Written by: Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND

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In our last blog we completed our talk about brain anatomy. Today we will be expanding on this topic by delving into what type of blood work/ testing you should talk to your doctor about if you have any concerns regarding your brain health/ memory. Now this topic will be split into 2 parts. When it comes to brain health/memory there are a number of chronic conditions that can cause concerns with both brain health/ memory. There are also distinct illnesses that can affect the brain, for example dementia. To start with in this blog, we will be reviewing the tests that can help rule out the chronic conditions that can affect memory and brain health.

Interestingly simple dehydration can affect memory especially if it is chronic. One question I always ask people is how much water are you drinking a day? A simple equation to know how much water your body needs is to take half your body weight and drink that amount in ounces. For example, if you weigh 160lbs you would drink 80 ounces of water per day.  The next question I always ask people is what prescription medications are you taking? This is important because as we know some medications can affect memory. This is especially a problem for those talking multiple prescriptions since the effect of medications on memory can be cumulative. Unfortunately, with many prescription medications they can have series side effects if they are stopped abruptly. It is always important to talk to your doctor about changing or weaning off of any medications you are having side effects from taking. † (1)

Memory/brain health can also be affected by certain psychological conditions. For example, many of the symptoms associated with depression can mimic signs of dementia. (2) Individuals with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are often misdiagnosed as having depression since they both present with apathy and emotional withdraw. † (1)


Chronic alcoholism also mimics dementia because of a number of different reasons. As we know chronic alcoholism can deplete certain nutrients that cause dementia like symptoms. Chronic alcoholism can also lead to dehydration which as we know can mimic dementia. Chronic alcoholism can also cause damage to the brain and can affect the brain’s ability to form new memories. Proper treatment could help the brain’s ability to from new memories if it administered early enough. † (3)

Certain infections can also affect the brain/ memory. For example, untreated syphilis can affect the brain leading to dementia like symptoms. (4) Lyme disease can also become a chronic illness if it is not treated properly. Chronic Lyme disease can affect the white matter of the brain leading to memory problems. (5) In addition to chronic Lyme more studies every day are finding a link between chronic COVID and memory changes. (6) Additionally, meningitis and encephalitis can lead to memory changes. † (1)

Certain nutritional deficiencies can affect brain health and thus cause memory problems. A deficiency of B1 or thiamine can cause something called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.  One of the signs of this syndrome is altered mental status as well as changes in memory. (7)  A long-term deficiency of vitamin B3 or Niacin can also cause pellagra which has dementia as one of its defining symptoms. (As fun fact Pellagra symptoms are called the 3D’s – dermatitis, dementia and diarrhea). (8) Having a B12 deficiency can also cause cognitive changes. If you are anemic for a long time the symptoms can resemble dementia. Additionally, any changes in sodium, calcium and even healthy fats can affect our brain and thus our memory. † (1)

Certain chronic conditions can affect the brain and therefore affect memory. Celiac disease according to studies can affect the brain causing memory problems. (9) As I mentioned in my last series certain chronic autoimmune disorder such as SLE can cause symptoms that mimic dementia. (10) If you read my series on thyroid, you may recall that hypothyroidism can also have symptoms that can mimic dementia. (1) For more information on this please see my blog on hypothyroidism. Another topic that I have covered in prior blogs is blood sugar. Having low blood sugar can cause symptoms that can mimic dementia. However, as you may recall from my series on blood sugar having high blood sugar can also lead to problems with brain health. (1)  For more information on how to talk to your doctor about SLE, hypothyroidism, and blood sugar irregularities please see my prior blogs on these topics. †


In this blog I have covered the most important conditions that need to be ruled out when it comes to memory/ brain health. Taking to your doctor may reveal other chronic conditions that need to be ruled out. In my next blog I will be focusing on tests that are directly linked to the brain and to memory. I wanted to start with tests that rule out chronic conditions because if you have any underlying condition causing the symptoms it must be addressed first in order for your memory to improve. As I always say if you have foot pain due to a rock in your shoes you need to remove the rock before true healing can occur. The same is true for memory/brain health. In my next blog I will focus on more brain specific tests that you should talk to your doctor about. †



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