Bad Habits That Can Damage Your Memory

Memory loss is likely not something you think about regularly. The ability to remember and recall information is a function that’s often taken for granted until something starts to affect it, whether it be a health condition or simply the result of old age. Interestingly, there are some controllable factors that can impact your cognitive ability and can cause harm without you even realizing it as the source. A few may even be common habits that you practice daily. Worried that parts of your everyday routine may be damaging your memory? Read on to find out what habits to avoid.

1. Following a high-fat diet

chili cheese fries

A plate of high-fat fries with chili and cheese aren’t helping your memory. | iStock.com

Following a healthy diet is no walk in the park, but for optimal health, it’s worth the effort to try and maintain one. You’re probably already aware of a high-fat diet’s link to harmful health conditions like heart disease and high cholesterol, but you’re likely less aware of the effect it has on your brain.

According to NBC Washington, eating a diet that’s high in fat can actually degrade your brain function and cause the organ to age prematurely. The article says that this idea was studied on rats, where researchers noticed spatial memory impairment occurred in the study group soon after they started following a high-fat diet. While this wasn’t tested on humans, Live Science says that the reason rodents are used so often in medical testing is because they share some common characteristics with one another. This includes biological, genetic, and behavioral properties. Because of the resemblance, researchers believe that the relationship between high-fat diets and memory loss may be similar in humans.

On the bright side, the article also says that the study suggests this can be reversed if diet is improved. With that in mind, it’s time to break away from that high-fat diet and adopt a healthier and more balanced eating plan. Not only will this benefit your memory, but may help combat other health problems, too.

2. Smoking cigarettes

man lights a cigarette in his mouth

Don’t be like this man lighting a cigarette. | iStock.com

Besides it being linked to this year’s projected deadliest form of cancer, there’s another reason to stop smoking immediately. WebMD says that when you smoke, it can also harm your memory by interfering with the amount of oxygen that travels to the brain. Simply put: Smoking equals less oxygen. This can disrupt your ability to recall information that’s as simple as putting faces to names. And if you’re a regular male smoker, it can take an even greater toll on your memory as you age.

One study that included more than 5,000 men and around 2,000 women compared data taken over a 10-year period and examined the relationship between cigarette smoking and cognitive decline. Results showed that cognitive decline occurred in all male subjects in almost all categories tested, whether they were smokers, non-smokers, or ex-smokers. However, damage was observed to occur at a much faster rate for the male subjects who smoked regularly, as opposed to men who never smoked at all. Positively, the study also found that similar to high-fat diets, this can possibly be fixed when the habit is reversed. For men who recently quit smoking, there was still a decline, but for long-term quitters, results were similar to that of males who had never smoked in their life.

For women, there appeared to be no cognitive decline in relation to smoking status. But that definitely doesn’t mean it’s a harmless habit. Not only can cigarettes increase risk of lung cancer, but in addition, WebMD mentions that it can also cause heart attack, stroke, and breathing problems.

3. Excessive alcohol consumption

alcohol bottles

Watch how much you’re drinking. | iStock.com

If you make a habit out of excessive drinking, you can expect it to take a toll on your ability to recall information. The National Institutes of Health compares alcohol to a sledgehammer, saying that it has the ability to affect all of your behavioral and cognitive functions. And when it comes to memory, it can leave a lasting effect, interrupting your ability to form ones that are long-term. The more alcohol you drink, the greater the damage.

This is something women should be particularly careful of. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women who drink a lot can experience the same memory problems as men who have been drinking for double the length of time. This is likely because women’s brains are more susceptible to damage from alcohol. The article adds that more research must be conducted to further prove these findings, but this study in addition to the other negative effects of alcohol consumption should be enough to convince you to refrain.

4. Sleep deprivation

man sleeping on office desk

Get enough sleep. | iStock.com

No one functions well when they lack sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, your body hasn’t had enough time to rest and recharge, making it harder to learn and recall information, per WebMD. That’s one of the reasons why it’s recommended that you get in an average of seven to nine hours of shuteye each night.

WebMD says that there are two ways in which lack of sleep hurts your memory. First, when you’re tired, it’s much harder to focus, meaning it’s more difficult to learn and absorb information. Second, sleep acts like glue that helps your brain retain that information, meaning nothing is going to stick without enough of it. To boost your memory, make sure that you’re giving your brain and body enough time to rest. If it only takes one sleepless night to harm your cognitive ability, just imagine the damage that consecutive days of sleep deprivation can cause.

5. Relying on certain medication

pile of pills

Certain meds may harm your memory. | iStock.com

Every medication has side effects, and sometimes that includes harming your memory. According to AARP, this includes a few anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and cholesterol lowering drugs, also known as statins.

When it comes to anti-anxiety medications, there are some that may damage vital brain activity, including the function that transfers information from short-term to long-term memory. A few statins, while they may lower blood-cholesterol levels, can also damage links between nerve cells that are necessary for learning and memory. And some specific tricyclic antidepressants, as the article mentions, have been reported to harm concentration and cause some type of memory reduction. This is why you should always speak with your doctor about the possible side effects of medications prior to taking them.