6 min read

Memory loss is a common issue for people of all ages, and the causes can vary from person to person. While some causes are more serious than others, it's important to understand what may be causing your memory problems so that you can take steps to address them. Let's look at some of the biggest culprits of memory loss and how they can be managed. 


Overwork, Stress, and Depletion

When we’re under a lot of stress or pressure, our brains aren’t able to function optimally. This is because stress causes an increase in hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can interfere with the production of neurotransmitters—chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells—which are essential for forming memories. Studies have also shown that chronic stress can damage certain areas of the brain responsible for memory formation.  Multi-tasking is a strategy many of us can employ in response to having too much on the plate.  But neuroscientists agree that multitasking actually causes more stress on the brain, interferes with working memory, and can lead to anxiety and exhaustion.

It isn’t just stress that causes memory loss; it is also the effects of physical exhaustion. Long periods of working or pushing yourself physically without rest or breaks can lead to fatigue, which impairs your concentration and focus, making it difficult for your brain to store new information or recall old information correctly. It’s important to have enough recovery time in between physical and mental workouts. Take regular breaks throughout the day in order to give your brain a chance to relax and recover from strain you may be experiencing from work or other activities.

Lack of Sleep 

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for maintaining good mental health and sharp memory skills. Sleep helps your brain retain information by solidifying newly acquired memories into long-term ones that are easier to recall later on. It also allows your brain to rest and recharge, helping ward off any potential damage caused by free radicals that could otherwise lead to cognitive decline. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for best results.  


Nutrient Deficiencies 

Certain nutrient deficiencies have been linked to cognitive decline and memory problems as we age. Vitamin B12 in particular plays an important role in keeping your brain healthy by supplying it with essential nutrients like oxygen and glucose which help improve cognition and reduce the risk of dementia over time. Other nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin C, D and E have also been linked to improved cognitive performance so make sure you're getting enough of them through a balanced diet or supplements if necessary. 


Lack of Exercise 

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy. It helps keep your heart rate up and your blood flowing properly throughout your body. Exercise has even been linked to improved mental clarity and better cognitive functioning. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress levels too, which can help with memory recall since stress can often interfere with our ability to remember things clearly. Try exercising at least 30 minutes per day for best results. 


Alcohol & Drugs

Alcohol consumption has been linked with a higher risk of developing dementia in old age, while drug use affects the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory formation—in a way that impairs learning abilities and comprehension over time. Some of the drugs that can cause memory loss include anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazapines), cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), antiseizure drugs, antidepressant drugs, narcotic painkillers, hypertension drugs (beta-blockers), sleeping aids, incontinence drugs, and antihistamines.


How Does Trauma Affect Memory? 

When someone experiences a traumatic event, their brain goes into survival mode. This means that certain areas of the brain are “shut down” to protect the individual from further harm. As a result, some memories may become blocked or distorted due to this process. This type of “dissociative amnesia” is often used by the body as a coping mechanism in order to help protect itself from overwhelming emotions or situations. It is not uncommon for someone who has experienced trauma to recall details about the event but struggle with more general memories such as names or dates associated with it.  



Chinese Medicine Perspectives on Memory Loss 

In Chinese medicine, memory loss is seen as the result of imbalances in the interconnected organ systems of the body, mind, and spirit. For example, the Shen,or spirit, of the Heart plays a prominent role in memory. Shen  is said to live in the Blood Vessels and is nourished by the Blood. Daily habits - like driving a car, riding a bike, brushing teeth, singing a familiar song, walking home - are all influenced by the Heart Shen. Shen disturbancecan be caused by chronic stress, insomnia, trauma, deficient or malnourished Blood, as well as Heat build up - causing agitation and anxiety. When the Shenis disturbed, one of the main symptoms can be memory loss.


The Yi,or mental aspect, of the Spleen is responsible for applied thinking, studying, memorization, focus, concentration, and the generation of ideas. If the Spleen Qi is strong, one will have clear thinking, a good memory, and the ability to concentrate. The Spleen Qi is responsible for maintaining healthy digestion and nutrient absorption throughout the body. If the Spleen Qi energy becomes weak or blocked, it can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients necessary for proper cognitive functioning and memory retention. This usually happens from chronic or long periods of mental overexertion and work, as well as poor eating habits and nutrition.  The imbalance can then manifest as difficulty concentrating or recalling memories from recent events. 


The Kidneys are considered the root of life in TCM. Kidney Qi influences our capacity for memorizing and storing information, especially over the long term. The Kidneys governs our aging process. Anything that has to do with our health and vitality over the long-term or long-run is affected by the Kidneys. In addition, the Kidneys directly influence the Brain. Kidney Essence is considered a precious substance that is our life force in concentrated form. Inherited from parents, formed at conception, it defines our basic constitution and is connected to growth and maturation. It also directly nourishes the Brain, which can be considered an extension of the Kidneys.

Trauma, medications, chronic illnesses, and negative lifestyle habits can deplete the Kidney Essence over time. This can give rise to problems with memory and increase the risk of age-related brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's.



Improving Memory Naturally

Both Western and Eastern health practitioners agree that memory loss is a common problem that can be caused by many different factors such as trauma, medications, stress and anxiety, lack of sleep or nutrient deficiencies among others. Fortunately there are ways to address these issues before they become too severe.

Our strategy in Chinese medicine would include herbal medicine and acupuncture to calm and balance the mind, nourish and balance of the Heart, Spleen and Kidneys - according to the presentation of symptoms of each person. Herbs such as Gotu Kola and Gingko biloba, have been recognized in Western naturopathic medicine to be neuroprotective and beneficial for improving memory. In Chinese Medicine, we prescribe herbs in formulas that are balanced and treat the person's underlying patterns of deficiency or imbalance in the organ systems. We look at an entire constellation of symptoms to see what is the cause of the memory loss, in order to treat the whole person. For example, someone with palpitations, anxiety, insomnia and memory loss could benefit from a classical formula, Gui Pi Tang. This particularly formula nourishes the Heart, Spleen, and Blood. Another person who may have brittle bones (governed by the Kidneys), long-term insomnia and tiredness, low back pain, and memory loss may be given Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan, a formula that nourishes the Kidneys. In addition, to herbs and acupuncture, we recommend the following basics:


1) Engaging in mindful activities, relaxation, meditation.


2) Making sure you get enough quality sleep each night.


3) Eat healthy, balanced, and whole - get all the essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimal cognitive function through a balanced diet or supplements if necessary


4) Stimulate your Brain by engaging in new activities, learning new things, visiting new places, socializing with people, and being curious.


5) Exercise regularly to get circulation going and have healthy blood flow throughout all the organ systems.