08 Apr Stress & Memory Decline
An Epidemic Amidst a Pandemic
April is Stress Awareness Month, but we all know that March 2020 to March 2021 was a stressful year to top all stressful years!
Stress has destructive effects on your cortisol and adrenal glands which don’t always bounce back once the stress passes.
Your physical health and mental well being needs a break.
The past year just hasn’t given anyone a break! Kids at home, working your FT job plus being your kids’ teacher plus worrying about your parents… the list goes on.
Have you been feeling more anxious and depressed in the past year? Have you been more forgetful? The anxiety and depression that stress causes leads to memory impairment.
This is not strange and you do not have early onset dementia. You have STRESS BRAIN.
There are many ways to get your brain back in working order.
#1. Go on vacation.
Yeah, not necessarily an option at the moment. When it is, taking time for yourself is one of the best and most enjoyable ways of reducing stress.
#2. Take time to meditate, exercise, and talk with friends and loved ones.
#3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids brain food.
Fish. Flax seeds. Krill. Chia. Kiwi fruit. Walnuts. They are also available in a bottle. I like something high in DHA because DHA in particular supports cognitive function positively. It is indispensable for brain health and memory.
DHA works by increasing BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and insulin-like growth factor which promote memory and learning! A typical dosage for DHA is 200-300 mg per day. But before you start supplementing, it’s a good idea to test your levels of omegas. Research shows that Omega 3s only help memory in people who have a deficiency. It’s an easy blood test I order for my patients.
*Caution to anyone taking medications (aspirin, Plavix, warfarin, and others) that increase risk of bleeding or who have platelet aggregation issues: never take fish oil without speaking with your doctor first. Also, never take a high dose of fish oil without speaking to your doctor. Over 3 grams of fish oil per day may increase your risk of bleeding.
Simple testing for omega levels can be done at Quest or LabCorp. Genova’s Essential & Metabolic Fatty Acids Analysis (EMFA) is more detailed and I recommend it for my patients with cognitive decline or a family history of cognitive decline. Cash price for this test is $185. With insurance, your initial deposit will be $80.
Nature’s most potent anti-inflammatory. Curcumin has been shown to decrease the symptoms of depression. It also increases BDNF, which improves cognitive function and memory.
Curcumin is usually well tolerated but can cause nausea, reflux, vomiting, bloating, and diarrhea in some people. Like fish oil and omegas, curcumin may increase the risk of bleeding and decrease platelet aggregation. In addition, cucurcumin shold not be used if you have gallbladder disease or stones. For diabetics, curucumin might lower your blood sugar.
#5. Vitamins and minerals.
When your body is under a high amount of stress, certain vitamins and minerals are depleted. The Bs, zinc, D and iron in particular can be depleted and these vitamins and minerals are essential for brain function.
Testing is key because dosing and safety are tied to “biochemical individuality” according to Dr. William Walsh. For instance, one person under stress may be deficient in B12 while another deficient in zinc. This is because we all have DNA differences.
Flavonols are found in ginkgo, fruit, cocoa, and beans. The flavonol, quercetin, is a major component of ginkgo which is a classic herb used to treat memory impairment. All flavonoids are anti-inflammatory. Flavonols are also present in green tea. On its own, green tea can improve memory but in combination with exercise, it enhances that memory formation. I drink 2 cups of green tea a day which is equivalent to about 150 mg of green tea extract which is more than enough for brain health.
#7. Exercise and diet.
Exercise combined with a flavonoid rich diet promotes new brain connections. It’s important to eliminate junk food and to decrease beef and dairy consumption. The Mediterranean diet is ideal although I disagree with one glass of wine per day for women because alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
“Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.”
Interestingly, too many calories or exercise can cause inflammation which affects the brain connections and mental health. I was an avid cyclist but when all the cycling trips were cancelled due to the pandemic, I lost my interest in cycling. Instead I started to walk and hike which eliminated my pandemic stress.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy. Estrogen, estrogen, estrogen! Stress can either increase or decrease estrogen levels so I test estrogen levels regularly in women suffering from PMS and PMDD, going through perimenopause, and for perimenopausal or menopausal women taking bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen is neuroprotective. It’s thought that more women than men suffer from Alzheimers and dementia because menopause occurs at a younger age than andropause for men.
Testosterone, testosterone, testosterone! As with estrogen, stress can either increase or decrease testosterone levels. Both men and women have and need testosterone. Women’s levels are at least 10 times lower but some menopausal women experience a drop in testosterone levels up to 90% while others see no decrease. Low testosterone levels in men have been linked to decreased brain function and memory. Using bioidentical hormones can help correct memory issues and improve tolerance to stress.
#9. Holy Basil, tulsi tea, is anti-inflammatory and regulates cortisol levels.
You can drink up to 5 cups of tulsi tea per day. It can be mixed with mint, chamomile, lemon, hibiscus, and more to give variety of taste. Make some in advance and chill for a tasty and healthy summer drink. Mostly used to decrease stress and inflammation, it indirectly helps to improve brain function. I like holy basil because it’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and one study showed it directly improves brain function and memory by increasing levels of one neurotransmitter.
Want to learn more about how to manage your stress and improve your memory in a healthy way with Dr. Kimberly Brown, ND?