A dose of good feelings—dopamine—does the memory good, according to a new German study. A team led by neuroscientist Emrah Düzel from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) gave subjects either a precursor of dopamine or a placebo Memory improved in the dopamine group by 20 percent.
Dopamine, a multi-faceted neurotransmitter, is known by the public as “the feel-good hormone.” It surges in the brain when a person is happy or motivated.
Dopamine Improves Episodic Memory
While it is already suspected that chronic diseases that affect memory—like Alzheimer’s—is partially caused by stress, the recent research is a novel instance in which a mood-related hormone is suspected of improving memory. “Our investigations for the first time prove that dopamine has an effect on episodic memory,” says Düzel. “Episodic memory is that part of our capacity to remember [actual events], which is first affected in Alzheimer’s dementia. This is why our results can contribute to a better understanding of the disease.”
Because Alzheimer’s generally afflicts elderly populations, Düzel conducted the experiment among test subjects aged 65 to 75. Subjects first looked at black and white photos of indoor and outdoor scenes and, two and six hours later, were asked to look at more images, some of them from the first group, which they were asked to differentiate. Before the second viewing, however, Düzel and his team divided subjects into two groups and gave a dopamine precursor to one and a placebo to the other.
Related Read: How to Increase Dopamine Levels
For the second viewing, the two groups showed similar results. For the third viewing, however, the dopamine group scored 20 percent higher than the placebo group.
“When memories are encoded,” says Düzel, “certain changes take place at the nerve endings, the so-called synapses. This activation is however only temporary, and afterwards the state of synapses change back again. This is unless dopamine is available so that newly formed synapses can be stabilized over a long period of time.”
Other Ways to Improve Memory
Regarding Alzheimer’s, Düzel says research on treatment should switch gears from targeting protein deposits in the brain to other aspects, like neuromodulatory systems. “So far, research into this topic is still in its infancy,” he admits.
Dopamine isn’t alone in boosting memory. There are a number of vitamins and foods that improve memory that can likely be found in your kitchen. One study found that vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements can support both short term and long term memory function. B vitamins have been shown to support cognitive function by halving the rate of brain shrinkage – a physical symptom connected with dementia and memory loss in older individuals.
Additionally, Antioxidant-rich foods including green tea, berries, and omega-3 fatty acids are also credited with boosting memory.