Dec
31
2016

What Works Against Alzheimer’s?

.Eli Lilly’s promising drug solanezumab failed; so, what works against Alzheimer’s? This drug was supposed to dissolve the amyloid deposits that function like glue and make the patients lose their memory. This phase 3 trial was to test the drug on patients to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety. But instead it showed that the new drug did not stop the loss of memory.

Brain bleeding as a side effect of potential Alzheimer’s drug

Now all those who were hoping for solanezumab to be effective, will jump on another drug, aducanumab. Biogen from Cambridge, Massachusetts, has developed this drug. Out of 165 subjects only 125 completed preliminary studies. 40 patients who discontinued it, had negative side effects. These included fluid building up in the brain, which was thought to be due to removal of the plaques. But others, had brain bleeding.

Although the drug manufacturer is still hoping that aducanumab will work out as an anti-Alzheimer’s drug, I have my doubts. A drug that can have potential brain bleeding as a side effect does in my opinion not qualify as an anti-Alzheimer’s drug.

Factors that help prevent Alzheimer’s

1. Diet can be as effective as a drug in treating Alzheimer’s

In September 2015 researchers from Rush University published results of putting Alzheimer’s patients on the MIND diet. The MIND diet was a prospective study where 923 people aged 58 to 98 years participated. Researchers followed these people for 4.5 years. Three groups of diets were tested: Mediterranean diet, DASH diet and MIND diet.

The MIND diet study result

The adherence to the diet was measured: those who followed the diet very closely, other participants who were less diligent, and finally those who were not compliant with the diet. With regard to the MIND diet the group with the highest adherence to the diet reduced the rate of Alzheimer’s by 53% compared to the lowest third. This is like a highly effective Alzheimer’s drug! The second group still was able to reduce the rate of Alzheimer’s by 35%, which would be like a regular strength drug. The control diets were the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. The group that was strictly adhering to the DASH diet reduced Alzheimer’s by 39%, the group that was very conscientious in adhering to the Mediterranean diet reduced Alzheimer’s by 54%. The middle thirds of both control diets did not show any difference versus the lower thirds.

Findings of Alzheimer prevention by diet

The conclusion was that a strict Mediterranean diet had a very good Alzheimer prevention effect, as did a strict MIND diet. However, when patients did not adhere too well to a diet, the MIND diet was superior still yielding 35% of Alzheimer’s prevention after 4.5 years. The other diets, when not adhered to that well, showed no difference from being on a regular North American diet. Here is more info about the MIND diet.

Conclusion

Avoid the Standard American Diet. Adopt a Mediterranean diet and stick to it in a strict fashion or adopt the MIND diet. The other benefit is that there are no side effects!

2. Stress and Alzheimer’s

2010 study from Gothenburg University, Sweden examined 1462 women aged 38-60 and followed them for 35 years.

Psychological stress ratings went back to 1968,1974 and 1980. 161 females developed dementia (105 of them Alzheimer’s disease, 40 vascular dementia and 16 other forms of dementia). The risk of dementia was higher in those women who had frequent/constant stress in the past. The condition became more severe the more stress they had to face in the past. Women with exposure to stress on one, two or three examinations had higher dementia rates later in life in comparison to women who had no exposure to any significant stress. Specifically, dementia rates were 10% higher after exposure to one stressful episode, 73% higher after two stressful episodes and 151% higher after exposure to three stressful episodes.

Conclusion

Prevention of Alzheimer’s is possible by avoiding stress and seeking counselling when stress occurred .

3. Be creative, prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia

In an April 8, 2015 publication from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and Scottsdale, AZ 256 participants aged 85 years and older (median age 87.3 years, 62% women and 38% men) were followed for 4.1 years. Psychological tests measured mild cognitive impairment (MCI). At the time of recruitment into the study all of the tests for MCI were normal. As the study progressed it became apparent that there were various risk factors that caused the onset of MCI, which is the immediate precursor of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease.

The finding was that the presence of the genetic marker APOE ε4 allele carried a risk of 1.89-fold to develop MCI and later Alzheimer’s disease.

Further findings of the study

When patient showed signs of depression at the time of enrolment into the study, the risk of MCI development was 1.78-fold. Midlife onset of high blood pressure led to a 2.43-fold increase and a history of vascular disease showed a relationship of 1.13-fold higher MCI development. The good news was that four activities correlated with a lower risk of developing MCI with aging. When the person engaged in artistic activities in midlife or later in life the risk for MCI development 73% lower, involvement in crafts reduced it by 45% and engagement in social activities by 55%. In a surprise finding the use of a computer late in life reduced MCI development by 53%. These are very significant observations. This would be equivalent to highly effective anti-Alzheimer’s drugs.

Conclusion

If you stimulate your mind in older age, even browsing on the computer, this will help you to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Lifestyle factors contributing to Alzheimer’s

a) Sugar consumption: Sugar consumption and too much starchy food like pasta (which gets metabolized within 30 minutes into sugar) causes oxidization of LDL cholesterol and plaque formation of all the blood vessels including the ones going to the brain. On the long-term this causes memory loss due to a lack of nutrients and oxygen flowing into the brain.

b) Lack of exercise: Lack of exercise is an independent risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise increases the blood supply of the brain, strengthens neural connections and leads to growth of neurons, the basic building blocks of the brain. Exercise increases mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins.

c) Sleep deprivation leads to memory loss, but so does the use of aspartame, the artificial sweetener of diet sodas. Make your own homemade lemonade. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Add mineral water to fill an 8 oz. glass. Add a tiny bit of stevia extract for sweetening. Stir and enjoy. Stevia has been in use for thousands of years.

5. Hormone changes

A lack of testosterone in men and estrogen in women interferes with cognition and memory. For this reason it is important after menopause and andropause (=the male menopause) to replace what is missing with the help of a knowledgeable health professional.

Progesterone is manufactured inside the brain, spinal cord and nerves from its precursor, pregnenolone, but in women it also comes from the ovaries until the point of menopause. The myelin sheaths of nerves requires progesterone and progesterone also has a neuroprotective function. In menopausal women bioidentical progesterone is a part of Alzheimer’s prevention.

Melatonin is a hormone, a powerful antioxidant and a neurotransmitter at the same time. It helps in the initiation of sleep, stimulates the immune system and protects from the toxic effects of cobalt. Lab tests in Alzheimer’s patients found elevated values. In an aging person it is wise to use melatonin at bedtime as a sleep aid and to preserve your brain.

6. Genetic risk of Alzheimer’s

At the 22nd Annual A4M Las Vegas Conference in mid December 2014 Dr. Pamela Smith gave a presentation entitled ”How To Maintain Memory At Any Age”. She pointed out that there are about 5 genes that have been detected that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and in addition the apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4). About 30% of people carry this gene, yet only about 10% get Alzheimer’s disease, which shows how important lifestyle factors are (in medical circles physicians call this the “epigenetic factors”) to suppress the effect of the APOE4 gene. She also stated that our genes contribute only about 20% to the overall risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This leaves us with 80% of Alzheimer’s cases where we can use the brain nutrients and hormones discussed above and exercise to improve brain function.

7. Vitamin D3 protects your brain from Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease of old age. We know that it is much more common in patients with type 2 diabetes where insulin levels are high. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease can be termed type 3 diabetes.

The resulting neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid-beta deposits damage nerve cells, which are responsible for the memory loss and the profound personality changes in these patients.

What does vitamin D3 have to do with this?

A 2014 study showed that a low vitamin D level was associated with a high risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, the findings were as follows.

  • Vitamin D level of less than 10 ng/ml: 122% increased risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Vitamin D level 10 to 20 ng/ml: 51% increased risk of Alzheimer’s

The same research group found in two trials that vitamin D deficiency leads to visual memory decline, but not to verbal memory decline.

Generally supplements of vitamin D3 of 5000 IU to 8000 IU are the norm now. But some patients are poor absorbers and they may require 15,000 IU per day. The physician can easily determine what the patient needs in the dosage of vitamin D3 by doing repeat vitamin D blood levels (as 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels). The goal is to reach a level of 50-80 ng/ml. The optimal level with regard to nmol/L is 80 to 200 (according to Rocky Mountain Analytical, Calgary, AB, Canada).

8. Avoid sugar overload

We already mentioned sugar consumption under point 4. But here I am mentioning it again because of the insulin reaction. An overload of refined carbs leads to an overstimulation of the pancreas pouring out insulin. Too much insulin (hyperinsulinemia) causes hormonal disbalance and leads to diabetes type 3, the more modern name for Alzheimer’s. All starch is broken down by amylase into sugar, which means that anybody who consumes starchy food gets a sugar rush as well. Too much sugar in the blood oxidizes LDL cholesterol, which leads to inflammation in the body. The consequence of chronic inflammation are the following conditions: hardening of the arteries, strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s due to brain atrophy, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

What Works Against Alzheimer’s?

What Works Against Alzheimer’s?

Conclusion

In the beginning we learnt about a failed phase 3 trial regarding an anti-Alzheimer’s drug. Next we reviewed several factors that can all lead to Alzheimer’s and that have been researched for many years. It would be foolish to think that we could just swallow a pill and overlook the real causes of Alzheimer’s disease. I believe there will never be a successful pill that can solve the increasing Alzheimer’s problem. It is time that we face the causes of Alzheimer’s. This means cutting down sugar to normalize your insulin levels.

Lifestyle changes necessary to avoid Alzheimer’s

We need to supplement with vitamin D3 because we know that it helps. For women in menopause or men in andropause it is time to replace the missing hormones with bioidentical ones. We need to handle stress and avoid sleep deprivation. And, yes we need to exercise regularly. Following a sensible diet like the Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet makes sense. And let us keep our minds stimulated. Chances are, when we do all of this that we will not need any Alzheimer’s pill. This is not good news for the drug companies, but will be very good news for you. Last but not least, there are no side effects, only health benefits!

Additional resource on how to preserve your memory.

Jul
18
2015

MIND Diet Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s

Researchers at the Rush University developed the MIND diet that helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. MIND stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” and is a hybrid between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet that had been developed to help control high blood pressure.

The MIND diet was a prospective study where 923 people aged 58 to 98 years participated. Researchers followed these people for 4.5 years. Three groups of diets were tested: Mediterranean diet, DASH diet and MIND diet.

The MIND diet study result

The adherence to the diet was measured: those who stuck to the diet very closely, another section of participants that were less diligent, and finally one segment of people who did not take the entire thing too serious. With regard to the MIND diet the group with the highest adherence to the diet reduced the rate of Alzheimer’s by 53% compared to the lowest third. The second group still was able to reduce the rate of Alzheimer’s by 35%. The control diets were the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. The group that were strictly adhering to the DASH diet reduced Alzheimer’s by 39%, the group that were very conscientious in adhering to the Mediterranean diet reduced Alzheimer’s by 54%. The middle thirds of both control diets did not show any difference versus the lower thirds. The conclusion was that a strict Mediterranean diet has a very good Alzheimer prevention effect, as does a strict MIND diet. However, when patients do not adhere too well to a diet, the MIND diet is superior still yielding 35% of Alzheimer’s prevention after 4.5 years while the other diets when not adhered to that well showed no difference from being on a regular North American diet.

A brief summary of what Alzheimer’s disease is

A few years back the Pittsburgh PET scan was invented. It uses a Pittsburgh B compound radio-tracer to visualize the pathology in the Alzheimer’s brain. This research tool has made it possible to detect even the earliest Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The basic problem in Alzheimer’s patients is that there is brain atrophy, which can be more located in the front of the brain or in the back. There are two types of AD, the early onset AD (EOAD) and the late onset AD (LOAD). Using the Pittsburgh PET scan it was noted that the brain atrophy with EOAD is severe and located in the back of the brain; in contrast to that with LOAD, which is the more common form of AD the brain atrophy is located in the front of the brain. This imaging tool also allows quantitating the amyloid load; amyloid is a gooey substance that is produced by the inflammatory changes in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients (Ref.1). There are multiple possible causes why Alzheimer’s should develop in a person, but nothing conclusive has been determined. In February, 2015 I summarized a talk given by Dr. Smith at the 22nd Annual A4M Las Vegas Conference that also mentioned that there are many causes that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line is that atrophy of the brain leads to loss of memory, personality loss and premature death.

The MIND diet

This diet was developed by Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., a nutritional epidemiologist of Rush University in Chicago and her colleagues. The team observed that some foods were associated with a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease while others contributed to an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s.

This is how they developed the term of the 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and the 5 unhealthy food groups.

Meet the 10 “brain-healthy food groups”: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, beans, nuts, poultry, olive oil, whole grains, fish and wine.

The 5 unhealthy food groups are: red meats, cheese, pastries and sweets, butter and stick margarine, fried or fast foods.

The 10 brain-healthy food groups are full of anti-oxidants, resveratrol and healthy fatty acids. They prevent hardening of the arteries and prevent the deposits of beta amyloid in the brain, which prevents Alzheimer’s disease. There is a bit of an issue about wine, which I have reviewed in this blog. You can replace wine with resveratrol extract as a supplement in order to get away from the toxic effect of alcohol, which is a cell poison. The choice is yours.

Why are the unhealthy foods unhealthy? There is too much trans fat in butter, cheese and margarine, which accelerate hardening of your arteries. The same problem exists with red meats, pastries and fried or fast foods. Sweets pose another problem: the sugar causes insulin levels in your blood to raise, which in turn causes inflammation in the support tissue of your brain, called glia cells, which secrete the beta amyloid that damages brain cells. At the same time sugar is metabolized by the liver into fat and triglycerides, which causes hardening of the arteries. The end result is earlier onset of Alzheimer’s.

According to Morris blueberries and strawberries, which are part of the brain-healthy food groups have been shown to be the most potent berries in terms of protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and preserving cognitive function.

With the late onset AD (=LOAD) that is the most common form of AD genetic factors hardly play a role. But what we eat will determine whether or not we get AD and we can postpone it significantly, if we eat mostly foods from the 10 brain-healthy food groups.

MIND Diet Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s

MIND Diet Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s

Conclusion

The MIND diet has been shown to be able to postpone the development of Alzheimer’s disease. It was developed based on the observation that some foods are good for us in terms of preserving cognitive function whereas others are bad. Knowing this it is advisable to eat mostly vegetables, poultry, fish, olive oil, nuts, beans, berries, whole grains, and some wine may be enjoyed as well. At the same time you need to avoid the bad foods mentioned above, like pastries, sweets, red meat, cheese and fast foods.

It is a small price to pay to keep your brain function until a ripe old age. The advantage with the MIND diet is that if you should occasionally deviate from the ideal, you still maintain a significant advantage over the DASH diet or the simple Mediterranean diet.

Reference:

1. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine, Twenty-Fourth Edition, Goldman, Lee, MD; chapter by David S. Knopman: Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, p. 2274-2283 Saunders 2012.

Oct
19
2013

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

You may have seen the CNN heading “Where is self-control in the brain?”  If we want to make any healthy choices in life including sound financial choices, we need a balanced brain that makes the right decisions for us.

Researchers at the Caltech in Pasadena, CA have examined this question in detail using functional MRI scans and found out that there are two loci on the frontal lobe of the brain that control your impulses: the “ventral medial prefrontal cortex” (red in this link) that processes your initial image (like seeing a delicious ice cream cone”) and the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”(green in this link), where you decide that this is not healthy for you because it has too much sugar in it. The Caltech researchers found a group of volunteers who were impulsive and made the wrong choice simply based on their taste buds without consideration for their health in general. An equally large group of volunteers was also found who had functional activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the latter of which modified the final decision into the healthy choice. The impulsive group made their decision to buy simply with the activation of only the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

The researchers think that it is this kind of lack of balanced thinking that decides whether we are going to make the right or wrong health choices for ourselves. The sad part is that ultimately, the summation of bad health decisions during life can become the cause of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that many of the causes of dementia can be avoided, which means that the average person could prevent dementia. I will discuss this in detail here.

Causes of dementia

It is interesting to study patients with various forms of dementia as it is often in the frontal and temporal portions of the brain where brain cells are dying off resulting in impulsive buying, impulsive behavior and lack of recent memory. It is also important to recognize that a number of conditions or factors can cause dementia:

1. Genetic causes

Here is the

There are two types of frontotemporal lobe dementias, a tau-protein positive FTD and a ubiquitin-positive FTD, which has been shown to be due to a deficiency in progranulin. Both of these genetic defects are located on chromosome 17. In Alzheimer’s dementia, which occurs later in life there can be genetic defects at chromosomes 21, 14 or 19. Epigenetic factors like exercise, avoidance of alcohol, and taking omega-3 supplements can even partially prevent or postpone the onset of dementia from genetic causes.

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

2. Toxins like alcohol

Another example of how people can get dementia is through the effect that regular alcohol consumption has on our brains and bodies. This image of an MRI scan shows a normal brain for comparison on the left and  the MRI scan of the brain of a chronic alcoholic on the right.  When a chronic alcoholic has severe atrophy of the brain a psychiatric condition, called Korsakoff’s syndrome can occur. This psychotic condition as a result of the brain having been poisoned by regular alcohol intoxication. Essentially the toxic effect of high daily doses of alcohol have shrunk not only the surface of the brain, but also the deeper substance of the brain. The patient is psychotic, has loss of memory and is unable to care for him/herself.

3. Vascular damage to the brain

Strokes can cause vascular dementia that leads to Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss. This link points out that diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease and dyslipidemia all predispose you to possibly get a stroke with subsequent dementia.

4. Traumatic head injuries

In boxers, football players and combat soldiers brain cells can get lost from repetitive head trauma leading to dementia (in this case it is called “dementia pugilistica”).

5. Infectious dementia

HIV in AIDS patients can affect the brain and cause an HIV-associated dementia. Bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis can kill brain cells and cause a form of dementia as well.

6. Immune disorders

We know that MS can go on to develop dementia as a late complication. In MS there are autoantibodies against myelin, the insulation material that surrounds nerve fibers. An important category of immune disorders is autoimmune disease that can cause dementia. The cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, has presented compelling evidence that wheat allergies can cause dementia, but if detected early and treated by a gluten free diet, this clears up the mind and stops further development of dementia (Ref.1 describes wheat allergies causing dementia; a wheat free diet is described in Ref.2).

7. Hormone deficiencies

A classical example is hypothyroidism, which in the past before thyroid medicine was available, often led to dementia. A simple blood test, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can detect whether or not you are hypothyroid. The A4M recommendation for a normal level is below 2 (not below 5 as often reported by official lab value reports).

8. Lack of vitamins

Thiamine (=vitamin B-1) is often missing in alcoholics. If you are missing vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 in your diet, this can predispose you to develop dementia as well. Aging people lose a factor from the gastric mucosa (the intrinsic factor) that is essential to absorb vitamin B-12 in the mall bowel, which predisposes them to develop pernicious anemia and dementia. A simple vitamin B-12 injection can prevent this from happening.

9. Too much sugar consumption

Sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the 1900’s and keeps on going up in the new millennium as well. Here is a review that discusses the possibility that Alzheimer’s can be triggered by overconsumption of sugar. The higher the blood sugar levels in diabetics, the higher the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Seattle has confirmed this. High insulin levels are found in type 2 diabetes; they are responsible for making brain cells stimulate the production of the gooey substance amyloid that causes Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of this study showed this to be true both in humans and in animal models.

10. Lifestyle issues like lack of exercise, excessive weight (obesity, being overweight) and poor diet (fast foods) play an enormous role in terms of causation of dementia in addition to the other factors mentioned. On the other hand organic foods Lack of toxins) and a Mediterranean type diet will preserve your brain cells.

Treatment of dementia

At present treatment of dementia is very limited, as we do not have a complete understanding of dementia at this point. The traditional treatment of dementia outlined here will only marginally delay further deterioration of dementia, but ultimately fail. In my opinion this is because the medical profession has been concentrating on fighting the symptoms of dementia rather than the cause.

Given the list of known causes above, I like to give you 6 recommendations that will help you to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.

  1. I would suggest that you cut sugar out of your diet and replace it with stevia. This also includes dates, grapes, bananas; also wheat and wheat products and starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread (see Ref. 1 and 2 for details). The manufacturers of soda drinks, pies and cakes will not be happy about this recommendation, but it will please your brain cells. You will also be surprised how easy it is now to lose weight, which will please you (this also lowers your risk for heart attacks and strokes).
  2. Severely limit your alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day (better still would be to stay sober) unless you want to become part of the hospital population mentioned in one of the links at the beginning of this blog.
  3. Have your hormones checked, particularly your thyroid hormones, but also estrogen and progesterone levels in women and testosterone in men. Our brain cells have hormone receptors for a reason. They need to be stimulated by our hormones, even in menopause or andropause. Replace the missing sex hormones with bioidentical hormone creams and missing thyroid hormones with thyroid tablets (Armour is the best mix of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, not Synthroid).
  4. Prevent repetitive brain injuries before it is too late. Rethink whether you really need to box, street fight, play football, rugby or hockey.
  5. Use vitamins for prevention of dementia: The B complex vitamins like B-2, B-6, B-12 (by injection); vitamin D3 has recently been shown to be effective in slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D3 is low in Alzheimer’s patients and vitamin D3 supplements will slow down this disease. Although vitamin C showed equivocal results, it does have some neuroprotective qualities and decreases β-amyloid production and acetyl cholinesterase activity. A Mediterranean-type diet (Ref.2) is also helpful in preventing dementia.
  6. Exercise daily. It will discipline you to stick to the other points mentioned above. It gives you some extra endorphins and will make you feel good about yourself.

Conclusion

Although we do not yet have a complete picture regarding Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, we do know enough to reduce our risk of getting them. When you cut out wheat and wheat products, autoimmune antibodies against your brain cells will not be produced, your opiate receptors in the brain will not be seduced to eat more and more sugar, starchy foods or high fructose corn syrup, so you will have no problem in cutting out high glycemic index foods (Ref.1). This will reduce insulin and reduce IGF-1 growth factors that would have made you vulnerable to produce the gooey amyloid substance that makes you lose your memory. The orbitofrontal part of your brain (particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) will be reminding you what you read here: healthy lifestyle choices start in your brain.

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly. Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2011.

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Last edited Oct. 19, 2013