How Women Can Overcome Memory Loss at Midlife and Beyond
An interview with Elisa Lottor And review of her book, Female and Forgetful, a six-step program to help restore your memory and sharpen your mindApril 2002
By Ivy Greenwell
Elisa Lottor, the main author of Female and Forgetful, is a board-certified naturopathic physician who has been in practice for seventeen years. She holds a PhD in nutrition, as well as advanced degrees in homeopathy. Dr. Lottor is also an educator, lecturing on memory loss, menopause and the food-mood connection, as well as other health topics. She resides in Southern California. Life Extension interviewed Dr. Lottor on January 19, 2002, about her book and her practice.
Life Extension (LE): You are a naturopathic practitioner. Can you explain to our readers what naturopathic physicians do?
by Elisa Lottor, PhD, ND
and Nancy Bruning
Warner Books, 2002
Soft cover, 336 pages
Elisa Lottor (EL): While a chiropractor focuses on the spine, and an acupuncturist on energy meridian points, a naturopathic physician- takes a holistic approach, treating the whole person and looking at a lot of factors. I have my patients keep an exercise and diet journal, for instance. I ask about the stress in their lives. Counseling on issues such as coping with stress is included in naturopathic practice. Naturopathic physicians examine a patient's whole lifestyle before formulating a treatment protocol.
LE: What motivated you to write this book?
EL: There were several reasons.
Initially, a patient of mine-who had had a hysterectomy and was moderating an on-line hysterectomy support group-asked me to be the medical advisor for the group. I was answering hundreds and hundreds of questions, and noticed that the predominant theme was issues of memory and cognitive dysfunction. I began to realize that there was a groundswell of suffering women who are looking for answers-and what about all those women who were not accessing my website. I wanted to reach out to them too.
Secondly, I noticed that in my practice, a lot of women were complaining about memory problems. Initially, I thought it was a midlife issue. But I started seeing memory loss and cognitive problems in younger women as well. There is a growing silent epidemic of memory problems among baby boomers. Women are having trouble with their memory and don't know where to turn.
Another reason was that I was having my own issues with memory; entering menopause caused me to take an inventory of the factors that could be causing memory problems other than hormones, and these range from diet to stress. In my book I give quizzes so women can identify where their problems may be coming from, and what appropriate measures to take to solve their problems.
Although the book is a basic introductory approach to memory restoration and enhancement, I feel it gives some specific guidelines for addressing memory loss. I have seen simple things like dietary modification, beginning to exercise, and taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement have profound effects on the body. Sometimes a simple thing like balancing blood sugar can work wonders.
As 43 million American women begin to enter perimenopause, the issue of memory becomes more profound as the adrenals begin to take over making hormones. Many women suffer from adrenal exhaustion; consequently, their body is not doing a great job of making its own hormones. Some women eat high-fat diets, getting a lot of exogenous estrogen from too much dairy and animal proteins. Some women don't realize the causal relation between food and health, and the necessity of a healthy lifestyle.
I am not saying that my book is a cure-all, but perhaps if one idea causes an "ah hah!" reaction in some women and they take the ball and run with it, I have accomplished my goal. So essentially, my purpose in writing the book is to get the information out there to those women who can't come into the office.
LE: Can you share one of your many interesting case stories?
EL: Let me tell you about a woman who seemed to lead an exceptionally healthy lifestyle, and yet was having memory problems. Cat was a private trainer in a celebrity gym in Los Angeles. She seemed to have a perfect body, well-toned and with high definition. Like many people in the field of exercise, she was very concerned with her looks. She went overboard and eliminated one complete food group. I often see that, especially with the latest fad diets.
What brought Cat into my office was concern about her breaking and thinning hair and nails, dry skin and a change in her menstrual cycle. But more important, she was losing her short-term memory. She forgot appointments and would write clients' names in the wrong time and dates in her book.
When I began to review her food journal, I saw that she was so frightened of losing her body that she consumed virtually no fat in her diet. This was taking its toll, not only on her hair, skin and nails, as well as on her immune system and her menstrual cycle, but also her memory. She seemed to get one cold after another, and was skipping periods.
We spoke about including some good quality fats like olive oil or nuts and seeds, but I could see that she was not open to this, so I suggested taking fish oil capsules. She immediately noticed the difference. Gone were the aches and pains, and her periods became regular. She saw improvement in her hair and nails after several months, and her memory gradually improved. She then grew willing to include good quality fats in her diet.
Sometimes it's tweaking the diet in the area that is missing that can make a big difference, and sometimes it's making lifestyle changes such as lowering stress or doing more exercise.
LE: Which causes of memory loss do you find particularly prevalent in women?
EL: Low blood sugar and hormone imbalance are the most noticeable. Many women who come to see me are hypoglycemic or borderline hypoglycemic. They develop "memory fog" when they go a long time without food.
Some women need to eat every two hours to sustain adequate blood sugar. Some need to add more protein and fat to their diet to slow down digestion and prevent ups and downs in blood sugar levels. And some women need to take supplements such as chromium, vanadyl sulfate, cinnamon bark and B vitamins.
LE: You point out that thyroid deficiency often plays an important role in cognitive dysfunction. Do you find that many of your patients have insufficient levels of the thyroid hormones?
EL: Yes. A lot of them have thyroid deficiency. But the problem is difficult to diagnose because blood levels can be normal in the presence of symptoms that indicate a deficiency.
LE: Do you find that many patients still expect a "magic bullet" approach?
EL: This is an era of "instant everything." Many people expect an instant cure. Fortunately, some people realize that it takes a lot of searching and trying in order to see satisfying results.
LE: Even though the treatment must be individualized for each patient, are there a few herbs or supplements that you find especially effective for treating memory loss?
EL: I find that ginkgo is the most effective. Then I'd mention vinpocetine and phosphatidyl serine.
LE: Some conservative mainstream physicians still don't believe that it's possible to do anything to prevent aging-related memory loss, much less restore the brain to more youthful functioning. What kind of answer would you give them?
EL: What I would tell mainstream doctors is to check research and to check with complementary physicians like Dr. Julian Whitaker, Dr. J. Wright, and Dr. Khalsa, who have all done work in this area. In fact Dr. Khalsa has a clinic, and Dr. Whitaker wrote a book on the subject.