Getting to the Bottom of Memory Loss by Sorting Out Risk Factors Including Mold Exposure

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

More health and lifestyle risk factors have recently been identified as catalysts for memory loss, all of which are modifiable.  These are in addition to the 9 previously identified by the Lancet Commission which included depression, hypertension (uncontrolled), smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, and lower education. The new additions to this list consist of traumatic brain injury, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to air pollution. According to the Commission, these factors account for a staggering 40% of dementia cases worldwide. That is almost half of all cases! Thus, addressing these risks alone on a personal level could possibly delay or help you to avoid dementia altogether, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Factors That Cause Dementia

Once again, we do consider genetics in cases of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, as there is certainly a genetic component there. Similar to genetic mutations discussed in my article last week, with dementia, there is a clear relationship between genetics “loading the gun” and environment “pulling the trigger”. For example, I was particularly interested in reading about the associations made between diabetes and dementia.   More recent studies into Alzheimer’s identify myeloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients as developing, at least in part, due to impaired blood sugar/insulin processing such that it is referred to as “diabetes of the brain”. Research has shown that when plaque is no longer properly cleared from the brain, it accumulates and may lead to neurodegeneration long before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become visible.

Untreated depression or bipolar disorder may also associate with increased dementia risk due to long-term imbalance of neurotransmitters and the bombardment of receptor sites in the brain that are unable to process the chemicals. A study on telomere length or the caps at the ends of DNA that are markers of biological aging helps to illustrate this finding. Telomere length has been shown to be shorter in individuals with depressive disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia. Telomere length and the structure of the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain involved in memory and mood regulation have a strong association; shorter telomeres are associated with reduced memory function. In this study, those patients who took lithium to treat their bipolar disorders did not have the same shortening of telomeres as found in those who went untreated.

A lower social activity and education have been shown to lead to a decrease in “neuroplasticity” or the ability of the brain to expand in the cerebral cortex,  the “thinking” areas of the brain.  These areas need stimulation to work properly. One recent 3-year study of over 2,040, 65-years or older participants showed that regular engagement in social or leisure activities such as traveling, performing odd jobs, knitting, or gardening were associated with a lower risk of subsequent dementia.

Hypertension and smoking both affect small vessel circulation to the brain surface and gray matter, which is why imaging of the brain shows actual shrinkage of tissue when these conditions are left untreated. Physical inactivity has a similar impact on this key piece of brain circulation. Maybe this is why we are often told to exercise to “tone our bodies and clear our minds”. Regular exercise certainly continues to show its powerful impact on our health. With dementia, in particular, the way exercise benefits us is multifaceted. Not only does exercise increase brain circulation, but it also lowers insulin levels in the blood to mitigate the development of metabolic disorders like diabetes which also contribute to the development of dementia.

Assessing the Newly Established Dementia Risk Factors

Now looking at the 3 newly identified risks, what is the impact that they have?

Traumatic brain injuries (sometimes from seemingly minor concussions), over time, have shown that the damage to the brain is often not repaired. This is becoming a silent epidemic. The statistics of boxers and professional football players who have endured multiple concussions and frequent hits to the head developing dementia have increased over the years and have been brought to our attention too late to successfully intervene.  Preventing trauma should be paramount, but when concussions occur, doing things to heal them needs to be immediate and sustaining.  Top interventions to heal the damage include oxygen therapy, fish oil supplementation, and targeted amino acid therapies.  When brain damage from a physical impact is addressed in time, the brain can be recovered and dementia risks can be lessened.

Excessive alcohol consumption works in several ways to decrease cognition.  According to a 2008 study at Johns Hopkins published in the Archives of Neurology,  people who consumed 1-7 alcoholic drinks per week had smaller brains than those who did not. Adolescents who became heavy drinkers between the ages of 12-17 compared to those who did not drink started out with less brain volume and lost even more brain volume over time. Why? Because alcohol reduces overall blood flow to the brain. When blood flow decreases, the result is brain fog, poor decision making, trouble concentrating, impulsivity, and more.  Alcohol also causes shrinkage to the hippocampus in the brain area, critical for learning and memory. It reduces the number of new brain cells. Overall the estimate is that moderate to heavy drinkers have a staggering 57% higher risk of dementia, according to the Journals of Gerontology, Series A. Thus, it might be worth ditching that evening cocktail after all.

Air pollution, which includes indoor toxins such as mold, mycotoxins, and chemicals can contribute to both psychiatric and cognitive issues.  Brain scans may demonstrate a scalloped appearance with overall decreased blood flow. Similar to the effects that alcohol has on blood flow to the brain, mycotoxins from indoor molds act on the brain in the ways described above.  Exposure to mold and mycotoxins has also been shown to increase excitability centers in the brain which can lead to troubling symptoms like anger, anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia. This creates a “brain on fire”; an inflamed and hypervigilant brain, but not a thinking, reasoning, or learning brain. It is a brain under siege from toxins. While we may not be able to eliminate and avoid all toxins in the environment, we can certainly make a difference in our homes, which should be our oases. Throughout this website and on the Micro Balance Health Products website, you can find MANY helpful articles about mold and treating mold in your home and body.

Protecting and Healing Our Brains

What things can you do to heal and protect your brain? I am glad you asked!

What follows is a list of simple and straightforward interventions and actions you can take–starting today–to make sure you are actively decreasing your chances of developing dementia later in life.

1. Limit or completely eliminate exposure to toxins. This includes screening your home air for mold and taking the steps to clean it up. The use of mold plates to check for spores and correcting the source of mold are the first steps.

2. Use an air purifier. While an air purifier does NOT constitute mold remediation, it can filter indoor air and blow fresher, cleaner air into crucial living spaces like your bedrooms.

3. Reduce consumption of toxin-contaminated foods and always wash your fruits and vegetables, eating organic when possible. Choose dairy and meat that is antibiotic and hormone-free.

4. Drink 3 quarts a day of purified water. You should aim to consume 1/2 of your body weight in fluid ounces of water per day.

5. Quit smoking, limit alcohol to 2-4 glasses per week.

6. Do not use chemicals or scented products in your home or car.

7.  Get physical exercise daily. Include methods for balance as well, such as yoga or tai chi

8. Treat brain injuries/concussions promptly. Make sure any head injuries are checked and are treated with seriousness. It is often the knocks to the head that we dismiss and allow to go untreated that lead to later problems.

9. Avoid sugar as much as possible. It is almost inevitable to get some sugar in your diet. If you try to eliminate known sources and extra sources, you can decrease sugar consumption drastically.

10. Treat diabetes and hypertension as if your life depended on it, because it truly does.

11. Learn new skills. Delve into the unknown! Get out of your comfort zone.

12. Practice memory and mind games, such as Sudoku or Word games.

13. Quiet the stress in your mind. Mindfulness exercises, prayer, meditation are all helpful.

14. Treat infections and inflammation-causing conditions. Infections that go untreated have the potential to impact the brain. Common culprits are fungal infections from inhaled molds and mycotoxins, chronic strep, or Lyme disease.

15. Use oxygen therapy which may be prescribed by your health care provider to enhance blood oxygen to the brain.

16. Treat depression and bipolar disorders with medication, therapy, and/or supplements. This pertains also to PTSD, ADD, and schizophrenia.

17. Get full and restful sleep. Sleep is the time for brain repair!

18. Address hormone imbalances, particularly thyroid disorders, as these are also associated with cognitive deficits.

19. Recognize your genetics. While this is not a death sentence, it is a definite call to action for more attention to these areas if you have a family history or predisposition for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

20. Engage in social interaction and community. These activities help keep the brain active.  Even if you are an introvert, push yourself to communicate with the outside world.  Contribute to society, volunteer, anything that gets you outside of your head and yourself for a bit!

Supplements That May Help With Memory and Cognition

Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oils) – A brand I like is Orthomega by OrthoMolecular. High-quality fish oil supplements help reduce inflammation and encourage healing.

Phosphatidylserine – (Thorne Nutritionals) Decreases the impact of stress on brain tissues.

Liposomal Glutathione(Pure Encapsulations) Helps remove toxins from the body and brain.

Tumeric/Curcumin – (multiple brands available)  Reduce inflammation in general.

Serraflazyme (Ecological Formulas) – Helps circulation in the small vessels of the brain and body.

CellTropin (Micro Balance) – Helps stimulate pituitary and endocrine function to balance hormones. This aids in cellular recovery, circulation, and overall brain function.

(All of these supplements are available on

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