Doctor’s Tip: Alzheimer’s — how inadequate sleep, certain medications and certain medical conditions can adversely affect your brain
This is the third of a series of columns about the memory-robbing disease Alzheimer’s, based on Dr. Neal Barnard’s book “Power Foods For The Brain, An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory.” The first column in this series was an overview of Alzheimer’s disease, and last week’s column was about the importance of aerobic exercise in maintaining optimal brain health.
We all have experienced brain fog after a night of inadequate sleep. Sleep is critical for optimal brain function. In the first half of the night we consolidate memories of facts and events. In the second half of the night, when REM (rapid eye movement) predominates, we integrate memories related to new skills and to emotions. The production of amyloid brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s is higher during the day than it is during restful sleep at night. Following are factors that adversely affect sleep:
• Caffeine: The half- life of caffeine is about six hours. If you have a cup of coffee at 8 a.m., a quarter of the caffeine is still in your bloodstream at 8 p.m.
• Alcohol helps you fall asleep, but the aldehydes that form from alcohol stimulate you, causing early-morning awakening.
• High protein foods in the evening interfere with sleep by blocking serotonin production.
• Prostate problems in aging men interrupt sleep by causing urinary frequency.
• Sleep apnea, both obstructive and central (the latter is related to living at altitude). Anyone with signs suggestive of dementia should have an overnight pulse oximetry to screen for sleep apnea.
• Prescriptions sleep meds such as Ambien, Halcion and Sonata can cause mental fogginess and memory issues.
• Over-the-counter sleep aids such as Benadryl, Sominex and Unisom can do the same thing.
• Anti-histamines used for allergies (e.g. diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine) and to treat cold symptoms (e.g. Nyquil) can adversely affect brain function.
• Certain anti-depressants can cause brain fog, such Elavil, Tofranil, Effexor, Prozac and Paxil.
• Anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium, Ativan and Xanax can interfere with memory and thinking.
• Narcotic pain pills, such as Percodan and Vicodin.
• Beta blockers, sometimes used for hypertension and heart irregularities, such as propranolol and atenolol.
• Statins can rarely cause brain fog, but on the other hand they lower high cholesterol that left untreated raises the risk of dementia.
• Depression and anxiety can cause sleep, thinking and memory difficulties. Pseudo-dementia occurs in elderly people who appear to have dementia but are actually just depressed.
• Coronary bypass surgery can affect memory, sometimes transiently and sometimes permanently.
• Head trauma, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis.
• Celiac disease is a hereditary disease that occurs in about 1 percent of the population, and is related to a severe reaction to gluten present in wheat, barley and rye. Fatigue and mental fuzziness are common symptoms.
If you or a loved one are experiencing memory or thinking difficulties, be sure that sleep is adequate, that medications aren’t contributing (check with your pharmacist), and that medical conditions aren’t a factor. The next few columns will be about the optimal diet to maintain normal brain function. What you do and don’t eat has the most impact on brain health.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don’t understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.