“Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented, and in many cases its associated cognitive decline can be reversed.”*
You read that correctly, let me say it again: Alzheimer’s disease is preventable! Unfortunately however not with a single medication.
As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it: “A genuinely new Alzheimer’s drug has not been approved since 2003 and the currently approved Alzheimer’s medications are ineffective in stopping or slowing the course of the disease.”
We now know that Alzheimer’s disease is a normal physiological response to protect the brain– gone rogue. In a nutshell, what happens is, that more synapses are broken down then are being rebuilt at any given time. There are 3 main factors to cause it: inflammation, nutrient deficiencies and environmental toxicity.
Every single case of Alzheimer’s disease is different because there are at least 36 identifiable factors that can contribute to any combination of these 3 processes.
I will quote a longer section from Dale Bredesen’s book “The End of Alzheimer’s”, as I simply cannot say it any better:
"Why would you want to give yourself this dreadful disease? In truth, of course, you probably would not, but looking at the multitude of factors that can contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease helps you to understand how to prevent the process in the first place, or reverse it once symptoms appear. It also gives you a check list to see just how many of these factors you already have in your life.
Okay, how shall we start? Well, if you are like me you often work late and find yourself craving a late night snack, preferably something sugary, making your insulin level skyrocket right before bed, keeping it high while you are sleeping. May be you get to bed well after midnight and sleep poorly because of sleep apnea (often the result of weight gain). Nonetheless, your eyes open bright and early, getting just a few hours of sleep. Your feet have barely hit the bedroom floor when you start feeling stress as you contemplate the day ahead. You grab the typical American breakfast–a sweet roll or doughnut, a large glass of orange juice, a big slug of low-fat milk in your coffee–and thereby get a hefty dose of inflammation triggering dairy, take another step toward insulin resistance with the sugar and poke holes in your gastrointestinal lining with the gluten. You pop your proton pump inhibitor to prevent gastric reflux, even though by reducing stomach acid you will impair your ability to absorb key nutrients such as zinc and magnesium and vitamin B12; then you will take your statin, a great way to lower your cholesterol below 150 and thereby increase your risk for brain atrophy. Oh, and we will do all this less than 12 hours after our late night snack, which means the body never gets to induce autophagy and remove the accumulating amyloid and various damaged protein debris.
Rushing out the door keeps our stress level high, producing the cortisol that damages our hippocampal neurons. Next we’ll jump in the car making sure not to get any exercise before work and minimizing sun exposure, an excellent way to keep vitamin D levels suboptimal. Since we are stressed out and irritable from lack of sleep, we will keep our interpersonal interactions high pressured and unpleasant, avoiding positive social interaction and killing joy. When our blood sugar crashes around mid morning, we will hit the office pantry, where a thoughtful colleague has left a box of chocolate chip muffins for everyone to partake of. Then lunch?! There is no time for anything but a sandwich from the cafeteria or deli–white bread, spongy saline injected turkey with hormones and full of antibiotics and stress factors–yum! Alternatively, how about some mercury-laden tuna? The salad does not look that good, anyway. Wash it down with a diet soda, to damage our microbiome. Now let us go for the brownie, so we can get our trans-fats and minimize our healthful omega 3 fats.
At this point, we have done a yeoman’s job of setting our physiological course for Alzheimer’s disease. But if we want to get their even faster, we top it off with a cigarette, decreasing the delivery of oxygen to our tissues–that would include brain tissue–and sending hundreds of toxic chemicals into our bloodstream. No need to brush or floss our teeth–who cares that poor oral hygiene promotes systemic inflammation and destroys the barriers that otherwise keep bacteria such as P. gingivalis out of the brain.
Our postprandial torpor sends us to the candy machine and–hey, we worked so hard today, we deserve a treat!–to that luscious Frappuccino we have been keeping in the fridge. Sugar and fat runs have been our only “exercise” today (and every day), but who has time to get up and move around frequently? Finally time to hit the freeway, heading home while screaming at the idiot riding his break in front of us, thus keeping your blood pressure up and making your blood brain barrier as porous as the colander we plan to use for tonight’s gluten filled pasta dinner. On second thought, let us get something at the drive thru. Start with large fries, a perfect source of Alzheimer’s-inducing advanced glycation end products, or AGE–trans-fats, starchy insulin, oxidized reheated oils with little vitamin E, and neurotoxic acrylamide. You can almost picture each frie with tiny little boxing gloves, snarling: “Let me at that hippocampus!” Add the burger–from corn–and not grass-fed beef, high in inflammatory omega 6 fats and low in anti-inflammatory omega 3s, slathered in high fructose corn-syrupy ketchup, on a bun so packed with gluten it is the perfect way to punch holes in your intestinal lining and your blood–brain barrier.
Home again! Ignore that moldy smell. Collapse in front of your favorite screen for some Netflix bingeing or other favorite fare, as long as it does not offer mental or physical stimulation. (Leave that Wii tennis and soccer to the kids.) Then we can top off the perfect Alzheimer’s inducing day with a relaxing margarita or 3 to accompany that amaretto cheesecake, then dutifully pretend to get caught up on work before drifting off to sleep with the lights on and the electronics still blaring. Rinse and repeat.”
Most of us will find themselves at least in some aspects of this description of a typical day. That is no reason to panic however: just as it takes many years for mild cognitive impairment to develop into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease, so it takes many years for the metabolic processes of the brain assaults that come from a typical American diet and lifestyle, to do their damage. So much for the good news.
The bad news is that the more you find yourself in that description above, the more certain you are already on track to develop cognitive decline and ultimately putting yourself at risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The take-home message: You can reverse Alzheimer’s or prevent it by addressing any and all factors that you can identify, with assistance of your physician, for yourself. If you were concerned, find yourself a functional medicine provider, or integrative medicine minded practitioner to assist you. Dr. Bredesen’s book is a good start.