Q: it seems more and more people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Can this be prevented or reversed?
A: Folks are living longer, but not necessarily better, with drugs and machines that can prop us up, and frankly, keep the medical machine going. Some estimates put 85% of healthcare dollar capture from patients in the last few years of their life. This is not to say that we shouldn’t aim to live longer — but not at the expense of living well.
Brains are mostly made of fat (cholesterol in particular) which is why statin drugs promote early cognitive decline. But so does the toxic burden in our food, air and water. Our bodies are designed to protect vital organs against toxins by walling toxins (soft plasticizer, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals) inside fat cells. Unfortunately, many of these noxious substances can cross the blood-brain barrier and lodge in our fatty brains. It’s not all bad news however. Recently, a pioneering doctor (Dale Bredesen MD, who is due to release a book on the topic in the spring) has published research from 3 years working with Alzheimer’s patients. He has developed a protocol which absolutely reverses cognitive decline. This is huge! Alzheimer’s has been deemed “irreversible” until now. Dr. Bredesen talks about 3 types of Alzheimer’s:
1) from amyloid plaque formed in an attempt to protect the brain cells from chronic infection (especially problematic are Lyme disease, spirochetes or molds) and chronic inflammation. The assumption has been that beta-amyloid plaque was the CAUSE of Alzheimer’s. Turns out it’s the response, but not a highly functional response. Chronic inflammation can be caused by many agents, including a high sugar/refined carb diet, but poor oral hygiene (including root canals) is an oft-overlooked cause.
2) from withdrawal of “neuro-trophic” support due to ageing or endocrine disruptors. Substances which help grow new brain cells (neuroblastic activity) include estrogen, testosterone (which derive directly from cholesterol formation in the liver), Vitamin D, nerve growth factors and more. In this type of Alzheimer’s the problem is higher levels of brain destruction (neuroclastic activity) than brain repair. Statins are a problem. Plastic everywhere especially touching our food and water is a problem. Living inside (chronic low Vitamin D status) is a problem.
3) from heavy metal contamination. This is the hardest to treat according to Dr. Bredesen because chelating the heavy metals out of the tissues (which are in the order of 1000 times higher compared to blood levels) takes time, and must be done by a healthcare provider who understands that critical minerals must be replaced, and that the kidneys and lymphatic systems be simultaneously supported.
What’s the remedy? Dr. Bredesen talks about 36 different parameters of intervention, “as though you had a roof with up to 36 leaks — each must be addressed” if they are part of a given patient’s presentation. These remedies include:
1) excellent diet. What that means is low sugar, minimal processed foods, high fiber (vegies and low glycemic fruit), SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring — most other fish, especially ones with big bodies and long lives, sequester heavy metals from eating bottom feeders and smaller fish), organic, gluten free, no saturated fats except coconut oil.
2) brain herbs like Ashwaganda, bacopa, Gotu kola. Methylated B vitamins, especially if your homocysteine level is over 10.
3) 8 hours of sleep every night.
4) 12-16 hours of fasting daily. This is more stringent than previous basic health promoting rules. Dr. Bredesen insists on giving the digestive system a good long rest, so the body can focus on producing enzymes that will digest away toxic debris and damaged cells overnight. This means curtailing your eating time to an 8 hour window: maybe a good breakfast at 10 AM and then a healthy dinner at 5 or 5:30 PM.
5) digestive enzymes and happy daily pooping
6) is this sounding familiar?
It seems that keeping the whole body healthy is key to brain health as well. This is a clear example of the continuity of mind/body. There really is no separation. To take this a step further, all living organisms are connected and everything everyone does affects the whole planet eventually. Here’s another consideration if you remain skeptical about the idea of mind/body continuity: If someone is depressed, doing good things for your body like regular exercise, clean diet and getting sufficient sleep and water are essential first steps towards mental health. For one, self care is the most authentic way you can honor yourself. It’s much easier to get the help you need if you are willing to do your part. Exercise may be difficult to initiate, but it helps SO MUCH, I urge you to start with walking every day. If you can’t walk, push yourself around in a wheelchair. Ideally outside, rain or shine.
One of my favorite and under-utilized remedies for depression is low dose Lithium. This used to be a well-known and effective remedy for “manic depressive disorder,” now called bi-polar, but the higher doses used caused some trouble with calcium metabolism for some patients and Lithium largely fell out of favor, in deference to other enormously more expensive drugs. Lithium has enjoyed a bit of a revival however due to some press around head injuries which got a big boost from the movie “Concussion.” This is Hollywood at it’s best: bringing forward the harmful denial of an institution (NFL) and forcing policy change. Now we need a Hollywood star to do that for gun violence. Lithium has been shown to improve or prevent chronic traumatic encephalopathy’s (CTE) tragic course of increased impulsivity, rapid progression to dementia, and high suicide risk.
The only medication in the psychiatric literature to prevent suicide is Lithium. This has been shown over decades in dozens of randomized clinical trials in thousands of people, to allow an 87% reduction of suicide risk in patients taking lithium, or living in a community with naturally high levels of lithium in the water supply. (Medscape.com/viewarticle/857105)
The mechanism of lithium’s benefit in brain preservation seems to be promoting an increase in neuroprotective proteins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, GSK-3, and blockade of harmful proteins, such as tau — the major problem in CTE.
If you suffer from depression, or have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or have a strong family history of dementia, consider cleaning up your diet and lifestyle and taking the simple, naturally occurring mineral Lithium before embarking on an expensive drug protocol which will inevitably produce unwanted side effects. In closing, there is recent evidence that chronic use of antihistamines (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra etc) promote cognitive decline. This is because these drugs do more than dry up your mucous membranes. Turns out they dry up your brain too. Work with a naturopathic physician or other holistically trained clinician to find a better way to manage allergies.