April 30, 2008

Your Brain on Blueberries

[By Crabby]

So yet another study has come out saying that blueberries and other phytochemical-rich foods are good for your brain. These superfoods are even supposed to be "effective at reversing age-related deficits in memory."

Hooray! I love hearing that the healthy food I make myself eat all the time is really good for me.

But hey... wait JUST one minute.

I eat tons of blueberries and consume boatloads of other phytochemicals. And I exercise and get Omega 3's and do all that good brain stuff. And how good is my memory?

It's crap!

Well, it's not Alzheimer's time yet, but since I hit my mid-forties, I've definitely noticed an ever-increasing tendency to space things out.

Someone Never Forgets, but it Sure Ain't Crabby

Would it be that much worse if I was subsisting on the average American Big Mac and Coke and Twinkie diet? Would I enter and leave and re-enter and re-leave and re-re-enter and re-re-leave a room ten times, instead of five, before I finally recalled what I the heck I was looking for?

(Note: Apologies to you young folks. This post will seem boring and irrelevant. Check back in a few years when you, too, are wandering all around the house trying to recall where you set down your coffee cup only to discover you're actually still carrying the cup in your hand.)

Growing up, I'd heard that people's memories started to decline as they got older. But I thought they meant older older. Like, 80. I had no idea that stuff started slipping so soon.

Of course, if I'd just admit my memory is starting to go down the toilet, then perhaps I'd develop better coping skills. I'd write lists and learn mnemonics and rehearse things and just generally pay more attention. But instead, I just float around like I'm still 20 and don't really try to remember things. I just assume that important information, once heard, will be recalled.

But sometimes, it isn't recalled. It's just gone-- phhht!

It's not just the important stuff, either. It's all kinds of things you used to know. Have you ever sat with a group of middle aged people watching Jeopardy? You could make a whole new game out of it. Every time someone says something like: "I know that! Damn it, I know I know that!"--you all have to eat a handful of blueberries.

But here's the one that bothers me the most: often, I will think I have forgotten to do something. So, for example, I'll drag my sleepy ass out of bed and stumble downstairs at 3 a.m. because I suddenly realize I didn't remember to feed the cat or lock the door or whatever.

But of course I once I'm down there, I discover I did remember to lock the door and feed the cat--I just have no memory of having done it.

Perhaps there are only so many slots for mundane day-to-day memories, and by your mid-forties, most of these are full. I'm sure if I went to feed the cat one evening and discovered she was standing on her hind legs and had sprouted opposable thumbs and was using the can opener to help herself to our tuna supply--well, I'd remember that.

I hope.

(There are some memory resources here and a lot of products and services out there you can purchase which can help to train your memory. Personally, rather than add yet another set of exercises to my to-do list, I'd rather just forget things and whine about it. Other tips I've seen: get more sleep, magnesium, fish oil, choline, exercise, relaxation, social activity, and sage.)

Is anyone else a bit forgetful sometimes? Any suggestions?


  1. it is JUST beginning here.

    and Im already working to prevent it with the little things such as taking a different route to the grocery etc to keep my brain guessing (HOW OLD DOES ALL THIS MAKE ME SOUND!?).

    I visited a friend last weekend and played her piano (hadnt played in years) and I sore I could feel my brain ACHE from the notusedneuropathways employed by playing with two hands simultaneously.

    off to have breakfast.
    blueberry muffins, blueberry shake with a dash of omega 3's thrown in for good measure ;)

  2. Don't feel bad! I'm only 26 and I have this problem! Yea for going completely crazy and being a menace to my kids when I'm 70!

    If I need to remember to do something, I have to write it down, or I'll forget in about 3 minutes. I make lots of lists and check off what I have and haven't done.

    I've also read that artificial sweeteners are not so good for the memory.

  3. I know this is kind of off track, but I find that certain times of the month, I can't remember stuff, but especially verbal things like the names of people, things. The words just aren't there. My saving grace is that I know it will come back in a day or so. Once I figured this trend out, I really calmed down. Before that I thought I was just losing my mind!!!

  4. Oh yeah, I open the fridge and cannot remember why.
    Fortunately, a great deal of stuff ( I think) does come back to me. If I leave the room I just entered because I can't remember why, then, oh sorry, what were we talking about?

  5. I'm thirty and I do this stuff. I forget the most obvious stuff, and have to write everything down. My employees now know that if they don't write it on a post-it and stick it on my computer, all is lost.

  6. Yeah, I'm still in my 20s and I forget stuff all the time! I'm the list queen. I blame it on my children.

    But yay for blueberries! I'd eat them regardless. Can you pick them wild where you live? If so, I'm totally visiting you this summer:)

  7. At 55, I'm only slightly worse than I was at 5, which is when I first remember going into rooms and standing there wondering what I'd meant to do. And going to check if I'd actually done something, or only remembered thinking I ought to do something. And my favorite: looking for the napkins in the refrigerator.

    Then there's the time my friend found her reading glasses in the freezer, when she had no memory of being near the freezer since the last time she'd used them.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  8. I keep meaning to buy blueberries but forget...

  9. wishful thinking, Gena!
    I thought you were my age for some reason.


  10. I've always had a bad memory for stuff I need to do-- even when it's stuff I want to do! (I've even forgotten to eat on occasion. How lame is that?)

    I'm so used to using lists and other workarounds that I probably wouldn't be able to tell if my memory was slipping or not.

    My memory for information remains as good as ever, although I worry that at some point my brain will be so full of useless facts I'll no longer be able to remember things of real importance, like my street address or something.

  11. Yeah, it's like when you've driven for 5 miles and then you can't remember doing it. Now I do an entire operation and...when did that happen? I still remember to bill em, however :-)

    Dr. J

  12. Well I'm with the other youngin's on here, I forget crap all the time. I love, love, love when I'm looking for something that I'm already holding/wearing. Or standing in the middle of a room with a blank stare on my face trying to remember why I came in there again.

    I don't think you're getting old, I think you're just noticeing your forgetfulness more!

  13. Crap. I just wrote a hysterically funny comment all about my bad memory, when I suddenly remembered I was logged in under a different account and no-one would know who I was....
    I rest my case.

    Actually, one thing I did want to point out is that I think as we get older, we do our regular, routine things almost on auto-pilot,while thinking about other, more important things (blog posts?), then can't remember later if we locked the door or fed the cat.

    Oh, and Charlotte? I have wild blueberries growing a stone's throw from my front door. Visit at the end of July, 'kay? That's when they usually ripen. I'll bring the BearScare....if I remember.

  14. I run upstairs to get something...forget what it was. Go back downstairs. Then remember again and run back upstairs. And forget again.

    I consider it my hill training.

  15. Mmm...blueberries. Thankfully, I still have a good memory because my wife's is gone. Pregnancy does crazy things to a brain!

  16. I forget things all the time! So, I make lists and send email reminders and put notes on the fridge etc. Sometimes I even leave messages on my cell phone. But as I am not yet thirty and have a pretty amazing memory for academic and trivial information, I've decided this isn't really a memory problem. It's a stress and being-pulled-in-a-million-directions-at-once problem. Of course we are all going to feel frazzled and forgetful when we are asked to attend to multiple things at once all day long. I find a good nights sleep and giving myself small breaks during the day really helps keep me focused. I also keep a little notebook by my bed where I can write down any last minute "don't forget" items before I go to sleep. That way I know they'll be waiting for me in the morning when i wake up.

  17. I'm turning 30 this year, but I've had problems like this for years. I'll be in the bathroom brushing my teeth or something and say "oh I need to check such and such on the computer" and then by the time I'm done (say, 60 seconds later), I'll have completely forgotten. Sometimes I'm able to trace it back through my train of thought, but not always.

    What happens often often often is that I'll be in the middle of a conversation and in the middle of a sentence in fact, and I just flat out forget what I was going to say next. Not when someone else is talking, when I'm in the middle of making my point. It certainly makes conversations interesting. Then there's the forgetting of random words (that wheely thing you put books on, the round thing you put drinks on). Yeah. That's where my blog name Lethological Reader came from (lethologica=the inability to remember the right word).

    It only really gets to be a problem when I'm teaching class and I really have no clue what move comes next - sometimes the members call it out for me.... ;)

  18. While under normal circumstances I am not SO bad, being pregnant takes me to a whole new level or forgetfulness/airheadedness.
    I swear, this is a form of temporary insanity. I drive places I don't mean to, switch my coworkers' names, lock my car keys in my car, burn things in the oven and I will spare you the more embarassing ones...

  19. ... just so long as you don't lock your car keys in the oven and burn things in the car...

  20. You guys are making me feel SO much better! I love hearing that I'm not the only one who will forget what I'm saying in the middle of a sentence or forget where I'm going, or put things in odd places (LOVE the reading glasses in the freezer.)

    I have always been a bit of a space cadet--but it's been getting worse. Perhaps I can blame hormones, my preoccupation with the blog, etc.

    But you guys are way ahead of me on the workarounds--lists, I must learn to make lists!

    And Dr. J, you scare me sometimes! (But always make me laugh).

  21. I'm 28 and always forget things. The entering, leaving, re-entering thing? I do that constantly. Yesterday I used my phone and promptly put it in the fridge. Not 5 seconds later, I wandered around the kitchen freaking out because I couldn't find my phone.
    I wonder if part of it is that there are so many things flooding our minds all the time - to do lists and whatnot - that we just don't comprehend our actions half the time.

  22. I have a friend who is in her early thirties who says she's constantly losing her train of thought - and it's a short train. I told her just wait until you hit your mid to late forties and start going through menopause - you'll lose a couple more cars off that train. It's the complete fog I can't stand. And yes I had a half cup of blueberries in my post workout smoothie this morning. Sigh.

  23. I used to lovelovelove the game Memory when I was little and was recently (OK, yesterday) pleasantly surprised to see that I still excel, as I played a Gossip Girl version of it on CLTV's website. (I was procrastinating, eys). In general, I find I forget things when I'm stresses. Then again, in college I was a huge ball of stress and somehow managed to memorize a scary amount of organic chemical equations and structures. SO GLAD I did that! Blah.

  24. I had something witty to comment, but by the time I read everyone elses, I forgot mine :(

  25. "And Dr. J, you scare me sometimes!"

    You know Crabby, I've never lost a patient. Sometimes I forget where I put them, but they show up eventually :-)

    Dr. Who? (That's why we wear name tags)

  26. Lists. Lots and lots of lists. My memorys already not that great and I'm not even 20! So I make loads of lists and keep them everywhere (of course, this way of doing it backfires occasionally when I stick a list in a book for "safe keeping" and then conveniently forget which book it was that I tucked it into!).

  27. Memory is a funny thing. There are some things that stick and I have no idea why, other things that I want to remember and make an effort to remember and think to myself that I will remember...I forget. Writing things down is good.

    And then there are things that are just such ingrained habits that we don't even pay attention to doing them. It's like you're on automatic pilot.

    My husband picks me up in front of my office building every day after work. And every day I put my laptop bag in the back seat before getting into the front seat of the car. We drive home, I get out of the car, retrieve my laptop bag from the back seat and go in the house.

    Yesterday, it was raining and the wind was blowing so I jumped into the front seat, laptop bag and all. We got home, and I found myself standing with the rear door open, staring at the back seat, thinking something is not right...Until I realized that my laptop bag was already slung over my shoulder because I had never put it in the back seat to begin with.


  28. "Would I enter and leave and re-enter and re-leave and re-re-enter and re-re-leave a room ten times, instead of five, before I finally recalled what I the heck I was looking for?"

    But that's me now...eep. I've tried to eat a lot of brain smart foods lately. I like to hink I feel a bit more alert...it may be all placebo effect, but any little bit helps when you have the memory of a goldfish :)

  29. It used to be that I could remember without a list. Then as long as I had written the list, I could remember. Now, I can't remember where I put the list! I have a mind like a steel trap, the only problem is, it has rusted shut.

  30. I wonder about this, because I'm in my 20s and feel like my memory is crap, but I have no excuse.

    I figure when I hit my 40s, I'll attribute it to old age as well.

  31. All these people in my club! It's great! ;D Not really, but I agree with everyone who said it's a combination of stress and autopilot. And yes, I can vouch for perimenopause as a huge contributor to "brain fog", which will supposedly go away upon completeing that transition, I'm not there yet. It also is not uncommon for women undergoing menopause to become low thyroid, which slows everything down, including thinking. However, I found that I was low thyroid for years, and after 5 months of Levoxyl, I feel like I have my mind back to a large extent. I used to be able to write and actually speak in long, coherent sentences that had a logical, even elegant structure when I was young (I was an English major), but I doubt that will ever come back. What does amaze me is all the memories that are coming back in great detail, and easily.

    I mostly feel like my "hard drive" is so full it just has to spin longer to get to where my data is stored. In answer to some questions I have to say wait just a minute and it will come to me, and it usually does. But don't ask me what I had for dinner the night before, and I'm the one who cooks it!

    My husband's memory is worse than mine, and my Mom says the reason she never forgets anything is because she writes everything down and looks at her lists!

    Yes, Post-Its all OVER the computer keybaord and a few on the monitor, which is a skinny flat screen so not mu real estate there.

    Glasses in the freezer is great, I'm usually trying to put the trash in the freezer and the stuff for the freezer in the trash. The stuff for the fridge (a side by side) often necessitates opening the pantry door first and staring into it's depths in dismay, before it gets to the fridge, and of course stuff for the pantry I open the fridge door. My autopilot is out of alignment! I don't feel so bad since my hubby does the same thing.

    I shifted my Mom's windshield wipers for years when I would drive her car (floor shift) until I mostly stopped driving the minivan (column shift), now I try to shift the minivan by waving my hand through the air in between the seats!

    A daily multi vitamin helps me with overall alertness and energy too.

    I suspect you youngsters have electronics and tv induced ADD! All the 'pods, texting, surfing, and brief brief brief communications has trained your brains for short transactions, just IMHO. I watch tv shows for young people and the cuts are like half second images, the longest might be all of 3 or 4 seconds, sometimes it's almost impossible to watch!

  32. I think keeping mentally active is more important that food. The brain feeds on straight glucose, can phytochemicals cross the blood brain barrier? I don't think so. Probably more educated/menally active people eat better and thus the correlation. Skip the blueberries, read a book.

  33. Ummm, what was I gonna say?

    And does anybody know where I left my house keys? Seriously, they've been missing since Sunday.

  34. I'm 24, I'm terrible with names, and I do that thing all the time where I go into a room to get something and then can't remember what it was. If I go shopping for more than one specific item, I need to take a list.

    But I also have excellent recall for trivia and I can memorize lists of stuff and remember it for years. (In 7th grade our english teacher had us memorize all of the english auxiliary verbs in a specific order, and I still remember them.)

  35. I'm bad with names; it's just horrible!
    I forget people's names, even if I've known them for a while. Faces I can remember, but not so much with names.
    I shudder to think what I will be like when I'm older! Lord, help me!

  36. Lethologica - so there's a word for it! I put mine down to long-term stress (stress releases cortisol which shrinks the hippocampus, and that supposedly affects short-term memory) and then some physical stuff (the physical stuff is directly correlatable with the memory problems and known to be causal). Being in the middle of a sentence and suddenly not knowing what you were going to say is incredibly frustrating (so is the odd word transposition that sometimes happens when you hear a word you've said and it wasn't what you intended at all, kind of like you accessed the wrong storage location). And there's the fun of people telling you that they've had a particular conversation with you or told you something and you have an absolute blank spot and just have to trust them. Sometimes I can tell when people are talking to me that I'm not latching on to what they're saying and I probably won't remember it - it feels like it's slipping through my mental fingers. I had previously had a fabulous memory, so sometimes my new state of being really gets to me; it's hard to deal with at work and in personal relationships, but I try to keep a sense of humor about it. As a dear friend says "thoughts go in....thoughts go out". (and I'm only 41)

  37. my memory hasn't been the same since my children were born...so i guess i need to pile the blueberries on everything! thanks.

  38. Ugh.. totally humiliating. An old boyfriend from college found me on Facebook and it literally took me two days to remember who he was. I still only vaguely remember actually hanging out with him. I know we dated for like 6 weeks, but I don't remember when. How could I lose six whole weeks of my life? I guess it was college...

  39. Lucky for you, Cranky, you have a long term devoted reader who blogs about exactly this stuff all the time! (Guess you forgot about me, huh? ;) HA! )

    It's true though; the brain-slippage starts early, in our freakin twenties. TWENTIES. And lots of things (like stress) make it worse. (Speaking from personal experience, living on Twinkies and Diet Coke is one of those things, too)

    Lots of things also help protect and improve our mental function, too - most of them Cranky Fitness suitable. Things like exercise (moderate, no marathons required) a generally decent diet (which can include cupcakes, so long as it also includes good stuff) etc.

    But the brain fitness programs (Lumosity is the one I use) REALLY help. I know it seems like just another thing you're supposed to do, but the brain-games are rewarding enough to keep me, my friends, and even my mom motivated to keep up with them. Even when we revert to a diet of Twinkies.

    (I'd offer to write a guest post, but I think I just did...)

    Tori (formerly known as M.T.)

  40. There's some things i NEVER forget - like EATING. Or where I hid the chocolate.

  41. I love all these comments--it's making me feel much less like a doof.

    And Tori--Hi!!! I have been remiss in my blog rounds, so it's great to see you here. Lumosity, huh? Will have to consider. And guest posts by you would always be welcome!

    --Dang, stupid Blogger isn't letting me comment on my own blog unless I change my I.D. Anyone else having this problem???

  42. Like misfit says, it's probably just beginning. At your age, one of the earliest signs of perimenopause can be memory changes. Especially (and you'll like this one) nouns. Nouns more than one syllable long. Who knew it was hormonal, but some of it is.

    And part of it is that we live such habituated lives that we don't "see" ourselves doing what we do every day. But it's so hard to be present all the time.

    Just do your best.

  43. This was great, even for us (sorta) young ones. Last week, I was driving home, talking to my dad on the phone. I pulled up in front of my house while still chatting. I began to gather my things, purse- check- water bottle-check- phone? I looked around then started mumbling..."where the hell is my cell phone?" to which my 70 year old father answered "uh, Cara?"... so yeah, I hear ya. And how is my dad still so sharp?? no fair! :)

  44. These comments are so comforting!!
    I have always been a space cadet. The weird thing is that I remember random phone numbers, names, addresses, etc. but always weird ones like my doctor's middle name or the phone number of the locksmith (who we've only called once). Never the important stuff, like the kid's school, or a distant nephew I'm supposed to know...

    Even in high school, I'd lose my keys every couple of months (I still do). I'm sure it only gets worse...

    (and Cara, that's hilarious)

  45. Every single day something happens that I tell myself will be tomorrows blog...........tomorow blog never comes as its gone in about 10 mins after happening. LOL I will eventually remmeber days even months down the road. Lists, well I wish I could take a pic of my room here note central I tell ya.Balls on the blueberries I eat tons and still forget..............

  46. Hill? What hill? I don't remember any hill.

  47. Dear Crabby,
    I have been reading your blog & enjoying your stories, but "Your Brain on Blueberries" made me cry of laughter!!!My gosh! If I can relate!!!! And so, if laughter "does the body good" I have my treatment today!!! Thank you :)

  48. But here's the fun part: when you see a fact that you used to know, you greet it like an old friend. It makes you happy!

    Lethological Reader shared with us the meaning of her blog name, and a fine word it is. A little later MJ mentions it, and I, having forgotten about that nice word I had intended to remember, think, "Oh yeah! My old friend lethologic!"

    The comfort of encountering a formerly forgotten but familiar random factoid (is there a word for that?) cannot be overstated . . .

  49. You know, I'm still young. 20 to be exact. Yesterday I was at the gym, and had a panic attack a half hour into the spin class I was doing because I had absolutely NO memory of actually putting my bag in the locker when I was changing. I specifically remembered putting my jeans and shirt in the locker, then leaving. But for all I knew, I'd left my bag wide open sitting there, with my brand new 200$ watch and a 60$ steel bracelet on the top of everything.
    Of course, I did put it away, but if I do this at 20, what the hell hope do I have?

  50. I started eating blueberries every day about 6 months ago. Not on purpose...but I wanted a smoothie every morning and they are my favorite berry. I use frozen unsweetened. Anyway...I think my focus has improved quite a bit over the last few months. I don't know if it's the berries or something else but whatever it is I hope it keeps going. I have struggled with ADD my entire life and to get some relief is tremendous. I still forget thing sure but work has been much less challenging and that is a blessing.

  51. Great post. Blueberries are good source of nutrients.It also has antioxidants.

  52. i have been eating dole fruit bars - acai berry (hey, they say it has a serving a fruit in each one, i'm sticking to it!). love the "eating game" idea, too bad it didn't occur to me in college to crush these fruit bars up and add a little rum for a drinking game... could have started this memory boosting a loooooong time ago

  53. Thanks... for every one.... I'm 22 years old I forget every thing fast such as words, names and pronunciation.

    When I read the comments, I felt happy..


  54. There is nothing like having your wife laugh at you because you are freaking out looking for your sunglasses, lifting them off of your eyes so you can see into the shady places in the house where you might have left them. I did it when I was 20, still do it now at 43.

    Also, I LOVE blueberries. They make me feel really good. I think I might actually have a bit of a problem. I walked to 3 stores on 3 different ends of town the other day to get some.


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