By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
As I rushed out of the door this morning, I had the funny feeling that I was forgetting something. Not surprisingly, I didn’t remember what it was until it was too late to go back. Of course, occasionally forgetting an errand or an appointment happens to everyone, regardless of their age.
But, it seems to happen more frequently as we get older, leaving us to wonder if these “senior moments” are the first subtle signs of age-related memory loss. Until recently, science supported our fears, believing that neurons died off by the millions as we aged. But now, scientists know better.
Several years ago, researchers at Princeton University found new nerve cells being created in the brains of monkeys. According to their study, neurons are regenerated deep in the center of the brain. Once reborn, they move to other areas, including the parts of the brain associated with higher mental functions. As a result, the normal aging process leaves most mental functions intact, and may even provide the brain with unique advantages that form the basis for wisdom. The aging brain is also far more resilient than was previously believed.
That’s not to say that age can’t have a negative impact on our cognitive function. As we age, blood flow to the brain decreases, causing our brain to utilize oxygen and protein less efficiently than it once did. In addition, aging brain cells often stop communicating with each other, making it harder for the brain to process thoughts, retain short-term memory, and create new cells. If that weren’t enough, the aging brain loses some of its ability to protect itself against inflammation and free radical damage. But having an occasional memory lapse or needing more time to process new information doesn’t always mean that your brain is suffering from old age. Memory loss or a loss of concentration can also be caused by something as simple as dehydration, a poor diet, fatigue, or stress.
Preventing age-related cognitive decline and keeping more serious memory loss at bay requires giving your brain what it needs to function at its best. Scientists have recently pinpointed one nutrient that supports brain function and erases some of the ravages of time.
Citicoline is a nutrient found in every cell in the body. The highest concentrations, however, are found in the brain and liver. In the brain, citicoline targets the frontal lobe – the area responsible for problem solving, attention, and concentration – and works in a number of ways to boost brainpower. It replenishes the phospholipids that create and maintain healthy brain cell membranes. It raises the level of chemical messengers needed for all of those voluntary and involuntary actions we rely on every day. And, it protects the brain from free-radical damage.
As part of the same family of nutrients as the B vitamin choline, citicoline is a precursor of phosphatidylcholine – a type of phospholipid (a fatty acid containing phosphorus) that is part of all cell membranes. This is extremely important since cell membranes surround and regulate the activity of every neuron in the brain. Citicoline is also converted into acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in many neurological functions, including learning and memory.
Thanks for the Memories
How well does citicoline work? A growing number of clinical trials on healthy adults with mild forgetfulness show that citicoline improves both the immediate and delayed recall of words and objects. Other research shows that supplementing with citicoline improved brain function in seniors with cognitive impairment. Specifically, citicoline improved short and long-term memory, attention span, and perceptual-motor capacity, as well as behavioral and emotional control.
Taking citicoline can also help seniors remember words and phrases. During a double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 95 volunteers between the ages of 50 and 85, those taking 1,000 mg. of supplemental citicoline daily significantly improved their verbal memory compared to the volunteers taking the placebo.
Promising results have also been seen in older people without memory or cognitive problems. In one study by investigators at the Harvard Medical School, brain activity in middle-aged people was recorded before and after taking citicoline using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The brain scans clearly showed that citicoline boosted brain activity in the areas responsible for memory and focus. Other trials show that supplementing with citicoline significantly improves both immediate and short-term memory.
But the most exciting studies are those being done on people with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials show that taking 1,000 mg. of citicoline per day improves cognition, boosts blood flow, and increases bioelectrical activity in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Citicoline also improves scores on cognitive evaluation scales and slowed the progression of this devastating disease.
Citicoline has also been shown to improve memory and other cognitive functions in patients with chronic cerebrovascular disease or dementia. In an analysis of 12 clinical trials conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, researchers reached the conclusion that citicoline improves both memory and behavior in older people suffering from chronic brain diseases. Since there are few treatments available for dementia, this is good news indeed!
One Last Thing …
Citicoline’s beneficial impact on cognition is enough to recommend it to everyone as they age. But your vision can also benefit from novel nutrient. Glaucoma, for instance, is most commonly the result of a buildup of pressure from the fluid in the eye (intraocular pressure). This pressure can ultimately damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain.
In an open trial, 36 patients with glaucoma were given 1,000 mg. of citicoline daily for 10 days. The researchers concluded that citicoline had a positive effect on optic nerve damage by nourishing the nerves affected by the disease. In another study of seniors with mild to severe glaucoma, high doses of citicoline improved vision and retinal function in those who had the most common form of the disease. And, because supplemental citicoline has few side effects and a strong record of safety, patients are able to take high doses on a long-term basis.
The key to citicoline’s ability to improve sight comes from its capacity to increase dopamine levels. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter in the retina and it is a chemical messenger for light adaptation in the eye – helping to sharpen the contrast between light and dark. Cell survival and eye growth also depend on dopamine. To get these eye benefits, most of the studies used 500 mg. of citicoline per day. But you don’t need to wait until your vision is failing. If glaucoma runs in your family, taking 250 mg. of citicoline twice a day may help prevent future problems from taking hold.
Research Brief …
It’s no secret that omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart. But now there’s another way these healthy fats benefit your ticker. Omega-3 supplements (a.k.a. fish oil supplements) can reduce blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) as much as statin drugs. CRP is a marker for inflammation and a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture studied 34 middle-aged men with elevated blood triglyceride levels. Half took 3,000 mg. of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) daily; the other half got olive oil as a placebo. After 90 days, those taking DHA saw their CRP levels drop by 15 percent – almost as much as the 15 to 25 percent seen with statins.
If you aren’t taking supplemental fish oil, it’s time to start. Take 3,000 to 4,000 mg. daily to get all the heart healthy benefits they offer. You can get even more goodness from these omega-3s by eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or herring twice a week.
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Fioravanti M. Citicoline (Cognizin) in the treatment of cognitive impairment. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 1:247-251, 2006.
Kelley DS, et al. DHA Supplementation Decreases Serum C-Reactive Protein and Other Markers of Inflammation in Hypertriglyceridemic Men. Journal of Nutrition. 2009;139: 495-501.
Parisi V. Evidence of the neuroprotective role of citicoline in glaucoma patients. Progress in Brain Research. 173:541-554, 2008.
Saver JL. Citicoline: update on a promising and widely available agent for neuroprotection and neurorepair. Reviews in Neurological Disease. 5:167-177, 2008.