Fairfield County Edition

Tired and Forgetful?

Take a Look at Your Food

Recently Mary, an attorney in her late 40s who had already missed her first appointment, came in late apologizing that she just couldn't remember what date it was. Her memory lapses had become more frequent and almost cost her job when she missed a court appeal deadline for a client. She was also getting progressively tired and felt constantly drained of energy. She used to be active but lately all she wanted to do after work was to drag herself home and go to bed.

When Mary’s client lost his appeal because of her forgetfulness, it struck her that she could have a health issue. She started researching online and realized her symptoms could be caused by cancer or early onset Alzheimer's. That naturally made her frightened and depressed.

This example of Mary’s condition is far from rare. Although a life-threatening illness always remains a possibility, many with fatigue and memory problems do not have cancer or early dementia. Instead, they may suffer from nutritional deficiencies that can go undetected for years. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the chairman of The Institute for Functional Medicine’s board of directors, over 92 percent of Americans are nutritionally deficient. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that an increasing number of people are presenting this way.

How can we become nutrient-deficient with so much food around?

As a nation, we are eating a diet loaded with calories but more poor in nutrients than ever before in human history. The increased availability of processed and “fast” foods has caused a downward shift in our nutrient intake. The average American’s diet consists of way too much sugar and processed seed oils, and far too few whole foods like fruits and vegetables. While some processed foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals, our bodies typically cannot absorb the synthetic forms of these nutrients as well as their natural counterparts. In addition, researchers have found that the nutrient content of our soil has decreased tremendously in the past 50 years. As a result, the fruits and vegetables grown in that soil have far fewer nutrients in them than they used to. This is especially the case with GMO crops, of which there are plenty in the United States. The human body cannot function properly without all of the nutrients it needs. The signs of this deficiency are, among others, fatigue, forgetfulness and sluggishness.

So what can be done?

Returning to our hypothetical example, several tests ordered on Mary ruled out a serious illness and evaluated her for nutritional imbalances. NutrEval is one of the most comprehensive tests available to look for nutritional deficiencies. Conventional doctors do not routinely test for nutritional deficiencies and even when they do, standard lab tests are narrow in scope and often outdated. NutrEval takes into account an individual body’s needs for specific vitamins and nutrients as we all have different metabolisms and rates of consumption. When Mary’s test results came back, she had multiple nutrient deficiencies. Her vitamin B12 levels were particularly low.

Vitamin B12 is an extremely important nutrient as it helps to form our DNA and red blood cells. It is also needed to produce myelin, which is the insulation surrounding our nerve cells. Improper myelin formation leads to improper transmission of signals throughout our nervous system. Therefore, it is easy to understand why a deficiency in B12 can cause forgetfulness, fatigue and weakness.

Getting nutrients the natural way is ideal and should be everyone’s long-term goal. However, since some of Mary’s nutrient deficiencies were severe, she was given specific supplements that would correct the nutritional imbalance faster and recommendations on how to improve her diet to avoid the symptoms in the future.

Within weeks, Mary started feeling better. She was able to return to her weekly tennis training. Her mind now stayed sharp and her reactions were fast, which was particularly important for her job as a litigation attorney. Her social life returned.

Steps to Take

Work with a functional medicine doctor to get tested. Once you have the results, these are some steps to immediately affect and improve your nutritional balance:

Eat the Rainbow. Try to get a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in every day. Each fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients so it is important to not eat the same ones every day; although it’s better than not eating them. Try to mix it up as much as possible.

Eat foods in their original, whole-food form when possible. Eat whole, organic, pastured eggs rather than processed. Eat roasted, pasture-raised chicken rather than processed chicken nuggets. Eat whole nuts and seeds—even salted is okay—not a processed granola bar that may have a lot of added sugar.

Buy organic. If we can’t afford to buy all organic produce, follow the Environmental Working Group’s advice and just buy those fruits and vegetables that have been found to be the most contaminated by looking up their list called the “Dirty Dozen”.

Emphasize food quality. Grass-fed meats do cost more than their conventionally-farmed counterparts but it’s worth the cost even if only once a week. They contain a much healthier nutritional profile than factory-farmed meat. Eating less meat at each meal and bulking up the portions with beans or rice can also stretch our dollars.

Supplement wisely. Almost all of us could use some vitamin D; that is usually safe to supplement and can do wonders for our health and vitality. Try to get 15 minutes out in the sun during prime sun hours with as much skin exposed as possible. High-quality fish oil can also be beneficial as most of us don’t get enough omega 3s; cod liver oil, in particular, contains omega 3s in addition to vitamins A and D. Multivitamins can help, provided they do not contain folic acid; look instead for a multivitamin that contains folate. And, if the multivitamin contains calcium, make sure it contains Vitamin K as well.

Most importantly, don't give up. Don't accept that a lack of energy and constant forgetfulness is the new norm. Take action. Chances are, it can get better.

Tatiana Fleischman, MD, is a functional medicine physician with her Integrative MD office located in Stamford. Connect at 203-275-6666, Info@IntegrativeMDCenter.com or IntegrativeMDCenter.com

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