Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, both for the family and for those who have it. An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, a severe form of dementia, and hundreds of thousands more may suffer from an often misdiagnosed subtype called "hippocampal sparing" Alzheimer's, according to recent findings.
The most recent data suggests that well over half a million Americans die from Alzheimer's disease each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer. And since it was first described over 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease has, up until now, been without an effective treatment.
That’s right, up until now! Because now we know that Alzheimer’s may be reversed through lifestyle changes, and in many cases prevented altogether. How? Well, we are finding that the primary cause might be……… sugar.
One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, a form of sugar, which is converted into energy. The mechanism for glucose uptake in your brain, just like your muscle is insulin. But the connection with insulin and brain sugar has only recently begun to be studied, and what has been learned is that your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to allow glucose in your blood stream into the brain for fuel.
As you may already know, diabetes is the condition where your body's response to insulin is weakened until your body eventually stops producing enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. When this happens your body's ability to regulate (or process) blood sugar into energy becomes essentially broken.
In much the same way the brain is affected by constantly high levels of glucose too. As with the pancreas, less insulin is produced when there is a constant surge of sugar in the body and the brain appears to react in much the same way. But, when your brain's production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it's deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer's patients -- portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement, and personality.
Diabetics have a 65 percent increased risk of also being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and there appears to be a significant link between the two diseases, even though the exact mechanisms have yet to be determined.
What has been determined is that both diseases are related to insulin resistance –both in your body and in your brain. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2013 demonstrates that even mild elevation of blood sugar—a level of around 105 or 110—is associated with an elevated risk for dementia.
When researchers discovered that your brain produces insulin that is necessary for the survival of your brain cells, independent of the pancreas, they also found that a toxic protein called ADDL removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, thereby rendering those neurons insulin resistant, and as ADDLs accumulate, your memory begins to deteriorate. Recent research also points out that heart disease increases your odds of developing Alzheimer's. As reported by MedicineNet.com.
According to a recent Japanese study, insulin resistance and/or diabetes appear to accelerate the development of plaque in your brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. This study, which had a very long observation period, further strengthens the link between these two diseases, as different as they may otherwise appear to be.
Previous research have already found a strong correlation between body mass index (BMI) and high levels of beta-amyloid, the protein that tends to accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, causing plaque buildup. It is believed that beta-amyloid along with ADDL destroys nerve cells, contributing to the cognitive and behavioral problems typical of the disease.
In the Japanese study, which monitored 135 people for 10 to 15 years, 16 percent developed Alzheimer’s disease before they died, and autopsy showed they all had plaque in their brains. However, 72 percent of those with insulin resistance also had plaque, as well as 62 percent of those who did not have insulin resistance yet had very high blood sugar levels. The authors believe that insulin resistance speeds up the development of plaque, hence accelerating and increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s as you age.
When we look at the incidence of Alzheimer’s across the board we also find that it tends to be higher in low income countries and groups. This suggests a dietary factor is likely involved since low income countries and people in low socio-economic situations tend to eat higher levels of processed carbohydrates and GMO foods, both of which promote insulin resistance.
Of course, like any disease we need to look at other factors that also contribute to it. It is rare to see a singular cause, especially where Alzheimer’s is involved. A small study by UCLA has postulated such a link with a new study. In this study, the researchers were actually able to reverse memory loss for the first time with a multi-faceted approach that eliminated grains from the diet, along with other lifestyle variables.
In the study, which was conducted by Dr. Dale Bredesen of the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, 10 patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment or subjective cognitive impairment (in which the patient reports cognitive problems). One patient who had been diagnosed with late stage Alzheimer’s did not improve, but the other nine did. This study therefore is the first to suggest that memory loss in patients may be reversed — and improvement sustained.
Bredesen’s approach, while personalized, reflects overall what we have known for some time. Lifestyle and diet do in fact influence Alzheimer’s. The approach included:
The elimination of all simple carbohydrates, gluten and processed food from the diet, and eating more vegetables, fruits and non-farmed fish
Reducing stress through various techniques
Sleeping seven to eight hours per night, up from four to five
Taking melatonin, Vitamin B 12 (as methylcobalamin) , vitamin D3, fish oil and coenzyme Q10 each day
Optimizing oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush
Reinstating or starting hormone replacement therapy if needed.
Fasting for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime to control blood sugars
Exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes, four to six days per week
Brain stimulating techniques that likely included cross word puzzles, reading and simple problem solving games.
Bredesen cautioned that the results need to be replicated (of course), and approaching the treatment from an individual basis complicates the reproducibility of it for the purpose of research. Yet, conclusions can be drawn that fit well into the idea that certain things are very, very bad for you and should be avoided.
With this in mind, and with what we know and understand about Alzheimer’s from the available research, we can create a program that might fit everyone willing to make those changes. These changes, summarized below include:
Avoiding sugar and refined fructose. Ideally, you'll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.
Avoiding gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but not dairy fat, such as butter). Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don't belong. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer's.
Optimize your gut flora by regularly eating fermented foods or taking a high-potency and high-quality probiotic supplement.
Increase consumption of all healthy fats, including animal-based omega-3’s. These include fats such as krill oil. (I recommend avoiding most fish because, although fish is naturally high in omega-3, most fish are now severely contaminated with mercury.) High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder. Other healthy fats include coconut oil, grass-fed organic butter, and avocados.
Reduce your overall calorie consumption, and/or intermittently fast if you have insulin issues. Ketones are mobilized when you replace carbs with coconut oil and other sources of healthy fats. As mentioned above fasting is a powerful tool to jumpstart your body into remembering how to burn fat and repair the insulin/leptin resistance that is also a primary contributing factor for Alzheimer's.
Improve your magnesium levels. There is some exciting preliminary research strongly suggesting a decrease in Alzheimer's symptoms with increased levels of magnesium in the brain. Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements do not pass the blood brain levels, but a new one, magnesium threonate, appears to and holds some promise for the future for treating this condition and may be superior to other forms. Magnesium glycinate will also work very well.
Eat a nutritious diet, rich in folate. Vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate (B vitamin), and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day. Avoid supplements like folic acid, which is the inferior synthetic version of folate.
Exercise….. One study found that one 20-minute weight training session improved memory. In a year-long study, individuals who exercised were actually growing and expanding their brain's memory center one to two percent per year, whereas typically that center would have continued to decline in size. Strength training, especially high intensity strength training or HIIT is especially beneficial for boosting long-term memory and reducing your risk for dementia. Exercise also prompts nerve cells to release one growth factor in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health and directly benefit cognitive functions, including learning.
Stay Socially Active and Use Brain Activities. According to brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, engaging in challenging new activities throughout your life, staying socially active, and practicing “mindfulness” are other ways to boost your brain function. He also stresses the importance of having a genuine interest in your chosen activities. Just going through the motions is not enough to build these neural pathways—you have to really care about what you’re learning.
Tumeric. Researchers at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), have conducted studies on mice that suggest ashwaganda extract may reverse memory loss and improve cognitive abilities in those with the disease. Initially, mice with Alzheimer's were unable to learn or retain what they learned, but after receiving ashwaganda for 20 days, this improved significantly. After 30 days, the behavior of the mice returned to normal. Rather than impacting the brain directly, researchers found that the herb worked by boosting a protein in the liver, which enters the bloodstream and helps clear amyloid from the brain
Sleep. Research, published in the journal Science has revealed that your brain removes toxic waste during sleep through what has been dubbed "the glymphatic system." This system ramps up its activity during sleep, thereby allowing your brain to clear out toxins, including harmful proteins linked to brain disorders such as Alzheimer's. By pumping cerebral spinal fluid through your brain's tissues, the glymphatic system flushes the waste, from your brain, back into your body's circulatory system. From there, the waste eventually reaches your liver, where it's ultimately eliminated. So it's quite likely that sleep affects your brain function and your risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's in more ways than one. You need 7-8 hours of sleep a day, many memory challenged people such as those with Alzheimer’s get half of that.
Stop smoking. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report entitled "Tobacco Use & Dementia," based on a comprehensive scientific review of tobacco use, exposure to secondhand smoke, and incidence rates for all types of dementia, including Alzheimer's. The report found that smokers have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers, and concluded that 14 percent of all Alzheimer's cases worldwide may potentially be attributed to smoking. These risks hold true across nearly every income level and geographic boundary—including US, China, India, and Latin America. Smokers with dementia also die earlier than non-smokers with dementia. But not so fast, the link comes back again to insulin resistance, since studies find that smoking also increases insulin resistance.
No single drug has ever been found to stop or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. The drugs that are prescribed have massive side effects which include dizziness, confusion and a host of other undesirable issues. For a drug that has only modest effects on symptoms, yet increases so many side effects, clearly a different path should be studied.
There are drugs however that likely contribute to dementia. According to researchers from the University of Washington, prolonged use of tricyclic antidepressants (to help with depression), antihistamines (to treat allergies and hay fever), antimuscarinics (to help urinary incontinence) and even some sleep medications was linked to the onset of dementia. Ideally, doctors, and better yet educators would begin counseling people who are in their 20s and 30s on lifestyle strategies that promote heart and brain health throughout life. Then we would probably see a major shift in Alzheimer's statistics for that generation, but the political and economic fallout from recommending a widespread reduction in gluten and white flour, processed foods may cause that initiative to meet a quick impasse.
As it stands, the evidence points to lifestyle factors, primarily diet, as the driving forces of dementia. There are also many connections between Alzheimer's and other dietary-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, suggesting that ALL of these diseases are preventable through identical means.