When people begin to notice memory loss in themselves or their loved ones, they commonly wonder whether anything can be done to reverse the condition. As a functional medicine specialist, I am never content to accept a diagnosis without asking the question, “Why?” Why is this happening NOW?
If these questions have an answer, that answer can become the basis for a therapeutic plan to slow, stop, or even reverse memory loss.
In conventional medicine the concept of delirium comes closest to identifying memory loss as a symptom of something deeper rather than a diagnostic end in itself. Delirium is defined by the National Institutes of Health as:
“sudden severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness”
Here is a key message: If you or your loved one has a rapid change in memory status, no matter their age, think delirium. Delirium can be reversed of one can find the underlying cause. Often, these causes are related to acute toxic exposures, infections, or surgery and its associated medication load.
In my clinical practice I view every case of memory dysfunction as possibly reversible. Keeping in mind that we may not always be able to identify an underlying cause, it is nevertheless appropriate to look as deeply as possible for the underlying imbalances that can contribute to memory loss.
Below is a list of possible causes to consider:
INFECTIONS: Especially Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis, cytomegalovirus, herpes, toxoplasmosis, HIV, certain fungal/mold infections, certain parasite infections
TOXINS: These may include medications including those used for anesthesia or surgery, painkillers and neurological disease; heavy metals especially cadmium, mercury, and lead; solvents, especially volatile organic compounds; pesticides
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES: including B vitamins, magnesium, essential fatty acids, and key amino acids. When these imbalances are combined with genetic inefficiencies in utilizing these nutrients, the symptoms tend to be worse.
METABOLIC/HORMONE IMBALANCES: Including excessive oxidation, impaired glucose and insulin metabolism, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive hormone deficiencies, kidney dysfunction, liver dysfunction, poor energy production, decreased blood flow due to plaque buildup in small arteries
NEUROTRANSMITTER/INFLAMMATORY IMBALANCES: Including depression, anxiety, excessive stress, multitasking (especially for initial memory deficits), excessive inflammatory molecules
The list is long but worth considering. Often people who are in their 40s begin to notice that their memory is decreasing. While we know that it is better to focus on building a more resilient brain and memory, investigating underlying problems that can reduce memory is more helpful the sooner it is started. Keep in mind that in all of the above cases, there exist interventions that may help.