Is It Alzheimer’s or Something Else?

Deficiencies and conditions that can mimic Alzheimer’s Disease

nutrient deficiencies and brain effects-250
We continue our series on brain health with this short discussion of nutrient deficiencies and a number of health issues which can cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s Disease. These should be checked for anyone showing signs of dementia.  And we should all pay attention to getting a balanced diet with enough of these important nutrients, supplementing if necessary.


The B vitamins are tightly linked to the genes controlling endothelium integrity, act as antioxidants, have an enzyme-related role inside the brain, are anti-inflammatory and possess neuroprotective qualities.1.

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause short-term memory loss, fatigue, low-back pain, sore tongue or burning feet. Blood tests may be normal, even though a person has pernicious anemia, or B12 deficiency. Low levels of B12 are linked with neurocognitive disorders, and treating with B12 is helpful only if there has been pre-existing deficiency.2 Low levels are associated not only with cognitive impairment, but with Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.3
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency can result in memory problems and mental disturbances such as encephalopathy (which changes how your brain works). There are a number of similarities between B1 deficiency and Alzheimer’s.  Researchers point out that in both instances cognitive deficits exist and the brain poorly metabolizes glucose.4
  • Low folic acid (vitamin B9) levels are associated with declining mood, and researchers have found little benefit for cognitive decline.5
  • Magnesium levels that are too low can cause a variety of problems, including dementia. Better magnesium levels are linked to improvements in morbidity, diabetes, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and cognitive function. In one study looking at over 2500 patients over a 24.2 year median follow-up, patients with the lowest levels of magnesium had the highest levels of dementia.6
  • Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia, with stronger links between severe deficiency and both AD and dementia.7
  • Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland is essential for a good night’s sleep.  Melatonin deficiency may be directly related to age-related cognitive impairment.8 9 10  Note that exposure to blue light (computers and mobile devices) inhibits the production of melatonin.11

Related Health Issues

  • A stroke can mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Parkinson’s is a disorder that features resting tremor, slowed movement, and gait disorder, and sometimes first manifests as amnesia.
  • Thyroid disorder is also a condition that can cause brain dysfunction.
  • Repetitive trauma to the brain can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and even non-physical stress from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impact the brain negatively.
  • Some medications or reactions to medications can cause memory loss. Researchers have found that for the 18% of those over 65 who report memory problems, there is a clear connection between taking certain prescription medications and weakness in memory, attention, concentration and ability to process information.

The researchers reviewed placebo-controlled, double-blind trials of adults without CNS disorders who had neurological testing before and after receiving drugs being tested. They also assessed the quality of the studies themselves and pulled out information related to cognitive defects induced by each group of drugs. They determined that these prescription medication groups led to memory, concentration problems and other cognitive defects:12

  • Benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety and insomnia led to weaknesses in concentration and memory. These include Midazolam, Trazolam, Temazepam, Oxazepam, Lorazepam, Alprazolam, Clonazepam, Diazepam, Florazepam, Clorazepam, Zolpidem, Zopiclone and Zaleplon
  • Antihistamines, used for allergies, gave rise to problems in attention and processing information. These include Hydroxyline, Diphenhydramine, Tripoline, and Promethazine.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants also gave rise to problems attention and processing information. These include Amitriptyline and Imipramine.


Key to good brain health is to pay particular attention to nutrition, along with adequate exercise, and mental stimulation.  A well-balanced diet with plenty of dark leafy greens, fresh fruit, local and seasonal vegetables and fruit when possible, along with adequate protein.  Vegetarians and vegans, in particular, need to pay attention to getting adequate B12, since this nutrient occurs in meat and dairy products.

Recommended Nutrients & Reading

Next: Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease

  1. Moretti R, Peinkhofer C. (2019). B Vitamins and Fatty Acids: What Do They share with Small Vessel Disease-Related Dementia? Int J Mol Sci. Nov 18;20(22):5797
  2. Health Quality Ontario. (2013). Vitamin B12 and cognitive function: an evidence based analysis. Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. Nov 1;13(23):1-45.
  3. Moore E, Mander A, Ames, D, Carne R, Sanders K, Watters D. (2012). Cognitive impairment and vitamin B12: a review. Int Psychogeriatr. Apr;24(4):541-56.
  4. Gibson GE, Hirsch JA, Fonzetti P, Jordan BD, Cirio RT, et al. (2016). Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and dementia. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Mar;1367(1):21-30.
  5. Malouf M, Grimley EJ, Areosa SA. (2003). Folic acid with or without vitamin B12 for cognition and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD004514.
  6. Alam AB, Lutsey PL, Gottesman RF, Tin A, Alonso A. (2020). Low Serum Magnesium is Associated with Incident Dementia in the ARIC-NCS Cohort. Nutrients. Oct 9;12(10):3074.
  7. Chai B, Gao F, Wu R, Dong T, Gu C, et al. (2019). Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta-analysis. BMC Neurol. Nov 13;19(1):284.
  8. Wang YY, Zheng W, Ng CH, Ungvari GS, Wei W, et al. (2017). Meta-analysis of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of melatonin in Alzheimer’s disease. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. Jan;32(1):50-57.
  9. Gupta YK, Gupta M, Kohli K. (2003). Neuroprotective role of melatonin in oxidative stress vulnerable brain. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. Oct;47(4):373-86.
  10. Bondy SC, Lahiri DK, Perreau VM, Sharman KZ, Campbell A, et al. (2004). Retardation of brain aging by chronic treatment with melatonin. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Dec;1035:197-215.
  11. West KE, Jablonski MR, Warfield B, Cecil KS, James M, et al. (2011). Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in humans. J Appl Physiol. Mar;110(3):619-26.
  12. Tannenbaum C, Paquette A, Hilmer S, Holroyd-Leduc J, Carnahan R. (2012). A Systematic Review of Amnestic and Non-Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment Induced by Anticholinergic, Antihistamine, Gabaergic and Opioid Drugs. Drugs & Aging. 2012;29(8):639.