Poor Memory Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Many of us can relate to memory lapses during our lives (if we can remember them).
My husband Rod said he had memory lapses during school exams. I’m amazed he can remember so far back, but I suspect his lapses resulted because of his attempts to cram a year of study into a few hours the night before. We’ve also noticed that we tend to remember things that interest us…and forget much of what doesn’t.
Then there are those interesting conversations like:
“Have you seen my glasses?”
“They’re on your head.”
However, consistent poor memory is a different story and can be an indication of deficiencies or medical imbalances, so it is a good idea to check with your doctor or health provider to see if you have any medical problems that could be contributing to your poor memory.
Symptoms of poor memory include:
- Ongoing forgetfulness, short term, or long-term memory loss
- Forgetting what you were talking about mid-sentence
- Poor concentration levels
- Foggy brain (feels like cotton wool in head)
Apart from any serious concerns, such as psychological issues, memory can be affected by stress, fatigue, lack of quality sleep, infections, deficiency of B12 and essential fats, eating processed foods and food additives, alcohol, blood sugar imbalances, and others.
Let’s look at some other factors. With these I have included a link or two to an article I have written about the condition and how diet (in conjunction with medical assessment and treatment) may help or support that condition. If you feel that there might be a relationship between poor memory and one of these conditions, talk to your doctor and health professional.
- Epileptic attacks, even mini ones: Neurological Support Diet
- Alcoholism: Quit Drinking Alcohol Diet
- Stroke: Cardiovascular Support Diet
- Digestive issues: Leaky Gut Diet; Celiac Disease Diet; IBS Diet
- Alzheimer’s disease: Dementia & Alzheimer’s Diet
- Depression: Depression Support Diet
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroid Diet
- Stress and anxiety: Anti-Aging Diet
- High blood sugar and fluctuations in blood sugar from high to low: Hypoglycaemia Diet
- Hormonal fluctuations especially when premenstrual or during menopause: PMS Diet or Peri-Menopause Diet
- Brain fatigue from insufficient sleep: Insomnia Diet
- Candida or other microbial imbalance in gut and common viruses/colds: Candida Diet or SIBO Diet
- Additional information you may find helpful is included in the article about the Dementia & Alzheimer’s Diet which includes a great case study on reversing cognitive decline
- Vitamin deficiencies: especially B12, folate and iron. Low levels of these vitamins are strongly linked with memory issues. Note: use natural folates from your greens, not synthetic folic acid which can block natural folates in some people
- Mineral deficiencies or imbalances. I have seen clients with a high copper to low zinc ratio who have memory issues that have been resolved with the correction of this ratio. A magnesium deficiency in relation to calcium levels is also important. In fact, it is worthwhile to get a hair mineral analysis from your health care practitioner to check for mineral imbalances.
The most common food I see related to poor memory and foggy head is gluten. Gluten is a protein within wheat, rye, and barley that the body cannot fully break down, which becomes an issue for so many people that I now don’t recommend anyone to include gluten in their diet. It is now so easy to eat gluten free. I have seen many clients whose memory has become sharper when going on a gluten free diet, so this is a great place to start.
Dairy products are the next foods I look at when I see clients with memory issues, for similar reasons to the gluten. Dairy often clogs up the digestive system, sinuses and creates foggy head problems.
Almost on par with the above two, the next substance that I like to see people remove from their diet is sugar. Sugar can do all sorts of damage, particularly by creating inflammation and blood sugar imbalances. If your blood sugar fluctuates from high to low, during that low blood sugar attack, your memory is usually one of the first things to fail.
Processed foods, additives, and hydrogenated fats
These foods are not nutritious for us and rob the body of valuable nutrients needed for good cognitive function. Some of my clients ate ham or processed meats on their sandwiches for years. Taking them off processed foods was all that was needed to make a difference to their memory and cognition.
Hydrogenated fats are another processed food substance found in margarines and some salad dressings. These fats compete with the good fats needed to keep a brain healthy. Artificial additives are poisons to the body and should be avoided, no matter how good your memory is.
Diet can play an important role in memory enhancement, but ensure you have investigated and addressed any of the possible links mentioned above with your health practitioner. If these conditions have been eliminated and you wish to have general memory support, then this diet could be for you.
Choline rich foods
Research has revealed that the chemical choline is essential for a healthy brain and memory. Choline is a water-soluble nutrient that is related to other vitamins, such as those in the B vitamin complex family. Just like B vitamins, choline plays a similar role in supporting energy and brain function, as well as keeping your metabolism active.
Choline is not considered a vitamin or a mineral but is known to be an essential nutrient needed for many functions of the body, especially brain function. Choline is a compound that makes up the structural component of fat and therefore is found in foods that naturally contain certain fats.
Our bodies can make a small amount of choline, but we must obtain most of it from our diet. Choline exists naturally in eggs, liver, beef, salmon, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and breast milk. Eggs are sometimes called ‘brain food’ because they are known for supplying high amounts of choline.
Iron rich foods
Anaemic conditions and deficiency of iron has been linked to poor memory, so it is a good idea to get your iron levels tested. Iron rich foods such as green vegetables, egg yolk and red meat can help restore iron levels.
B12 rich foods
Meats, mushrooms, spirulina and egg yolks are great sources of B12. If you have any digestive complaints, you are likely to have low B12 or an issue converting B12 to how the body needs it.
If you wish to get your B12 levels tested by your doctor, ask to also have your MMA (methylmalonic acid) levels tested as this is a good indicator to see if you are utilising the B12 that comes into your body. B12 levels should be near the top end of the reference range to be optimal.
Be sure that you haven’t taken any supplements with B12 in them for at least two days prior to having your B12 tested, or otherwise the test will only show what is currently in your blood from the supplement and not your true cellular level.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids help to improve memory. Fresh water fish and sea fish like salmon, tuna and sardines are beneficial for the brain, especially wild caught fish.
If you use a fatty acid supplement like fish oil, then look for one high in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) because this provides great cognition support and is beneficial for cholesterol levels. If I’m trying to super boost DHA levels in a client while waiting for the diet to kick in, I prescribe around 500mg DHA twice per day. Check with your health practitioner to find the right dose for you.
Note: the DHA component in fish oil is good for cognitive function and the EPA component is beneficial to reduce inflammation.
Coloured fruits and vegetables
These include papaya, carrots, bananas, bell peppers (capsicum) and green vegetables rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and anti-oxidants, all of which can help with poor memory.
Magnesium deficiency can give rise to poor memory so the addition of magnesium rich foods such as spinach, kale and broccoli can help improve memory and learning ability.
This is an amazing vitamin that is also a hormone and very important for good brain function, so get out into the sun (without burning) and have foods rich in vitamin D such as animal proteins, especially liver. Fatty fish and egg yolks are also good sources.
While a Diet for Poor Memory is not considered a cure, the idea is to include foods that support your body, and eliminate foods considered detrimental, to help your body to do its natural job of healing.
For this reason, a gluten free, dairy free, and additives free diet is recommended along with foods to boost B vitamins, good fats and good anti-oxidant levels.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Brian felt that his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, but he just put it down to aging, when his wife of the same age said, “yes but darling, my memory is fine and I’m the same age as you, so go and see Sue”. And he did.
On first observations with blood screening it seemed that Brian’s B12 levels were very low, but he was eating plenty of B12 rich foods. Being a bit of a steak man, Brian couldn’t understand why this would be the case, but other observations of Brian’s blood indicated that he may have signs of ‘leaky gut syndrome’, so we investigated further with a comprehensive digestive stool test.
Sure enough, that was the case. Leaky Gut makes it very difficult to absorb nutrients properly. Brian also had inflammation in his gut and antibodies to gluten (low level but still noteworthy). It’s hard to say what triggered the initial cascade of events, but Brian now had a gluten intolerance – and later found out that dairy didn’t suit him either.
We used a gut restoration diet (Leaky Gut Diet) which was gluten free, dairy free and sugar free. Removing dairy, sugar and gluten helped to reduce the inflammation.
After a couple of months on the new diet and the restoration program, Brian’s memory was considerably better and he had much more energy. His B12 levels naturally improved without the need for supplements.
Many of my clients’ memory issues improved with B12 supplementation, but as soon as they stopped taking it, their memory dropped again. This indicates a problem with the gut and absorption.
However, some clients choose not to have the tests or change their diet, so taking B12 without correcting the reason why it is low is only a band aid job, and may lead to other complications.
In Brian’s case, if he had continued eating gluten and dairy foods he would more than likely have developed an auto-immune disorder or some other health condition more serious than a B12 deficiency.
Always work with your practitioner so that you can get to the root cause of your health concerns rather than just taking pills of any kind, pharmaceutical or natural.