Thursday, April 26, 2007

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements Improve Memory

Taken your omega 3 tablets today? A new study suggests that you need to get in the habit of taking omega-3 (specifically the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid). Such supplementation benefited mice that were genetically engineered to produce the two different proteins that create the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that characterize Alzheimer's disease in humans.

The study focused on testing the dietary ratio of omega-3 to another fatty acid, omega-6. People typically consume omega-3 from fish, eggs, and organ meats, while omega-6 is prominent in corn, peanut, and sunflower oils. It turns out that it is the ratio of the two fatty acids that is important, and the diet of most people does not have enough omega-3. A typical Western diet produces a ratio ranging from 1:10 to 1:30, where ideally it should be 1:5 to 1:3.

Previous mouse-model studies in other labs have shown some benefit from a variety of such dietary sources as green tea, fish, blueberries and from exercise and environmental enrichment.

Alzheimer's disease is a growing public-health problem as people live longer. Today, roughly 5% of the population over 65 has Alzheimer's disease, and as many as one half of the 80-year-olds have it. By 2050, predictions are that 20 million people in the U.S. will have Alzheimer's disease (it is 4.5 million now).

To learn more abut the actual experiment, go to my Web site on practical memory research.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Learning to Learn

Ever wonder why some people can learn like sponges, soaking up information in great gobs, while others struggle to learn? It is akin to the rich getting richer, while the poor get poorer.

Well, scientists have discovered that good learners have learned how to learn. This is especially evident for specific areas of expertise, where an existing expertise makes it easier to become even more expert. This principle was recently rediscovered (actually it was discovered at least twice before, dating back to 1932). The idea is being framed in terms of “schema,” or pre-existing knowledge that makes it easier to make associations with new information. The experiments actually focused on how having a schema speeds up the consolidation process.

So what is the take-home message for people? Just this: learn, learn, learn. The more you learn, the more schemas you are developing, making it easier to learn even more. My guess is that this principle is especially useful for learning such things as a foreign language, music, or an academic discipline. This richness really will become richer.

To learn more abut the actual experiment, go to my Web site on practical memory research.