4 Causes of Memory Loss
We all forget things, no matter what our age. And in spite of the myth of the “senior moment,” recent studies have found that the “millennial” generation is actually more likely to be forgetful than their parents and grandparents. Nonetheless, lapses in memory can be worrying—particularly if you find them happening often. But don’t panic. There are lots of causes of forgetfulness, and most are easily remedied.
I’ve already discussed some of the things that affect your ability to stay focused, and many of them—like chronic stress and lack of sleep— overlap with memory issues. Today I’d like to talk about 4 things that can have a serious effect on your memory , and what you can do about them.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Lack of B12 leads to shrinkage of your brain, particularly the hippocampus—the part of your brain involved in creating and storing memories. This is the part of your brain where Alzheimer’s damage begins, and the part that is most affected by the disease. And while no one’s pointing the finger at B12 deficiency in relation to Alzheimer’s, a severe deficiency can actually result in dementia. Fortunately, B12-related memory issues—and the associated brain shrinkage—can be reversed with supplements.
How do you know if you’re low in this essential memory vitamin? The only sure way to tell is through a blood test, but symptoms can include any or all of the following, depending on how severe the deficiency is:
- Shortness of breath.
- Heart palpitations.
These three symptoms can also be related to more serious problems, so don’t ignore them if you have them. Other symptoms include:
- Bouts of diarrhea.
- Weight loss.
- Depressed immune system and less resistance to infections.
- A sore tongue or sore mouth.
- Numbness and tingling in your fingers or toes.
- Memory loss.
If you take the following drugs, it’s also a good idea to get your B12 levels checked even if you have no symptoms:
- Nexium, Prevacid, or other proton-pump inhibitors.
- Pepcid, Zantac, or other H2 blockers.
- Metaformin. This is a common diabetes drug sold as Glucophage, Glumetza, Fortament, and Riomet.
As you age, your body is less able to absorb B12 from food. So if you’re over 50, taking a B12 supplement is a wise precaution.
An underactive thyroid
This is one often-overlooked cause of forgetfulness. Both overactive and underactive thyroid can affect your memory. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is quite common, and is very treatable. In this condition, the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. The treatment is thyroid hormone replacement, whether with a prescription or through natural thyroid supplements. The most common symptoms of an underactive thyroid are:
- Chronic fatigue.
- Weight gain for no apparent reason.
- Extremely dry hair and skin.
- Hair loss.
- Dry, brittle nails.
- Muscle cramps or aches with no evident cause.
- Inability to tolerate the cold.
- Lowered sex drive.
- And memory loss.
If you have several of these symptoms, you may have an underactive thyroid. Thyroid supplements are available in most health food stores and, taken according to directions may correct the problem. If OTC treatment doesn’t help, you may need to talk to your doctor. A simple test can determine if your thyroid is functioning properly.
Lack of sleep
We’ve already talked about how lack of sleep affects your ability to focus. It’s also one of the most common causes of forgetfulness, and for many of the same reasons. But there’s a bigger connection between memory and sleep—sleep is one of the things that solidifies short-term memories into long-term ones. Lack of sleep also makes it harder for your brain to retrieve stored information. So the next time you can’t remember someone’s name, it may simply be because you cut your sleep time short.
What can you do? If you have a hard time falling asleep, there are several simple steps you can take.
- Try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day.
- Aim for 7 or 8 hours of sleep.
- Give yourself time to “wind down” before bed.
- Try chamomile. Chamomile tea is a soothing before-bed drink, and a drop of chamomile essential oil on a handkerchief under your pillow can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Lack of sleep leads to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels are associated with insulin resistance, and insulin resistance also leads to memory issues. Lack of sleep also leads to weight gain and extra belly fat, which new research shows is a risk factor for dementia and is one of the causes of forgetfulness.
Having extra belly fat
Research consistently finds that extra belly fat affects your memory—and not in a good way. Multiple studies show that those with excess belly fat are much more likely to develop memory problems later in life. Belly fat is also related to greater brain shrinkage. In fact, the amount of belly fat you have can even be an indicator of how likely you are to develop dementia. Now scientists think they know why. In a nutshell, here’s what happens:
Your liver uses a protein called PPARalpha to metabolize fat. Your brain uses the same protein to process memories. When you have a lot of belly fat, your liver works overtime and uses up all of its own PPARalpha. When it runs out, it will steal the protein from other places—including your brain.
What can you do? I can’t say it enough: cut the carbs.
Cut out the simple sugars and easily-digested carbs like breads and starchy vegetables. Avoid processed foods, which are loaded with empty calories, and pay attention to portion size. Eat a balanced diet of real food, not pre-processed semi-food. It’s your brain at stake here—take care of it.
Everyone has memory lapses. Whether you’re twenty, fifty, or eighty-two, it happens. We don’t think about it much when we’re young, and as we age we simply tend to take more notice of it. So the next time you forget where you left your keys, relax. It’s not a “senior moment,” it’s just a case of being human. And if you’re really concerned, then eat right, get some exercise, and whatever you do—get enough sleep.
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