Two Surprising Causes of Dementia – And How to Prevent Damage to Your Brain

Dr. Janet Zand
April 7, 2019


Some of the bad habits that contribute to dementia are obvious. Unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, and exposure to pesticides may all play a role. But other contributing factors may surprise you.

In fact, very few people ever think about these factors, but they’re more common than expected. And they can affect just about anyone. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent them....

The first has to do with blood pressure. You know that it’s dangerous for your blood pressure to be too high. But research shows that sudden drops in blood pressure can also be dangerous – even if your blood pressure is in the normal range.

Researchers followed 11,709 middle-aged participants for an average of 25 years. The researchers met with each participant up to five times over the course of the study. At each meeting, the researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure. Then they asked them to lie down for 20 minutes and then stand up smoothly and quickly. They measured their blood pressure again.

They repeated this process five times. After averaging the readings, they compared them to each person’s average blood pressure at rest.

The researchers were looking for orthostatic hypotension, or a sudden drop in blood pressure. They defined this as a drop of at least 20 mmHg in systolic blood pressure or at least 10 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure. 

At the beginning of the study, 552 of the participants had orthostatic hypotension. The researchers reviewed the participants’ medical records to determine who developed dementia during the course of the study. Of those with orthostatic hypotension, 12.5% developed dementia, compared to only 9% of those without. 

These numbers might seem close at first glance. But the researchers found that having orthostatic hypotension ultimately increased dementia risk by 54%. The condition also doubled the participants’ risk of ischemic stroke.

So far, the researchers don’t know exactly what causes this connection; only that it exists. But circulation issues could be to blame. You probably aren’t measuring your own blood pressure when you lie down and stand up, and most doctors don’t check for this either. But if you feel faint, dizzy, or lightheaded when you stand up quickly, you might have orthostatic hypotension.

The researchers would tell you to have a doctor check to see if you do indeed have this condition. And then they’d put you on a watch list for dementia. But I think you should go further and begin taking some preventative steps.

Keeping Healthy Circulation to the Brain

You can help support healthy blood pressure and circulation, especially to the brain, by taking CircO2. In addition to nitric oxide, which your body needs to keep blood flowing properly, it contains magnesium to keep your blood pressure regulated. Low blood pressure is generally preferable to high. But we want to leave “how low can you go” to limbo games. The magnesium in CircO2 will help you stay within healthy limits.

Moderation Can Save Your Brain

Speaking of healthy limits, you’ll need to set some yourself to avoid the second surprising cause of dementia. As you probably know, there’s plenty of conflicting information on alcohol’s effects on your health. Most doctors agree that for women, one glass of red wine can be beneficial. But the key word there is “one.” Much more than that can quickly lead to problems.

Beyond the obvious issues linked to overconsumption, it seems that drinking in excess can harm your brain over time. In fact, research has linked drinking too much to early onset dementia, one of the most troubling forms. This is dementia that sets in before the age of 65. It can rob you of decades of enjoyment. Rather than spending your retirement savings on cruises and gifts for your grandchildren, your loved ones will have to use your nest egg to provide you with memory care.

While there are other causes of early onset dementia, drinking in excess is number one. In fact, in a study of 57,000 cases, the researchers linked chronic heavy drinking to a whopping 57% of the cases. 

So how much alcohol is too much? The researchers defined chronic heavy drinking as three or more drinks a day for women. For men, it was four or more. That sounds like a lot – and it is. You might think you never drink this much. But keep in mind that when we pour our own drinks, especially wine, it’s easy to be generous. A serving of wine is 5 ounces. So a standard 750 ml bottle of wine should give you five servings. If you’re going through a bottle of wine in two nights, you’re approaching this dangerous threshold. 

A study in mice also found that heavy drinking in adolescence can contribute to dementia in adults. So if you made some poor choices as a teenager, you’ll want to take extra precautions now. Make sure you’re watching what you eat (and drink) right now, get plenty of exercise and sleep, and check the website for additional targeted strategies to help you ward off dementia.

Heavy drinking isn’t just bad for your brain. It’s bad for your whole body. It can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and even hearing loss. And these issues can cause you to feel too lousy to engage in good habits. That may make you want to drink more, creating a vicious cycle that destroys your cognitive health.

Alcohol in moderation does offer some health benefits. But that moderation is key. Women should really stick to one serving a day or two servings Saturday and Sunday and no alcohol during the week. Having two occasionally is ok, but don’t make a habit of it. Many of my female patients report that they prefer this because they both look forward to a “treat” and confines their drinking to the weekend. If you’re not a drinker, don’t feel compelled to start. There are plenty of other sources of antioxidants you can use instead.

Protect Your Body From Excess Alcohol

If you are or have ever been a heavy drinker, your brain is probably going to need some extra support as you age. Your brain needs specific nutrients to function optimally, and the older we get, the more we need them. This is because our bodies either absorb or make less of them.

Our need is constant, but our supply dwindles. I’ve talked before about nutrients that feed the brain in the past. They include phosphatidyl serine (PS), coenzyme Q10, acetyl-l-carnitine, and magnesium.

But you can’t use it to cancel out an ongoing drinking problem. If you meet the qualifications for a chronic heavy drinker I described above, seek help cutting back.

Protect Your Liver

If you’re a heavy drinker, it’s also important to support your liver. One of the best is garlic – cooked or raw. If you don’t like the taste of garlic – consider using a supplement a few months out of the year. You don’t need to take it every day. Just make sure you include it in your regimen at times. There’s especially good research on fermented garlic. Kyolic, a pioneer in garlic research and products, makes an excellent fermented garlic.

Milk thistle is another supplement you can take several months a year. Consider alternating with the garlic supplement. If you can handle the taste, you also can drink milk thistle tea. Other antioxidants and vitamins that help your liver do its job include Royal Agaricus mushrooms and n-acetyl-l-cysteine to support the detoxification process, and quercetin to support a heathy inflammatory response.

With alcohol, it really is possible to have too much of a good thing. But you can’t have too many healthy brain cells! Establish good habits now to help your cognitive function remain strong well into your retirement years.


Andreea M. Rawlings, Stephen P. Juraschek, Gerardo Heiss, Timothy Hughes, Michelle L. Meyer, Elizabeth Selvin, A. Richey Sharrett, B. Gwen Windham, Rebecca F. Gottesman. Association of orthostatic hypotension with incident dementia, stroke, and cognitive decline. Neurology, 2018; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006027 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006027

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