9 Steps to Reverse Dementia and Memory Loss as You Age

by

RECENTLY, I SPOKE on a panel for PBS TV at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) convention in Boston. The topic was dementia.

There was a woman with mild cognitive impairment on the panel. Her condition is sort of like pre-Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone on the panel — including the Harvard neurologist — agreed that memory loss is NOT a normal part of aging. The sad part was that the panel didn’t have much to offer people in the way of prevention. Their only solution was just a very bad and pretty ineffective selection of drugs with lots of side effects.

But there is another way to think about brain aging. The brain responds to all the same insults as the rest of the body — stress, poor diet, toxins, lack of exercise or sleep, nutritional deficiencies, and more. All we have to do is give the brain a tune-up and we can see miracles. In today’s blog I will give you nine tips that will allow you to do that. But first, let’s look a little more closely at the magnitude of this problem.

Dementia on the Rise

Dementia is a big problem and growing every day. Ten percent of 65-year olds, 25 percent of 75-year olds, and 50 percent of 85-year olds will get Alzheimer’s disease — at a cost of $60 billion a year to society. Worse, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is predicted to triple in the next few decades. It is now the seventh leading cause of death.(i)

I believe this is preventable, that we can slow this trend and even reverse it. In a moment, I will tell you how. But first I want to explain why just naming a disease — whether it is dementia or anything else — is becoming increasingly unhelpful (unless you just want to match the drug to the disease which is the only thing doctors are trained to do).

We have to think about individuals, not diseases. In medicine, our genetic differences are more important than our similarities.

Sometimes the practice of medicine lags behind the science, and sometimes the practice gets ahead of the science. Genetic testing puts us squarely in the middle of that dilemma. We are at a crossroads, where the old ideas we have about disease and diagnosis become less meaningful as we understand more and more about the importance of individual differences in determining illness. This is a time when personalized medicine will replace medicine based on diagnosis and disease.

We once thought that heart disease and artery-clogging plaques couldn’t be reversed (and now have proof that this does happen), I believe dementia can be reversed…

In fact, disease and diagnosis as we know it will soon be an obsolete concept, an artifact of medical history, like bloodletting or phrenology (the art of diagnosis based on the shape of your skull, popular in the 19th century). The reason is simply this: Naming a disease does nothing to help us identify and treat the underlying causes of the disease. We must address these causes if we have any hope of helping individuals heal.

I’d like to illustrate this through the story of one of my patients who had a diagnosis of dementia.

Treating Individuals, Not Diseases

George and his wife came to see me because he could no longer manage his business affairs, had become increasingly unable to function at home, and had to withdraw from family and social relationships. He was desperate as he felt himself slipping away.

There is no effective known treatment for dementia. But we do know a lot about what affects brain function and brain aging: our nutrition, inflammation, environmental toxins, stress, exercise, and deficiencies of hormones, vitamins, and omega-3 fats.

It is not just one gene, but the interaction between many genes and the environment that puts someone at risk for a chronic disease such as dementia. And we know that many things affect how our genes function — our diet, vitamins and minerals, toxins, allergens, stress, lack of sleep and exercise, and more.

Even though no long-term studies have been done to look at treating dementia based on genes, there are so many scientific threads that weave together a picture of how and why our brains age and what genes are involved. This leads me back to George …

For this man, whose mind and life were evaporating, I looked deeply into his genes and the biochemistry his genes controlled and found places where we could improve things.

He had a gene called apo E4, which is a high-risk gene for Alzheimer’s disease(ii) and also made it hard for him to lower his cholesterol and detoxify mercury from his brain.(iii) He also had a version of a gene for detoxification of metals and other toxins (glutathione-S-transferase, or GST)(iv) that was very inefficient, making him accumulate more toxins over his lifetime. Having the combination of a problem with GST and apo E4 puts people at even more risk for dementia.(v),(vi) In another study, people with an absent GST gene were likely to have much higher levels of mercury.(vii)

George had another gene called MTHFR(viii) that made him require very high doses of folate to lower his blood levels of homocysteine, which is a substance very toxic to the brain. Lastly, he had a gene called CETP that caused his cholesterol to be high, which contributes to dementia. Combine this gene with the apo E4 gene and your risk of dementia goes way up.(ix)

We found that George had high levels of mercury(x) and helped him detoxify with foods such as kale, watercress, and cilantro, herbs such as milk thistle, nutrients such as selenium and zinc, and medications that helped him overcome his genetic difficulties by getting rid of toxins.

We lowered his cholesterol with diet and herbs. We lowered his homocysteine with high doses of folate and vitamins B6 and B12.

What happened then was impressive …

After a year of aggressive therapy that was matched to his genes, not his diagnosis, he had a remarkable and dramatic recovery. Before I saw him, he could not manage his business, nor did his grandchildren want to be around him. After matching his treatment to his genes, he was again able to function, and his grandchildren loved being with him again.

While this area of genetic testing and nutrigenomics is new, and more research is needed to help us refine our understanding and treatment, there are ways to look through new doors into an entirely new era of medicine that no longer focuses on the disease, but on the person and their uniqueness. Here’s another example of how we can do that.

A woman named Christine was eighty and was experiencing severe memory loss and cognitive decline. Her family was obviously concerned, so she was tested with hours of neuropsychological testing and found to have dementia.

Her neurologist offered her words of comfort, but told her and her family there is no treatment truly effective to stop or reverse the progression of dementia. That’s when her daughter brought her to see me.

We discovered many subtle changes in her health that on their own wouldn’t explain dementia, but when added all together put a strain on her brain function. All we did was correct those problems — low thyroid function, mercury toxicity, inflammation, and deficiencies in vitamins B6 and D, folate, coenzyme Q10, and omega-3 fats — and improved her diet overall. I encouraged her to exercise, because exercise can help improve cognitive function and prevent dementia.

Six months later, she had the extensive memory tests repeated. Her psychologist was surprised to report that her scores got BETTER!

To put this in perspective, mental decline happens progressively, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but NEVER gets better — according to our traditional medical thinking.

But just like we once thought that heart disease and artery-clogging plaques couldn’t be reversed (and now have proof that this does happen), I believe dementia can be reversed (if caught early enough) by attending to all the factors that affect brain function – diet, exercise, stress, nutritional deficiencies, toxins, hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and more.

It is really quite simple. Like everything I describe in UltraWellness, you get rid of the bad stuff, put in the good stuff, and the body heals. It’s common sense, but we are so far from that in the way we treat chronic illness with conventional medicine.

So if you know someone with memory loss, look at all the keys to UltraWellness extremely aggressively to find what imbalances are present and how to fix them. Remember, there will be no one treatment that works for everyone, because everyone is different. But here are some things to think about if you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss or dementia.

9 Steps to Reversing Dementia

Start by looking hard for correctable causes of memory loss. They include:

  1. Pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome
  2. Low thyroid function
  3. Depression
  4. Deficiencies in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12
  5. Omega-3 fat deficiencies
  6. Mercury or other heavy metal toxicity
  7. Vitamin D deficiency
  8. High cholesterol
  9. Unique genes that predispose you to nutritional or detoxification problems

Doctors who practice Functional Medicine and follow the principles I talk about in UltraWellness can help you find these problems.

Once you identify the underlying causes of the imbalance, here are a few things that can help your mind get a tune-up:

  • Balance your blood sugar with a whole foods, low glycemic diet
  • Exercise daily — even a 30-minute walk can help
  • Deeply relax daily with yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or just deep breathing
  • Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement
  • Take an omega-3 fat supplement
  • Take extra vitamin B6, B12, and folate
  • Take vitamin D
  • Treat thyroid or low sex hormones
  • Get rid of mercury through a medical detoxification program

This is just a start, but it can go a long way to giving your brain the chance to heal and recover if you have memory problems. Even if you aren’t suffering from cognitive decline, you should take these steps because they can help you prevent the aging of your brain and obtain lifelong health.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Have you noticed memory loss as you’ve gotten older?

What have you done about the problem so far?

Which of these steps do you plan to follow?

Do you have any other recommendations?

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below — but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

References

(i) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm

(ii) Tsai, M.S., Tangalos, E.G., Petersen, R.C., et al. (1994). Apolipoprotein : Risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. American Journal of Human Genetics. 54 (4):643-649.

(iii) Godfrey, M.E., Wojcik, D.P., and C.A. Krone. (2003). Apolipoprotein E genotyping as a potential biomarker for mercury neurotoxicity. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 5 (3):189-195.

(iv) Stroombergen, M.C., and R.H. Warring. (1999). Determination of glutathione S-transferase me and theta polymorphisms in neurological disease. Human and Experimental Toxicology. 18 (3):141-145.

(v) Bernardini, S., Bellincampi, L., Ballerini, S., et al. (2005). Glutathione S-transferase P1 *C allelic variant increases susceptibility for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease: Association study and relationship with Apolipoprotein E4 allele. Clinical Chemistry. 51(6):944-951.

(vi) Spalletta, G., Bernardini, S., Bellincampi, L., et al. (2007). Glutathione S-transferase P1 and T1 gene polymorphisms predict longitudinal course and age at onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 15 (10):879-887.

(vii) Gundacker, C., Komarnicki, G., Jagiello, P., et al. (2007). Glutathione s-transferase polymorphism, metallothionein expression, and mercury levels among students in Austria. Science of the Total Environment. 385 (1-3):37-47.

(viii) Dorszewska, J., Florczak, J., Rozycka, A., et al. (2007). Oxidative DNA damage and level of thiols as related to polymorphisms of MTHFR, MTR, MTHFD1 in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentals. 67 (2):119-129.

(ix) Rodriguez, E., Mateo, I., Infante, J., et al. (2005). Cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) polymorphism modifies the Alzheimer’s disease risk associated with APOE 4 allele. Journal of Neurology. 253 (2):181-185.

(x) Mutter, J., Naumann, J., Schneider, R., et al. (2007). Mercury and Alzheimer’s disease. Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie 75 (9):528-538.

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19 Responses to 9 Steps to Reverse Dementia and Memory Loss as You Age

  1. Billy Balentine February 28, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    I am 70 yrs old and having distrubing memory loss. I am in very good phys health through working out at our local YMCA. I tread mill at 4mph for thirty minutes and lift light weights (3sets of 20 reps) 3 times a week and I play golf 3 times a week during the warm months. I take a Multi Vitamins, I used to take Omega-3 & 7, VIT B6&B12,VitD. Upon the start of memory loss I quit taking everything except the Mult Vit. Thinking maybe they were the reason for my problem.

    My mother died from the affects of Alzimers My father is 91 years old and is mentally stable.

    I’m certainly interested in your opinon of ways to improve my memory. I get a physical every year(with good results), except for triglycerides are slighty high.

    • Avatar of Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff
      Dr. Hyman Nutrition Staff February 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Hi Billy,

      Thank you for your interest in Dr Hyman’s work. Unfortunately Dr Hyman cannot provide personal medical advice in this forum. There is so much you can do to preserve your brain health and you can get started by applying the advice in this article! For more personalized nutrition advice or how to use this article as your guide, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: http://www.bloodsugarsolution.com/nutrition-coaching/ OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

      You might also be interested in this program: http://store.ultramind.com/

  2. Jackie May 11, 2013 at 2:05 am #

    Hi, I need emergency help my dad is very sick. I went to see him and he looks like his going insane. he cry by himself, he talks about the past when he was a child. he doesn’t recognize me all the time. now he laugh, cries, slap himself. I’m extremely devastated, please help meeee!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Avatar of HymanStaff
      HymanStaff May 30, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

      Thank you for your message and your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. Your question and constellation of symptoms represents a complex medical condition. Questions regarding conditions like these cannot be answered in a responsible manner via the Internet.

      To locate a practitioner of functional medicine in your area see the “Find a Functional Medicine Practitioner” link at the Institute of Functional Medicine website: http://www.functionalmedicine.org/practitioner_search.aspx?id=117.

      Wishing You the Best of Health!

      Dr. Hyman Staff

  3. norman May 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I get very confused when one doctor says one thing and the next says something else??? I’m reading Dr Barnards new book about food for the brain and all of his recipes in the book are vegetarian yet you include meat and seafood then you talk about cholesterol contributing to memory lost….I have the utmost respect for doctors dr’s Campbell & McDougall who can back up there claims with great research (the china study) then comes along someone who says it’s all right to eat salmon and lamb??? I think you all need to get on the same page so that we can decide what’s best for our health

  4. LYNN May 19, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Hello
    I have only recently come across your website and find it so interesting in all aspects and have made a conscious decision to improve my diet and exercise regime which is sadly lacking. I am 69 years of age and both my grandmother and mother developed dementia in their 60′s. I have noticed a recline in memory but have recently experienced over 4 years of extreme stress so put it down to that. I intend to follow your advice re supplements but I am sure that I cannot get lab tests here in New Zealand as mentioned above. Not being one to like taking medicines I do take Accuretic and Ezetrol daily for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and will endeavour through your advice on diet supplements etc to get beyond requiring these medications. Very interesting the argument that cholesterol is not the killer we are lead to believe by the Medical fraternity.
    Kind regards to you all,
    Lynn

  5. Dr Nirmala Menon May 20, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Dear Dr Hyman:

    My mother has recently been diagnosed with signs of dementia. She is only 68 and was a very active and energetic woman. Recently (over 9 months or therabouts) I noticed a slowing down and withdrawal from a lot of activities. I showed her to a general physician and he prescribed some vitamins. This article is giving me hope that perhaps the decline can be arrested or even reversed. Can I have an extended consultation with you? I am really worried.

    Btw, I am writing from India, I am an educator and was living in the Boston area for 10 years before relocating to India a year ago.

    I look forward to a reply from you,

    • Avatar of HymanStaff
      HymanStaff May 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      Hello Dr. Menon,

      Thank you for your message and your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. If you would like information on becoming a patient at The UltraWellness Center, please see “How to Become a Patient” at http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com. You may also feel free to call The UltraWellness Center at (413) 637-9991.

      Wishing You the Best of Health!

      Dr. Hyman Staff

  6. Adrienne August 8, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    ” I looked deeply into his genes and the biochemistry his genes controlled and found places where we could improve things.”

    I’ve never heard of looking at a person’s genes. How do we find someone who can do that?”

    Thank you,

    Adrienne

  7. sandy August 11, 2013 at 2:08 am #

    Hi there, I am 32 years old, mom of two,divorced for past few months.
    I have short term memory problems, and It happens like when I about to do something or think of doing it, I move to do something else forgetting about the first thing I was supposed to do.maybe I like to mutlitask and do alot at once to get things done but its affecting me and people around me a little and my late gran had dementia, also worry and anxiety, and depression, my mom worries alot as well and is always paranoid, I’m training myself to not think about that but is there any help or tips you can give me?
    Thanks

  8. Kailash Sethi November 14, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    I am 70+ woman. Read this article 9 steps to reverse dementia which is very helpful. Thanks a lot for giving such useful tips Dr Hyman.

  9. Going crazy December 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    My husband is a 63 year old man that has numberous health issues. Just recently went through a series of operations to reconstruct his spine. He was in and out of the hospitals and rehap for a total of 102 days this time, he has had approximately 6 back operations over the years. My husband has Malignant Hyperthermia, MS Relax/Remitten, psoriatic artheritis and psoriasis, tenitus, has had 2 knees replaced, 3 disc removed from his neck, and on numerous pain killers, not one at a time but sometimes 3 and 4. He has a very bad drop foot and now a memory loss. He had been experiencing memory loss before this last round of surgaries, but he is having a hard time remembering things we discuss 5 minutes ago but can remember somethings we discussed a day or so ago,I write things down for him he reads them and instantly gone from his brain, he is now on aricept hopefully so this loss of memory will slow down, any thoughts?

    • Avatar of Team Hyman
      Team Hyman December 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum. In order to provide you the proper care you need we hope you will seek the attention of a local qualified Functional Med practitioner soon. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman, go to http://www.functionalmedicine.org/practitioner_search.aspx?id=117 and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.
      You can also make an appointment to be a patient at Dr.Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA. Please go to: http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com/becoming-a-patient/
      Did you know you can work with Dr. Hyman’s nutritionists virtually? For personalized nutrition coaching, please see: http://store.drhyman.com/Store/List/Coaching-Programs
      In Good Health,
      Dr. Hyman’s Wellness Staff

  10. Minnie atienza April 23, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Hi, i recently found out i have FTD. It was really devastatimg news. Then a friend referred me to a doctor who practices integrative science. He put me in a 15- day treatment of heavy metal detoxification and megadoses of nutrients for neuron regeneration. Im only on my 2nd treatment but reading about this really gives me hope and a feeling that i did the right thing of not approaching this just the conventional way.

  11. Dementia Clinic June 4, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Thanks for the post. As someone with a grandmother who is currently suffering from the early stages of dementia it’s nice to know I’m not alone. It’s such a heartbreaking condition that I hope we find a way to deal with soon. Thanks again for the post.

  12. Tushka June 28, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Thanks for this article, I am 33 years old but suffer from memory impairment as a result of undertaking Hepatitis C treatment in my late 20s. After a year of doing memory exercises I see a slight improvement (maybe 10%) but it is slow going. I am now in the process of exploring dietary approaches like Omega 3s to try to boost my brain function, having read your article I will also go to the doctor’s to get tested for some of the things you mention like thyroid issues or mercury toxicity. I still believe that my memory can be improved but it certainly isn’t easy! :-)

    • Avatar of Team Hyman
      Team Hyman June 28, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Hi Tushka,

      I am glad that you enjoyed the article and that it has motivated you to seek additional help in boosting your memory! Did you know you can work with Dr. Hyman’s nutritionists virtually? For personalized nutrition coaching, please see: http://store.drhyman.com/Store/List/Coaching-Programs.

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