Updated: Mar 3, 2019
No one wants to think about it. The very idea of us getting it is so foreign to us that it’s easy to ignore. And yet an estimated 5.4 million Americans will gradually lose their minds, literally.
Alzheimer’s disease, is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys your memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks. It is considered irreversible, and it is increasing in the United States at an alarming rate.
In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that in addition to the five plus million Americans who have Alzheimer’s hundreds of thousands more may be suffering from an often misdiagnosed subtype of the disease called hippocampal sparing Alzheimer’s.
It has been estimated that as many as 600,000 people may suffer from this poorly diagnosed condition which manifests mostly in males and at younger ages than the traditional Alzheimer’s age. In hippocampal Sparing Alzheimer’s we see mostly behavioral problems such as frequent and sometimes profane angry outbursts, feelings that their limbs do not belong to them and sometimes idiopathic visual disturbances. Although these individuals seem to decline at a more rapid rate, their memories are maintained; making their condition more difficult to diagnose as an Alzheimer’s condition.
Alzheimer's disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but a few studies have postulated that this disorder may actually rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people. Most concerning is the rate of increase of the disease. A study reported in the March 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, showed that an estimated 600,000 people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s died in 2010. The study stated that this number will continue to rise to 900,000 by 2030 and to 1.6 million by 2050. This is an increase from 32 percent of deaths in people age 65 and older attributed to Alzheimer’s in 2010 to an estimated 43 percent in this population in 2050. Obviously the numbers are meant to be alarming, but right or wrong, the numbers do eliminate a genetic component due to the rapidity of its estimated increase. With genetics eliminated, we are left with three possible issues. Diet, toxicity and pharmaceutical intervention.
While many physicians agree that there are no screening tests currently for this disease, and treatments do little to improve the patient once they are diagnosed, there is opportunity to prevent this devastating disease with something called prevention.
In this article I will outline ten strategies to reduce your risk of this condition, but other factors are also at play here. For example, there are correlations between heart disease and diabetes that suggest strongly that Alzheimer’s has its root cause in inflammation. Research has suggested for instance that diabetics have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In 2005 some researchers actually called this disease Type 3 diabetes after discovering that the brain was able to produce its own insulin as a response to a high processed carbohydrate diet. Researchers have also discovered that a toxic protein called ADDL or amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands (amyloid plaque) are present leading up to brain cell destruction, and that these ADDL’s turn off the neurons which regulate brain insulin allowing a higher susceptibility to the disease. Since ADDL’s are plaque based, it is also postulated that there is a connection to heart disease and atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
Once you begin to narrow down the symptoms and lifestyles, research begins to draw conclusions that have merit. We have already discussed the connection between blood sugar and Alzheimer’s, but we should take it a step further. Sugar is known to cause inflammation its true, but there’s a far more important factor at play here. Let’s first discuss the factors known to reduce brain plaque however.
There is a growing body of evidence connecting Alzheimer’s and dementia to vitamin D and how the brain functions. Most studies connecting this relationship are called observational studies, meaning they can only find a relationship between vitamin D and Alzheimer’s, but they don’t know if not getting enough vitamin D actually causes Alzheimer’s.
In general, research has found that people with Alzheimer’s also have lower levels of vitamin D in their blood. Although it is unknown whether Alzheimer’s is caused by a low D or whether Alzheimer’s somehow affects the absorption of D, or whether higher vitamin D levels slow oxidation in the brain which then offers preventative protection. Previous research has suggested that oxidative damage caused by highly reactive oxygen molecules in the body plays a role in Alzheimer’s. Any antioxidant laden food found to reduce this reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation would likely be helpful, but I will point out that supplemented antioxidants have not been found to be nearly as effective as real food. Antioxidants also reduce lipid peroxidation, DNA damage, and tau phosphorylation—all factors identified in Alzheimer’s disease. That would lend compelling evidence towards treating Alzheimer’s with real food, high in antioxidants and low in processed or man-made additives.
Additionally, people with low vitamin D levels do worse on tests that measure how well their brain is working.
Ginkgo Biloba Extract
Ginkgo biloba extract’s antioxidant properties are able to neutralize the free radicals that can damage proteins within the cell, enzymes, or the fragile lipid membranes that surround and protect the cell. Brain cells are composed mainly of fat, which is particularly vulnerable to free radical damage. Individuals who sustain free radical damage over a long period of time may experience deterioration in both their physical and their mental capacity. Ginkgo has been proven to protect the delicate brain cells from this devastating damage, and to improve blood flow to the brain, which is also important for healthy cognitive function.
Since numerous studies have shown that ginkgo biloba extract has a beneficial effect on Alzheimer’s disease, its effect on the exposure of brain cells to beta-amyloid protein has also been investigated, and the results are very promising. A study published in the May 2004 issue of the Journal of Neuroinflammation reported that brain cells pre-treated with ginkgo extract and then exposed to beta-amyloid protein were resistant to the toxic effects of beta-amyloid and survived without damage.
A study at Georgetown University Medical Center found that nerve cells exposed to beta-amyloid displayed free radical production, and cellular death. On the other hand, after they had been pre-treated with ginkgo biloba extract, free radical production, and cellular damage and death were all inhibited. The fact that we find this effect in ginkgo biloba should not be as surprising as the idea that any high anti-oxidant free radical damage preventing food or spice would have similar properties. Properties that a diet high in sugar and highly processed foods, such as in the Western diet, would not have.
Red Ginsing Extract
Also called panax ginseng, red ginseng is considered an adaptogen, that’s an herb used to help individuals cope with physical and emotional stress. It is the most commonly used ginseng. Literally, thousands of studies have demonstrated that ginseng supports a myriad of health concerns ranging from maintaining normal glucose levels to stimulating immune function.
Japanese studies have demonstrated that in addition to improving memory, the ginseng extracts are able to regenerate brain axons and synapses in laboratory animals. This is highly significant because these brain cells are typically destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
Rosemary Extract and Sage
A study at the University of Naples, Italy, demonstrated that rosmarinic acid had neuroprotective effects on the brain cells of laboratory animals that were exposed to the toxic effects of beta-amyloid protein. Rosemary and sage both have high antioxidant values, which also slow oxidation and thus slow plaque accumulates. The researchers concluded that the extract might be effective in patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to preventing the toxicity of beta-amyloid to brain cells, rosmarinic acid has also been found to both inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid AND destabilize and dissolve beta-amyloid fibrils that have already formed. These results were so impressive that the researchers concluded that rosmarinic acid “could be a key molecule for the development of therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease.”
There exist two types of fatty acids in the omega-3 class called EPA and DHA, both of which have demonstrated their ability to reduce inflammation and reduce also the risk of heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions. It is now clear that omega-3 fatty acids, along with vitamin D3 have the ability to enhance the immune system, lower inflammation and clear the brain of amyloid plaque. Omega 3 oils are powerful anti-oxidants which help control naturally occurring free radicals that play an essential part in many biological functions, such as immunity and cellular repair. Obviously a balance is critical because excess free radicals lead to cellular damage (DNA damage).
A study reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that key genes regulated by D3 and omega-3 fatty acids help to both control inflammation and clear plaque. Another study in the FASEB Journal also found that brain inflammation and amyloid plaque were reduced.
In a study published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia it was reported that omega-3 derivatives are able to stimulate the breakdown of amyloid plaque that kills brain cells and causes the plaque accumulate. Clearly Omega-3 oils, known to be able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier have huge potential in the breakdown of disease derivatives that lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia type disease.
A study found in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease supports already existing evidence that coconut oil may help to alleviate the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. The study, like those of other “good fats”