Worry about age-related memory loss seems to grow every day. It is a hot topic for research that scientists are working on intensely. One of the discoveries that they have made so far is the role of a particular enzyme that helps with preventing memory loss as we get older.
That enzyme is called superoxide dismutase (SOD). We have long known about its role as a natural antioxidant that occurs in every cell of our bodies. It plays a crucial role in detoxifying superoxide radicals. We need superoxide radicals, though. They are important tools for our immune systems in killing infectious microbes.
Health problems arise when we make too much superoxide or when it hangs around too long. Its toxicity to invasive microbes, which we want, becomes dangerous to our own cells, which we don’t want.
That’s where SOD steps in to effectively put out the inflammatory fire of excess superoxide. Unfortunately, we tend to make less SOD as we age. A drop in SOD activity allows inflammation to increase. One of the consequences of rampant inflammation due to reduced levels of SOD is a neurodegenerative disease, specifically memory loss.
Boosting SOD Levels
Molecular biology is providing great insight on how we might keep SOD levels up over time. The best strategy so far has been shown in genetically modified laboratory mice. The pertinent genetic modification enables mice to produce extra SOD throughout their lifetimes, without a drop-off as they age.
In comparative studies, non-modified normal mice had the expected aging-induced decline in learning and memory. The SOD-enhanced mice, though, showed no such mental deterioration, even into old age.
These results are fabulous—if you are a genetically modified mouse.
What does it mean for humans? You may be surprised to know that making genetically modified people is becoming a reality. It is just not practical or cost-effective—yet.
We don’t have to play a waiting game for modern research to provide high-tech answers, though. Instead, we can look to natural products that have historically been known to boost memory.
Antioxidant Polysaccharides in Food
Polysaccharides are simply complex molecules made of many sugars that are joined to one another. Starch and cellulose are common examples. Foods that are rich in certain, less common polysaccharides have potent antioxidant activities. These activities include their ability to alleviate age-related memory loss.
One of the ways that antioxidant polysaccharides work is to reduce memory loss by boosting SOD activity in the brain.
Where do these polysaccharides occur? One of the richest sources of memory-enhancing polysaccharides is mushrooms.
One such mushroom is the Snow Fungus (Tremella fuciformis). This mushroom has long been known in China for its tonic and medicinal effects. More recently, Chinese researchers have begun to show its ability to stimulate SOD activities in aging brains.