Trouble remembering things is a classic sign of age, and with good reason: About 40% of Americans 65 and older, a total of 16 million people, show signs of memory impairment. Contrary to common fears, however, scientists say that only 1% of these people will progress to dementia each year.
That’s the good news. If you’re one of those 16 million, however, the bad news is that it’s still frustrating not being able to complete a sentence, remember a name or find your keys. Fortunately, you don’t have to accept memory loss as inevitable. Eating the right foods and staying physically active is a good start. In addition, there are brain-support supplements, known collectively as nootropics, that help sharpen a dulled memory—including a substance called PQQ.
Cellular Power Plants
Researchers have long known that the brain is a shameless energy hog. It requires up to 20% of the body’s total power output, and the need to transmit messages between cells called neurons consumes about two-thirds of the brain’s energy budget.
Neurons, though, only account for about 10% for the brain’s total cell count. The rest is made up of glia, cells that maintain and nourish neurons—the kinds of housekeeping functions that are crucial for proper brain performance. Scientists now understand that the glia, which are hard at work even when the neurons are relatively inactive, use the other third of the brain’s power supply.
All cells, including neurons and glia, generate energy in cellular structures called mitochondria. If these tiny power plants aren’t firing on all cylinders, the brain’s operating capacity suffers.
In fact, mitochondrial dysfunction is now recognized as a marker of biological aging. For example, one study found 50% more damage to the mitochondria in the brains of people over age 70 than in those of people who were middle-aged.
Today, many people seek to bolster their brainpower through nootropics. Some, such as ginkgo and green tea, have been used for centuries. Others, including various little-studied nutrients, are on the scientific cutting edge.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone, better known as PQQ, falls into the second category. It has shown an ability to support energy production in the brain by protecting existing mitochondria and stimulating the creation of new ones. PQQ also stimulates the production of substances known as nerve growth factors, which support neuron health. What’s more, PQQ has been found to fight both inflammation and cell-damaging free radicals.
Because all cells contain mitochondria, PQQ’s potential benefits go beyond brain support.
Research indicates it may help protect the heart, promote sleep and decrease insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
PQQ has been found in nearly all plants; food sources include soybeans, spinach and parsley. However, it’s impossible to boost levels significantly without supplementation. In one Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry study, PQQ supplementation resulted in lower levels of an inflammation marker called CRP.
Energy shortfalls can cause brain function to sputter. PQQ can help keep the power on.