In the fifteen years that I have worked with mid-life women in my practices both in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, one of the most common complaints I hear is about memory loss. It's not only a nuisance to women who begin to forget things, but also frightening considering the increased incidence of arteriosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease, which both start in mid-life. Yet, more often than not, memory loss is a natural, preventable, and even reversible part of life.
In today's society, many women are breadwinners, single parents, heads of households, full-time students, and function with little or no outside help. They are expected to juggle their own and their family's increasingly busy schedule and often do so without realizing how much they are overworked. With full-time employment, picking up kids, after school activities, shopping, meal preparation, working out, and household chores just to list a few is it any wonder women are having problems with memory?
In our parent's generation, women began their families early and rarely worked outside the home. Women took care of the house, prepared wholesome meals, and were home when their children got out of school. Back then not all that long ago this was considered a full-time job. Today, women are wanted and expected to do it all.
People commonly expect that, as they age, their ability to recall will diminish. That is not true. With proper diet and nutrition, memory can remain sharp and active well into old age. In fact, one of the reasons why many women suffer from memory loss is dietary. Many woman are simply not getting a sufficient supply of necessary nutrients and oxygen to the brain. The brain is surrounded by a protective envelope known as the blood-brain barrier, which allows only certain substances to pass from the blood to the brain. If a woman dose not have a proper nutritional intake, the brain easily becomes malnourished over time.
Another reason for memory problems, as I tell many of my patients, is that the function of the brain depends upon substances called neutrotransmitters. The neurotransmitters act as electrical switches in the brain. If the brain does not have an adequate supply of these neurotransmitters, or the nutrients from which to make them, it begins to develop a short circuit. For example, if your mind goes blank when you are trying to recall a specific thing, this is because of insufficient neutrotransmitters.
There are numerous other factors that cause memory to deteriorate, especially in our highly mechanized, fast-paced society. Exposure to free radicals, which can cause enormous damage to the brain if unchecked, is one. Nutritional deficiencies of anti-oxidants, B-vitamins, and amino acids account for memory loss in some individuals. Negative lifestyle choices such as alcohol, drugs, and smoking can also cause brain cell die-off. Allergies, candida, thyroid imbalances, poor circulation, and low blood sugar can also play a role. Wide swings of blood sugar levels also affect brain function and memory.
With our fast-paced society, one of the first things to be put on the back burner is adequate nutrition. Some people will grab fast food, which is high in fat and low in nutrients and may not offer sufficient protein. Sometimes, because of certain popular fad diets, people may completely eliminate one food group—strangely enough, in an attempt to be more healthy. In a high complex carbohydrate diet, or in food combining diets, or vegan or macrobiotic diets, it is quite common to completely eliminate protein, which is very necessary in assisting brain function.
As women enter perimenopause, memory loss becomes of real concern. Some patients tell me they walk into a room and completely forget what they went in for, or they have to write everything down or they forget it completely. This can be attributed to peaks and crashes or hormones, estrogen dominance, suppressed thyroid, and the growth of candida. Often times, putting a woman on the right hormone regime can help and sometimes she just needs a little extra boost from something else. Fortunately, with the growing field of nutritional, botanical, and smart drugs, there have been a number of exciting new developments that include vitamins, herbs, and amino acids. Many of these are valid adjuncts to a healthy diet and are gaining wider acceptance and usage.
If you are experiencing memory loss, the first thing you should do is consult with your doctor to make sure it's not a medical problem. From that starting point, the two of you will be able to identify a healthy and safe protocol that works.