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.

Nov
12
2016

Stress Drives Our Lives

Every year the American Psychological Association (APA) monitors the American public how stress drives our lives. This yearly report has been compiled since 2007. About 75% of the people questioned reported that they have experienced moderate to high stress over the past month.

Symptoms when stress drives our lives

What kind of symptoms can stress cause? It can cause sleep deprivation, anxiety, headaches and depression. But there can be more symptoms from any disease that stress may cause. The “Stress in America” report from February 2016 shows on page 5 that unhealthy life habits are used by low-income Americans to cope with stress. A bar graph shows that watching television or movies for more than 2 hours per day is common. Another way of coping is to surf the Internet more often, take more naps or sleep longer. Eating more, drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking more are other unhealthy ways to cope with stress.

As the stressed person gains extra weight and eventually becomes obese, there is a higher rate of diabetes that can develop with all of its complications.

Causes of stress in our lives

The “Stress in America” survey was based on 3,068 adults in the US who completed the survey during August 2015. 72% were stressed out about financial issues. 22% of these said that they were extremely stressed in the past month as a result of money concerns. Other common concerns were work, the economy, family responsibilities and concerns about personal health. Average stress levels among Americans decreased when compared to 2007. On a 10-point stress score respondents rated their stress at 4.9 in 2016 compared to 6.2 in 2007. But according to the American Psychological Association this is much higher than a stress rating of 3.7 considered to be a healthy level.

Stress affects people from all walks of life, workers, women, young adults, students and those with lower incomes.

“Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us” Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Rush University Medical Center said. “So, threat to self, threat to self-esteem, threat to income, threat to employment and threat to our family or our health…” is what causes stress.

Stress drives our lives causing disease

When stress is too much for our system, we are starting to see pathology develop. “Stress is seldom the root cause of disease, but rather interacts with our genetics and our state of our bodies in ways that accelerate disease” professor Hobfoll says. The following are common diseases that can result from chronic stress.

Heart attacks and strokes

In a 2015 Lancet study 603,838 men and women who worked long hours were followed for a mean of about 8 years with respect to heart disease or strokes. All of the subjects were free of heart attacks and strokes when they entered into the study. There were a total of 13% more heart attacks in those who worked extra hours in comparison to those who worked 40 hours per week or less. With respect to strokes there were 33% more strokes in those who worked long hours. Researchers noted a dose-response curve for strokes in groups with various workloads. Compared to standard working hours there were 10% additional strokes for 41-48 working hours, 27% for 49-54 working hours and 33% for 55 or more working hours per week.

Stress drives our lives and causes substance abuse

In order to cope with stress many of us treat daily stress with alcohol. It makes you feel good subjectively, but it can raise your blood pressure causing heart attacks and strokes down the road. A low dose of alcohol may be healthy, but medium and high doses are detrimental to your health.

Next many people still smoke, although scientists have proven long time ago that it is bad for your health. It can cause heart attacks, various cancers and circulatory problems leading to leg amputations.

Overeating is another common problem. Comfort food relieves stress, but it puts on extra pounds. As you know it is easier to put weight on than get it off. Being overweight or being obese has its own problems: arthritis in the hips and knees makes walking more difficult. The metabolic syndrome sets in, which is a characteristic metabolic change causing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and certain cancers. The more weight you carry, the less likely you are to exercise. This deteriorates your health outlook.

Diabetes

Stress causes too much cortisol secretion from the adrenal glands. This raises blood sugar, and when chronic can cause diabetes. In addition unhealthy eating habits associated with stress can cause weight gain and high blood sugars leading to diabetes.

In a 2012 California study 148 adult Korean immigrants were examined. They all had elevated blood sugars confirming the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. They had a  elevated waist/hip ratio.

A high percentage of the study subjects had risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This included being overweight or obese and having high blood glucose readings. 66% of them said that they were feeling stressed, 51% reported feeling anxious, 38% said they were feeling restless, 30% felt nervous and 3% said they were feeling hopeless.

An Australian long-term follow-up study computed risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Stress was a major contributor to diabetes.

A 30-day episode of any anxiety disorder had a 1.53-fold risk to cause diabetes. A depressive disorder had a 1.37-fold risk to cause diabetes and posttraumatic stress disorder had a risk of 1.42-fold to cause diabetes.

Infertility

Stress changes hormones in women causing ovulation problems and infertility. 1 in 8 couples in America have problems getting pregnant. Physicians identified stress as at least a contributing factor. But in men stress can also reduce sperm count and semen quality as this study describes.

Alzheimer’s disease

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

Psychologists assessed the stress score in 1968,1974 and 1980. 161 females developed dementia (105 Alzheimer’s disease, 40 vascular dementia and 16 other dementias). The risk of dementia was higher in those women who had frequent/constant stress in the past. Women who had stress on one, two or three examinations suffered from higher dementia rates later in life. Researchers compared this to women did not have any significant stress. Specifically, dementia rates were 10% higher after one stressful episode, 73% higher after two stressful episodes and 151% higher after three stressful episodes.

Remedies for stress

Before you can attempt to remedy stress, you must first detect that you are under stress. You can recognize this when you have problems sleeping, you suffer from fatigue, when overeating or undereating is a problem, and if you feel depressed. Others may feel angry or are irritable. Some bad lifestyle habits may also make you aware that you are under stress. You may smoke or drink more in an attempt to manage stress. Some people abuse drugs.

Here are some suggestions how to remedy stress:

  1. Seek support from family, friends or religious organizations. If you engage in drugs or alcohol overuse or you feel suicidal, it is best to seek the advice from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  2. Engage in regular exercise. This produces endorphins, the natural “feel-good” brain hormone. This reduces symptoms of depression and improves sleep quality.
  3. Do something that increases pleasure, such as having a meal with friends, starting a hobby or watching a good movie.
  4. Positive self-talk: avoid negative thoughts like “I can’t do this”. Instead say to yourself “I will do the best I can”. Psychologists have developed a technique where they teach patients how to turn negatives into positives. Psychologists call this therapy “cognitive therapy”. You may want to seek the advice of a psychologist to have a few cognitive therapy sessions.
  5. Daily relaxation: you may want to use self-hypnosis, tai-chi exercises or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
Stress Drives Our Lives

Stress Drives Our Lives

Conclusion

Stress is very common. Diverse diseases like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease can all be caused by stress. It is important to minimize the impact of stress by seeking family support and support from friends. Engaging in regular exercise will release endorphins and make you feel better. Relaxation exercises and seeking counselling can all help you to manage stress. You cannot ignore or simply tolerate this force in your life. Stress is indeed there, but we can make a difference by managing it to avoid that stress manages us.

Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014