There I was in the Melbournian pharmacy, facing a wall of vitamins for memory. Fish liquids for seniors, Omega-3 made from Salmon (with a capital ‘S’ indeed), Omega-3 Max, Ethical Fish Oil (whatever that means), Healthy Fish Oil, and all the before mentioned in a ‘super’ or ‘extra strong’ version.
The piles of research and mountains of articles about the benefits of 0mega-3 for memory and overall health had clearly a positive effect on the sales of fish oil in my local pharmacy. According to Forbes magazine the market of these types of vitamins for memory has become a multibillion-dollar business. Americans spend $2.6 billion on nutritional supplements and foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. ‘But not all of this is money well spent,’ stated the magazine.
The market of these types of vitamins for memory has become a multibillion-dollar business
So which omega-3 tablets are good vitamins for memory? I decided to start my research by asking the lady behind the counter of the pharmacy. That was a bad idea, because she looked at me as if I asked her if she had squeezed the oil out of those fishes herself. Annoyed she started to read the labels on the jars. This one is for seniors… These ones are made of salmon…
I ended up listening to my Dutch heritage and settled for the cheapest one. My second bad idea in only a few minutes, because as soon as I did some research when I returned home, I knew I had bought the wrong jar.
Omega-3 fatty acids are good vitamins for memory
It turns out there are some big differences between the different fish oil brands. Based on an interview with Dr. Frank Sacks, professor at Harvard School of Public Health, and a well-written article on healthcastle.com, I distilled the following guidelines for when I buy my next jar of omega-3 supplements.
1. Look for omega-3 supplements. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential nutrients, which means that our bodies cannot make them and we must obtain them from food. However, our Western diets are typically deficient in omega-3, the fatty acid that is associated with a healthier brain and memory. Omega-6 fatty acids also have many health benefits (for example, they are protective against heart disease), but they are abundant in the Western diet. Common sources of omega-6 fatty acids include corn, cottonseed and soybean oils.
Fish liver oils are not recommended as vitamins for memory
2. Look for EPA and DHA in these omega-3 supplements. In our diets there are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids. First, there is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and this type is found in some vegetable oils, walnuts, spinach and Brussels sprouts. The second type, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahenxaenoic acid (DHA), is found in fatty fish. Although the body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA, researchers are divided whether vegetable omega-3 fatty acids are as beneficial as the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils. You might want to go for the memory vitamins that are supported by the most scientific research: EPA and DHA.
These are my main notes when buying these type of memory vitamins, but there are other things to look for:
3. The smaller the fish, the better. Although there are no signs that the levels of contaminants like PCBs, mercury or lead in most fish oils are unhealthy (see this ConsumerLab-report) you might want to minimize the chance of contaminants in your vitamins for memory. It is therefore best to choose supplements from smaller fish that are lower in the food chain (for example, sardines or anchovies).
4. Fish liver oils are not recommended as memory supplements. Fish liver oils are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they may cause toxicity if taken in excessive amounts.
Vitamins for memory
After a few posts, it’s time to introduce myself and explain the purpose of the website Vitamins for Memory.
My name is Ger Post and besides my work as a journalist for various magazines I study Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. At the moment I’m doing a research project in Melbourne, Australia on the neural correlates of stress, learning and schizophrenia.
Even after four years of studying the brain – first in psychology and later in neuroscience – it never stops to amaze me. The great potential of those 100 billion brain cells (of which we only use 10%) strikes me every time I conduct a study. However, like many language students who try to become The Greatest Writer Ever (and realize after four years of studying they just became spelling Nazi’s), I came to the conclusion that studying the brain does not improve your brainpower.
To be more precise: my memory sucks.
How do I know I have a bad memory? Well, my average score on an IQ-test served as a first indication. IQ-scores exemplify for a major part your working memory, the ability to actively hold information in the mind needed to do complex tasks (such as reasoning, comprehension and learning). And then there are these other signs: forgetting where to put my keys, awkward situations where I – again! – forgot someone’s name, and so on. But the most confronting moment was when a 5-year-old girl beat me in a memory game. Three times.
The story behind the website Vitamins for Memory
It is time to apply the latest lessons from psychology and neuroscience to my brain. The journey towards an elephant’s memory starts today. The first months I will research different techniques and memory supplements to improve my memory.
What brain vitamins will help me get a healthy brain? What are important considerations when buying memory vitamins? What are the state of the art techniques to improve brainpower?
Once I have chosen the best technique and nutrition, I will start working on my memory. What are the limits? How far can the techniques and vitamins for memory take someone with an average score on IQ-tests?
‘What do you look for when buying vitamins for memory?’
These questions will be answered as I plan to do regular memory and IQ-tests – and if I improve on those tests, I might even find the confidence to play the toddler in a memory game again.
My journey through the world of memory vitamins and techniques can be followed on the Vitamins for Memory blog.