People with mild cognitive impairment (pre-dementia) may not have Alzheimer’s disease; in actuality, they may be suffering from vascular dementia. Experts also call this “vascular cognitive impairment.” It is due to chronic reduced blood flow in the brain, eventually resulting in dementia. Remember, just because you can breathe doesn’t mean your brain is getting enough oxygen!
Who is At Risk for Developing Vascular Dementia?
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s, accounting for up to 40 percent of dementia cases. Risk factors include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcoholism, and high cholesterol.
What Testing Options Are Available?
Although standard blood and thyroid tests may evaluate vascular cognitive impairment, an MRI is the most useful screen, which shows areas of the brain that have been affected by small strokes.
Look for Warning Signs of Vascular Dementia:
The brain has one of the body’s richest networks of blood vessels and is vulnerable to any hindrances in blood flow, which carries oxygen. Without sufficient oxygen brain cells die and the brain degenerates quickly. Everyday conditions that affect many people can also inhibit oxygenation of the brain and increase the risk of vascular dementia. These include:
- Chronic inflammation (such as chronic pain, an autoimmune disease, or other inflammatory disorder)
- Chronic stress
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- High blood sugar (insulin resistance)
What are the Symptoms of Vascular Dementia?
Long before vascular cognitive impairment or dementia sets in, symptoms that can alert you to poor blood flow and oxygenation include brain fog, becoming easily fatigued, cold hands and feet, erectile dysfunction, and chronic fungal growth on fingernails and toenails.
Preventing and Treating Vascular Dementia Naturally
Some of the best ways to oxygenate the brain are to lower inflammation and stabilize blood sugar. This is done through a diet that is anti-inflammatory, liberal in proteins and healthy fats, low in starchy carbohydrates such as grains and potatoes, and based on unprocessed whole foods. A ketogenic diet that uses coconut oil has also been shown successful in some studies for dementia.
Although lifestyle and dietary factors will help improve oxygenation to the brain and body, thus preventing mild cognitive impairment or dementia, certain herbs have also been shown effective in scientific studies. These include:
- Ginkgo biloba: Studies have shown this Chinese extract improves function in those with vascular dementia. Gingko biloba improves blood flow to the brain and is full of protective antioxidants that protect neurons. In a German study those taking the extract saw improvements in memory, daily function, and verbal fluency compared to those taking the placebo. In another study participants using Gingko biloba had significant improvement in apathy, anxiety, irritability, depression, and sleep behavior. Studies on Ginkgo biloba also show that it can cut levels of amyloid precursor protein in half after just 16 months of use.[1,2,34]
- Vinpocetine: This extract of the periwinkle plant improves blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, protects brain cells during states of low oxygen, and stimulates neuronal function.
- Butcher’s broom: Butcher’s broom is known for improving circulation to the hands, feet, and brain.
These herbs come in various forms and strengths – tinctures, extracts, drops, etc. Therefore, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions on the label.
 A 240-mg once-daily formulation of Ginkgo Biloba extract EGb 761 is effective in both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: Results from a randomized controlled trial,” Ihl R, Tribanek M, et al, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, July 2008; 4(4): Supplement, T165-T166.
 Scripnikov A, Khomenko A, Napryeyenko O; GINDEM-NP Study Group. Effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 on neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia: findings from a randomised controlled trial. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007;157(13-14):295-300. PubMed PMID: 17704975.
 Domoráková I, Burda J, Mechírová E, Feriková M. Mapping of rat hippocampal neurons with NeuN after ischemia/reperfusion and Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) pretreatment. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2006 Oct-Nov;26(7-8):1193-204.
 Augustin, S., Rimbach, G., Augustin, K. Schliebs, R., Wolffram, S., Cermak, R. Effect of a short and long -term treatment with Gingko biloba extract on amyloid precursor protein levels in a transgenic mouse model relevant to Alzheimer’s disease. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2009 Jan 15: 481 92): 177 -82.
 Inazu M, Matsumiya T. Physiological functions of carnitine and carnitine transporters in the central nervous system. [Article in Japanese]. Nihon Shinkei Seishin Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2008 Jun;28(3):113-20.
 Bouskela E, Cyrino FZ, Marcelon G. Effects of Ruscus extract on the internal diameter of arterioles and venules of the hamster cheek pouch microcirculation. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 1993 Aug;22(2):221-4. PubMed PMID: 7692161.
Originally published in 2012, this blog has been updated.