health that made the New York Times bestseller list) said that his research shows that “even if you have been bad to your brain” it can often be reversed.
And it may be even easier than getting a bad call on the field reversed.
“Can brain trauma in NFL players be rehabilitated?” Daniel G. Amen, M.D., Huffington Post, huffingtonpost.com
“How to improve memory” Suzy Cohen, February 23, 2015, Sun Sentinel, sun-sentinel.com