As you get older, it’s typical to have sporadic incidents of misplacing your keys, forgetting someone’s name, or where you left your glasses. Yet, persistent memory loss that’s also accompanied by depression can be early warning signs that you may be developing brain changes than can result in dementia in the coming years. Memory loss and depression can also stem from nutritional deficiencies that are being overlooked. Let me tell you more about it…
Is Your Depression an Early Warning Sign?
Recent research out of New York University’s Columbia University Medical Center has shown an association between depression and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which includes memory loss. Even though MCI is not full-blown dementia, it may lead to it in later, more elderly years.
In their study, researchers looked at 2000 older New Yorkers and found that those who reported depression also reported memory decline. They concluded that non-situational depression in older people should be recognized by their doctors as a possible early warning sign of age-related memory decline. What is non-situational depression? It’s depression that does not arise out of a specific circumstance – like the death of a spouse or child, etc.
Depression and memory loss that’s present all the time, however, may have other, physical causes. These include structural and chemical changes in the brain from protein plaque buildups typically found in dementia. Neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that activate memory banks, or relay sensory information to the brain – can stop working properly.
Yet, depression and memory loss can also stem from other physical reasons too that are much easier to deal with, such as the following:
- B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency is common in older people. In fact, the older you get, the more common it is as your ability to digest and absorb nutrients decrease. After age 40, you lose the ability to absorb adequate amounts of B12 from your gut and supplemental B12 should accompany a B12-rich diet. B12 deficiency can result in both depression and memory loss. If you are experiencing both, a simple B12 test at your doctor’s office can tell if you are B12 deficient. Foods with good B12 levels are red meat, chicken and turkey.
- Iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency is running rampant in the United States, particularly in the Midwestern states. Lack of iodine can result in low thyroid output, depression, memory loss, hair loss, weakness, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, puffiness of the eyes, hypersensitivity to cold, weight gain. Iodine deficiency seems to be more common in women. If your diet is low in seafood, asparagus, garlic, beans, mushrooms, kelp, or you don’t take a good multivitamin, you could be iodine deficient. Again, a simple blood test from your doctor can reveal this. Good, natural iodine sources are those that are completely bioavailable – meaning your body can absorb them easily. Ask your doctor first before supplementing with iodine especially if you take thyroid medication.
- Serotonin deficiency. You may be low-carb dieting which can result in serotonin deficiency which can profoundly affect mood (depression) and memory. In fact, the “Atkins attitude”, is now a bona fide term used to describe the mental state that results in some people on low carb diets. It consists of unusually high levels of irritability, anger, and depression. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that not only promotes feelings of happiness and contentment, it also helps produce dopamine which assists your short and long-term memory to work properly. Instead, ease up on the low-carb dieting and opt for carb-smart dieting. This is eating primarily protein at breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack throughout the daytime hours with low-sugar carbs (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley) for dinner, followed by a piece, or two, of fruit for dessert/snack. This type of carb-manipulation helps your weight loss stay on track as well as your serotonin levels. See if your memory and depression issues get better.
- Too-low fat diets. Again, weight loss, as well as cholesterol issues, may be issues in older people. As a result, they go on too low-fat diets thinking if they cut them out altogether it will help them lose weight and lower their cholesterol faster. It can, but decreasing “good fats” can also wreak havoc with your mood and memory. Your brain is mostly fat and water. It thrives on good Omega-3 fats. If your diet is low in fat in general, it’s likely to be low in Omega-3s. Good sources of Omega-3’s are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel. Supplement with 2,000 mg Omega-3s a day and see if your memory and depression symptoms clear.
- Dehydration. Believe it or not, dehydration can result in depression and memory loss. Your brain is almost all water and fat. Low body water levels can cause your brain tissues to shrink and neurotransmitter chemicals to not work properly. Two recent studies out of University of Connecticut’s Physical Performance Lab discovered the detrimental effects of just mild dehydration on both mood (depression) and cognitive impairment (memory loss, learning, etc). Past the age of 50, thirst signals do not work as accurately as they used to. Clinical dehydration, with mental impairment, can occur at even 1%-2%. General rule: Drink half your weight in ounces of water for each 1 lb of body weight. If you weigh 160 you should be drinking 80 ounces of water. See if symptoms improve.
Depression and memory problems that continue may be a sign of actual physical, brain changes that need to be evaluated by a physician. They may also be a result of nutritional deficiencies that can be addressed and remedied rather easily. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. A sunnier mood and better memory may be as simple as getting better nutrition.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.