Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, accounting for up to 80% of all cases.
- According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s in 2012.
- One in eight Americans over age 65 have the disease. As baby boomers age, the numbers are increasing exponentially.
- In 2012, the direct costs of caring for those with AD and other dementias were estimated to be $200 billion, plus another $210 billion of unpaid care by family members.
AD is a serious degenerative disease; it is the sixth leading cause of death in America. Severe AD frequently causes complications such as immobility, swallowing disorders, and malnutrition, which significantly increase the risk of developing pneumonia.
AD was first identified more than 100 years ago, but research into its symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment only gained momentum in the last 30 years. AD affects people in different ways, but the most common symptom pattern begins with gradually worsening ability to remember new information. Here are 10 early signs and symptoms:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or problem solving
- Difficulty in completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
At present, there is no medication to prevent or cure AD, only to manage the symptoms. However, more and more studies suggest diet and lifestyle may play a critical role in determining whether one will develop the disease. The following discusses some strategies in preventing AD and important nutrients that have the potential to slow down the progression of the disease.
What We Know Today About Alzheimer’s
The exact cause of AD is still essentially unknown with the exception of a small minority of cases by which genetic factors (such as the APOE4 gene) have been identified.
The major characteristic of AD is the loss of neurons (nerve cell that specializes in transmitting information through electrical and chemical signals) and synapses (space separating the neurons) in the cerebral cortexof the brain. This is the area that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.
In AD affected brains, protein beta-amyloid plaques accumulate outside the neurons and protein tau tangles aggregate inside the neurons. This results in interference of information transfer at synapses and contributes to cell death and degeneration of the affected regions of the brain.
You are more likely to get AD if you are over 65, have a close blood relative such as parent, brother, or sister with AD, or if you possess the genes associated with AD. Barring that, diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors play a critical role in the prevention of the disease.
The damage done to your brain actually begins decades before you show any of the telltale signs of AD. So it is vitally important to make healthy decisions now, before you unwittingly do decades of damage to your brain and nerves that you may not be able to reverse.
1. Optimize Your Insulin Response
Latest studies show that people with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop AD compared with people who are non-diabetic. There is increasing evidence that even pre-diabetics are already at increased risk of cognitive decline.
Diabetes is mostly associated with insulin resistance, a condition by which the cells in the body have become unresponsive to insulin. Recently, researchers have discovered a new type of insulin resistance called brain insulin resistance.
In this case, the brain is unable to access insulin, which is the key to the body’s ability to extract glucose. As a result, brain cells are unable to utilize glucose which is its main source of fuel, causing them to degenerate and die. As neurons in the brain are lost, the brain shrinks, and memory and cognitive skills decline. Scientists are now labeling this new type of brain insulin resistanceType 3 diabetes.
Lifestyle choices are a major contributing factor to insulin resistance. Being overweight, consuming excess foods loaded with carbohydrates (sugar, fruits, grains, legumes, starchy vegetables), and being sedentary are all known factors leading to insulin resistance.
2. Exercise Regularly
Maintaining an active lifestyle, which includes not only regular exercise but also active hobbies, helps lower blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity. Every time you exercise, you increase the number of receptors on the cells and the number of channels in the cells to let glucose in. The body becomes more sensitive to insulin which helps pull glucose out of your bloodstream. This is extremely important for people with AD because the human brain requires large amounts of glucose for normal functioning.
In addition, exercise increases levels of the beneficial brain protein molecule PGC-1alpha that may protect against AD. When researchers studied brain samples of dead AD patients, they found that they had less PGC-1alpha than normal. Further investigation revealed that cells with more PGC-1alpha produced less of the toxic beta-amyloid protein that is characteristic of AD.
Regular exercise raises levels of PGC-1alpha and reduces the risk of AD. In fact, studies confirmed that exercise is even effective in improving brain function in those already suffering from mild cognitive impairment.
3. Avoid And Remove Mercury And Aluminum From Your Body
Studies have shown that the brains of deceased AD patients have four times as much mercury and two times as much aluminum as is found in patients without AD. Although the precise mechanism of how they cause AD is yet to be understood, there is growing evidence linking these metals to the development of AD.
Mercury is known to be extremely toxic to the brain. In animal studies, mercury produced changes in the brain that are similar to those seen in AD. Most likely sources of mercury are dental amalgam fillings, contaminated seafood, and flu vaccines.
Likewise, aluminum is a widely recognized neurotoxin that causes degeneration of the nervous tissues in animals that resembles the brains of AD patients. Aluminum exposure may come from many sources, including antiperspirants, cosmetics, cookware, baking powder, cans, and flu vaccines.
A hair tissue analysis will reveal whether you have any mercury or aluminum accumulated in your body. If so, you need to consult a healthcare professional who is experienced with heavy metal detoxification to remove these toxins from your body.
4. Challenge Your Mind Daily
Mental stimulation is essential to keeping your brain young and healthy, and making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with AD.
- Learn to play a musical instrument or a new language
- Strategy games such as chess, checkers, and Sudoku
- Word games such as crossword puzzles and Scrabble
- Video and computer games
Nutrients That May Inhibit AD Progression
1. Vitamin D3 and Curcumin
Prior research has suggested a synergistic effect between the two compounds to clear deadly protein tangles but no action pathway has ever been postulated until recently. Scientists found that the immune-stimulating component of the white blood cells called macrophages can target and eliminate amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brain before they manifest into AD.
There are two types of macrophages, Type I and Type II that independently perform different functions, yet must work together to effectively remove amyloid protein in the brain. Scientists discovered that Type I macrophage activity is greatly enhanced with optimal saturation of vitamin D3, and Type II immune cells are supported by the presence of curcumin. The action of both Type I and II macrophages become greatly enhanced when the two compounds are applied together.
The findings demonstrate optimal blood saturation levels of vitamin D3 at around 50-70 ng/mL. Most people will need to supplement with 5,000-7,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day to attain these levels. Adding 300-500 mg per day of curcumin (standardized to 95% total curcuminoids) may provide a synergistic effect shown to help clear brain tangles and prevent AD.
2. Alpha Lipoic Acid
Scientists discovered the importance of alpha lipoic acid in the 1950s and recognized it as an antioxidant in 1988. The body needs alpha lipoic acid to produce energy. It plays a crucial role in the energy-producing structures in cells. The body normally makes enough alpha lipoic acid for this basic function. When there is an excess, it circulates in the body and acts as an antioxidant.
Preliminary studies in humans indicated that supplementing 600 mg of alpha lipoic acid daily has the ability to slow down the progression of AD. Alpha lipoic acid is believed to work in several ways:
- As a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. With AD, parts of the brain experience a chronic inflammatory process, marked by increased levels of free radicals and pro-inflammatory markers. Alpha lipoic acid helps to decrease inflammation by sequestering free radicals and down-regulating pro-inflammatory processes within the brain cells.
- As an enhancer of insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance and impaired glucose uptake by brain cells are common in AD. Alpha lipoic acid resolves glucose metabolism problems by mimicking the actions of insulin.
- As a metal chelator. One of the hallmarks of AD is the presence of plaques in the brain. Plaques are clumps of protein that form during a reaction with excess metal ions that accumulate in the brain. Early research indicated that alpha lipoic acid may bind to metal ions by either inhibiting plaque formation or dissolving ones that already exist.
3. Omega-3 Fats
High intake of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) helps prevent the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins associated with AD. Studies found that omega 3 DHA, in particular, has the ability to help macrophage immune cells control inflammation by changing the expression of inflammatory genes. Suggested intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 2 grams per day.
4. Coconut Oil
There has been no published research on the effects of coconut oil on AD. However, since Mary Newport, MD started giving her dementia husband coconut oil in 2008 and reported remarkable improvement in cognition and function, many AD patients have subsequently tried coconut oil and experienced similar results within days to weeks.
If you have a loved one with AD, it is worthwhile to consider trying coconut oil. Coconut oil is beneficial for the heart and increases good HDL cholesterol. The following explains how coconut oil works for AD:
AD patients often have insulin resistant problems that prevent brain cells from using glucose, their primary fuel. Without it, they eventually die. But there is an alternate fuel called ketones which brain cells can use. The primary source of ketones is medium chain triglicerides (MCTs), found abundantly in coconut oil.
MCTs are fats that are not processed by the body in the same manner as long chain triglycerides. Normally, a fat taken into the body must be mixed with bile released from the gallbladder before it can be broken down in the digestive system.
MCTs go directly to the liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones, bypassing the bile entirely. The liver then immediately releases the ketones into the bloodstream where they are transported to the brain to be used as fuel. AD patients who have used coconut oil with good response reported more alertness, conversation, and sense of humor, and less disorientation and forgetfulness.
Therapeutic levels of MCTs is 20 grams per day, or about 35 grams (or 7-8 level teaspoons) of coconut oil. Start with one teaspoon taken with food in the morning. Gradually add more every few days to include lunch and dinner until you are able to tolerate 7-8 teaspoons per day. Some AD patients use up to 3-4 tablespoons (9-12 teaspoons) of coconut oil a day. The main side effect of taking too much coconut oil is diarrhea. Only buy non-hydrogenated, organic extra virgin coconut oil.