If your thinking feels fuzzy and a little spacy, the problem may be a problem in your spaces – the spaces between the neurons in your brain.
Within your brain, the spaces between your neurons — called synapses — form connections that not only allow neurons to relay information to neighboring neurons but are also the locations where new memories are encoded.
But with each passing year, the ability of your synapses to capture and encode new memories may start to slip.
However, there’s a simple natural substance found in food (legumes, for example) that can prevent these memory-blurring changes and fend off the kinds of alterations that lead to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The compound is called spermidine. And researchers in Germany have shown that it is particularly important for maintaining the integrity of synapses and their crucial functions.
Keep Messages Flowing
Although each synapse in the brain is a space between neurons, the structure of this “space” is pretty complicated. At each neuron’s “pre-synaptic” end, there are mitochondria (energy producing organelles), other cellular structures and a collection of neurotransmitters.
In some cases, information is traded from neuron-to-neuron across the synapse by a small electrical current. At other times, the information travels by the release of neurotransmitters. Exactly how this process functions is still a puzzle that researchers are trying to unravel.
But they’ve already found one thing: Problems with the synapses are most likely the first things that go wrong when a memory problem like Alzheimer’s is starting.
In lab tests at the University of Bristol in England, researchers have shown that when synapses begin to malfunction, it sets off a long-term process that eventually kills off neurons.1
The researchers say that in a healthy brain, synapses are continually being created and phased out as you pick up new memories or you acquire new skills. But in the beginning stages of dementia, this activity changes. Some synapses become very unstable and become activated abnormally.
According to Bristol researcher Mike Ashby, “Because neurons are so closely dependent on their synaptic partners, it is possible that the changes in synapse stability could be actually part of the reason that neurons begin to die.”
And that’s where spermidine can help.
Spermidine to the Rescue
The German study demonstrates that, with age, the levels of spermidine in the brain may drop significantly. At the same time, the synaptic space between neurons narrows, a process that cuts down on the operational space in the synapses. The result is a narrowing of the brain’s capability of retaining memories.
But the German scientists found that replenishing spermidine in the diet can restore synaptic stability and prevent the distortion that often accompanies old age.2
In addition, the researchers showed that spermidine helps the brain’s immune cells clear out debris and damaged cells that can slow down brain function. The result: Memory improves as cellular garbage is eliminated and synapses are stabilized.
At the same time, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have demonstrated that spermidine is necessary for the proper function of the body’s circadian clock – the internal rhythm keeper that maintains proper function of the brain and other organs. When your circadian rhythm falters you are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer.3
Eating Spermidine-Rich Foods
Luckily, getting extra spermidine into your food is not that hard. Foods rich in spermidine include mushrooms, aged cheeses, foods made with soy, legumes (beans) and whole grains. Finding space in your diet for these foods can improve your chances of keeping your synaptic spaces – and your memory – working better.