Forget popping pills – the best way to boost your brainpower is a crossword or sudokuSupplements such as fish oils and the herb gingko biloba do not prevent cognitive declineBut simple brain-training games might, say researchers who reviewed 40 years of research
11:53 GMT, 16 April 2013
14:09 GMT, 16 April 2013
Useless: New research says that taking pills for cognitive decline is a waste of time
Supplements such as fish oils and the memory-boosting herb gingko biloba do not prevent cognitive decline, according to new research.
But simple mental exercises, such as brain-training games, might help.
A review of clinical studies has found no evidence that herbal supplements, vitamins and even drugs prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults.
However the review, conducted by St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, did find evidence that enjoying a challenging crossword or sudoku may be of benefit.
Researchers reviewed 32 clinical trials involving 25,000 patients dating back to 1960s.
They found no strong evidence that herbal supplements such as gingko biloba improved cognitive functions or vitamins and oils such as vitamin B6 or omega-3 fatty acids had an effect.
Previous studies had shown that both omega-3 oil, found in oily fish, and the herb gingko boosted blood flow to the brain. Vitamin B6 was thought to enhance brain function.
Experts also found no strong evidence for drug treatments such as cholinesterase inhibitors that were developed to improve the effectiveness of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that assists memory, thought and judgment.
Some studies on oestrogen supplementation in HRT actually indicated an increase in cognitive decline and dementia.
Previous research had suggested that the hormone replacement therapy prevented the deterioration of a gene called APOE-e4, which was thought to lower the likelihood of developing dementia.
Evidence on the value of physical exercise, such as strength-training, was also weak.
The strongest evidence was for the value of mental exercises such as computerized brain-training games or intensive one-on-one personal cognitive training in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing.
Cheap and effective: A simple crossword could improve memory
‘This review provides some evidence
to help clinicians and their patients address what strategies might
prevent cognitive decline,’ said Dr. Raza Naqvi, of the University of
Toronto and who led the review.
Mild cognitive decline is though to affect up to 25 per
cent of people over age 70.
It is characterized by impaired memory, judgment, and decision-making skills compared to someone of a similar age, but not enough to interfere with daily activities.
The annual rate of decline into dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, is about 10 per cent. Around 800,000 Britons suffer with dementia.
Dr. Naqvi said future studies should address the impact of cognitive training on the prevention of cognitive decline.
‘We encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and sudoko, that have not been rigorously studied,’ he said.
‘The studies in this review that assessed cognitive exercises used exercises that were both labour and resource-intensive, and thus may not be applicable to most of our patients.’
The Alzheimers Society is keen to remind older people that they should not stop taking any medication in favour of taking up puzzles however:
'While it would be great to think that doing a crossword or playing Sudoku could help stave off cognitive decline, there’s sadly limited evidence to support this,' said Jess Smith, Research Officer at the Alzheimer's Society.
'Every day we hear about new ideas to prevent or deal with dementia but the only proven treatments are the four drugs currently available on prescription, including donepezil, which can slow down symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
'There are currently no medications available that can prevent people from developing the condition.'
Until more research has been carried out, Ms Smith recommends eating a balanced diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and getting your blood pressure checked regularly to maintain your cognitive health.