Apr
13
2019

New Alzheimer’s Genes

A recent genetic study summarized in a CNN article describes the detection of new Alzheimer’s genes. First of all, it appears that Alzheimer’s genes and trigger factors have to interact to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Secondly, in a 2013 study the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project had examined a population of 75,000 Alzheimer’s patients. Thirdly, in a new Feb. 28, 2019 publication of the same research group the population of Alzheimer’s disease patients had been enlarged to 94,437. This gives the study a higher statistical power. Previously the group had identified 20 genetic risk loci for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD). In the 2019 study 5 new genetic loci for Alzheimer’s disease were identified. Specifically, one of them is the neurological and immune-mediated disease haplotype HLA-DR15. It is a risk factor for LOAD.

Reconfirmation of some older Alzheimer’s research findings

Notably, this latter finding shows that immunity, lipid metabolism, tau binding proteins, and amyloid precursor protein (APP) metabolism are all sharing a connection in the development of late Alzheimer’s disease. In the past they have been implicated in the development of familiar Alzheimer’s disease. Now it became apparent that changes in the immune system, changes in the lipid metabolism and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease have an association also in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Research from 2016 showed that in obese patients the metabolic syndrome can indeed trigger the genotype CYP46 to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

It seems that a variety of factors, like the CYP46 genotype and the metabolic syndrome with elevated cholesterol levels are interacting to cause amyloid beta plaques. In addition, neurofibrillary tangles from tau protein deposits are also part of the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. These appear to lead to damage of nerve cells.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

Inasmuch as it has become clear how many factors have to come together to trigger the development of Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to point out the factors that counter the development of Alzheimer’s.

Several genetic loci have to work together to cause Alzheimer’s

Research has defined many genetic loci that have impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have stated that in order to develop Alzheimer’s disease several of these genes and risk factors that trigger the genes into action must occur in combination. This is in contrast to Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease where only one genetic mutation causes the disease.

Resveratrol

Certainly, this powerful antioxidant from the skin of red grapes has a positive effect on early Alzheimer’s patients with improvement of their memory.

Correction of hormone deficiencies

With older age many of our hormones are decreasing or vanishing. But replacement of the missing hormones with bioidentical hormones has shown to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This link explains that replacement of low testosterone in males and estrogen replacement in females is important to prevent Alzheimer’s. In addition, in women progesterone also has a neuroprotective function. Melatonin in both sexes is a powerful anti-oxidant hormone that preserves brain tissue. Thyroid hormone, if low, also needs replacement to maintain memory.

Other lifestyle factors affecting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

Sugar and too much starchy food

Heavy consumption of starchy foods like potatoes, rice, bread and pasta as well as sugar are risk major factors. They contribute to the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar consumption (and starch, 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.

Lack of exercise

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

Vitamin D intake

A 2014 study showed that a low vitamin D level had a strong association 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 more- up to 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.

Sleep deprivation

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 and is non-toxic contrary to other artificial sweeteners.

Avoid insulin overproduction

I already mentioned the effect of sugar consumption above. But here I am mentioning it again because of the insulin reaction to sugar. 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 is as follows: hardening of the arteries, strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s and brain atrophy, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. It is because of this that a Mediterranean diet or a MIND diet is a sensible pollution for Alzheimer’s patients. Both of these diets have been shown to be anti-inflammatory.

New Alzheimer's Genes

New Alzheimer’s Genes

Conclusion

At the present time research knows of a total of 25 genetic risk genes for Alzheimer’s disease. It appears that they have to interact, and lifestyle factors can be a trigger to cause Alzheimer’s disease. This means that we can interfere with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Get into some form of regular exercise like swimming, walking or Yoga exercises. Refrain from eating sweets and starchy foods. Adopt a Mediterranean diet or a MIND diet. Replace any missing hormones with bioidentical ones to re-establish your hormone balance. Watch your vitamin D3 intake. We need a lot more of it than what was previously known t to prevent the onset of this disease. Ensure you get enough sleep. This helps your brain to regenerate overnight. A resveratrol supplement every day will improve your memory, as a study has shown.

These are some of the easy steps you can do to avoid getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Jun
11
2016

Drugs Can Cause Dementia

An April 2016 study from Indiana University found that drugs can cause dementia. There were 451 people enrolled in the study with an average age of 73. 60 of them were taking at least one or more anticholinergic drugs. Anticholinergic drugs are drugs that inhibit the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in nerves or in the brain. As a result spasms in the stomach, bowel or bladder are relieved. Also the many over-the-counter sleep medications that may contain anticholinergic drugs help you to fall asleep easier. In the above-mentioned study researchers measured the effects that the drugs have, using different tests. They used memory and cognitive tests to check for memory loss, reasoning and judgment. PET scans are a useful diagnostic tool to measure brain metabolism. MRI scans were used to look for structural brain changes.

Results on how anticholinergic drugs can cause dementia

Memory tests and cognitive function tests showed that those taking anticholinergic drugs did worse on memory tests, verbal reasoning, problem solving and planning. The PET scan showed that glucose utilization by the brain was down in those who were taking anticholinergic drugs. It was apparent that the hippocampus had particularly lower glucose utilization. This is the center where short-term memory takes place. The hippocampus is also the area where Alzheimer’s patients have problems with early memory loss.

MRI scans showed that there were structural brain changes in the patients that were using anticholinergic drugs. There was a reduction of their brain volume (brain atrophy) and there was an enlargement of their brain cavities (ventricles). Overall this meant that their brains had much less brain cells when compared to controls that did not take anticholinergic drugs.

Indian University study about anticholinergic drugs

In a 2013 study from the Indiana University researchers had established that it took only 60 days of taking anticholinergic drugs to cause cognitive problems. Using drugs with only weak anticholinergic side effects, it took up to 90 days before the same cognitive deterioration could be measured.

The researchers concluded that it would be wise for physicians to consider switching a patient to medication that does not include anticholinergic side effects to prevent development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Anticholinergic drugs can cause dementia

In the study above it was stated that it was the group of anticholinergic drugs that was particularly problematic. These are over-the-counter-drugs like sleep aids, antihistamines, and incontinence drugs etc. that had anticholinergic side effects. The more of these types of drugs people take, the more interactions are possible, leading to full-blown anticholinergic symptoms. As people age, they collect more and more symptoms and diseases. Physicians tend to treat the symptoms with various medications, so it is not unusual for an elderly person to be on 5 or 6 different drugs. If one or more of these drugs have anticholinergic side effects, this can add up and cause the kind of observations the above mentioned clinical study showed: dementia symptoms and proof that the brain metabolism has been slowed down. The brain also experiences the structural changes of dementia that I mentioned.

Possibility that herbs and drugs can cause dementia

The problem does not stop here. It is possible that over-the-counter herbs that you may innocently get in the health food store can participate in the overall metabolic interaction of anticholinergic substances. Many herbs have pharmacological substances in them that have specific helpful effects. But whenever a drug or herb has a positive effect, quite often there is an undesirable effect or side effect.

Historically Belladonna is a poisonous plant that has medicinal values. Unfortunately many Belladonna preparations are available in health food stores that are not regulated by the FDA. Belladonna has strong anticholinergic side effects that interfere with other anticholinergic side effects.

There are many other herbs that are available without prescription.

Kava-kava, passionflower and hops

Kava-kava is an herb and a hallucinogenic that has anticholinergic properties. If you use Kava-Kava, keep in mind that the more you consume it, the more your brain shuts down. Why? The anticholinergic effect of Kava-Kava shuts down acetylcholine, the main stimulus in your brain cells to help you think.

Passionflower is an herb that sedates and is often used as a tincture to help you to fall asleep. What people perceive as a “natural effect” is merely the anticholinergic effect on the central nervous system.

Hops is the calming compound found in beer. It is also often in use together with other sedating herbal sleeping remedies in sleep inducing teas.

St. John’s wort and skullcap

St. John’s wort is also on the list. In smaller doses this herbal antidepressant may be useful and may have less side effects than commercial antidepressants. But there are possible side effects of dry mouth and constipation, which are the result of the anticholinergic side effect.

Skullcap is often used in tea to help a person to fall asleep. But keep in mind that the effect of helping you fall asleep comes from the anticholinergic effect of skullcap on brain cells.

All of these herbs are not any different from the medications in the discussion above, except that they are a bit weaker with regard to the anticholinergic effect.

Street drugs can cause dementia

Many street drugs are sedating and they have anticholinergic effects. It is therefore no surprise that with chronic use of street drugs drug users can come down with dementia, even at a relatively young age. Long-term use of anticholinergic drugs is associated with delirium and dementia.

Particularly benzodiazepines, meperidine (an opioid), antidepressants and many other drugs when taken together cause dementia, in part because of additive anticholinergic activity.

Pathology findings in street drug users

In an Edinburgh study from England 34 deceased patients, who were heavily using street drugs were autopsied. The researchers compared their brains to healthy 16-year-old non-drug users. There was nerve cell damage in the brain area, which is the control center for learning, memory and wellbeing. The pathologist found the same dementia findings that would be present in much older Alzheimer patients. We have to conclude from this that the anticholinergic effect of the drugs they received as a mix in the years prior to their deaths caused the damage to their brain. Toxicity to nerve cells from interacting drugs and their side effects can add up.

Drugs Can Cause Dementia

Drugs Can Cause Dementia

Conclusion

Whenever you have a substance that helps to get you drowsy so you can sleep better, be careful and check that it is not because of the anticholinergic effect of an herb or an over-the-counter drug. Melatonin is an exception, because this is your body’s own sleeping hormone that your body knows. Whenever anticholinergic drugs or herbs act on your brain they can over time cause an irreversible brain atrophy. As mentioned in the study above, an MRI scan can shown brain atrophy quite well. This leads to cognitive problems including memory problems.

PET scan shows slowdown of glucose metabolism in hippocampus

PET scans have also shown a permanent slowdown of glucose metabolism of the brain cells of the hippocampus, where short-term memory is located. Without that function you get permanent dementia. Ask your physician to treat the cause of your symptoms instead of treating you symptomatically. You may not always get the answer you need from conventional medicine. As the next step you may want a second opinion from a naturopath to see whether there would be an alternative treatment available that does not involve anticholinergic medications. Go to the root of the problem, avoid drugs that cause damage, and keep your brain healthy and your mental capacities without cognitive deficits!

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.