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How to Prevent Alzheimer Disease

A multifactorial approach, looking at many lifestyle components and biochemical markers, may offer the best chance to prevent Alzheimer disease.

Alzheimer disease is one of the cruelest conditions that afflict mankind. It robs people of their personalities, their memories and ultimately their ability to perform the simplest functions. It can be even worse for families that watch a loved one slip away over months and years. Is there a way to prevent Alzheimer disease?

What Causes Alzheimer Disease?

The causes of Alzheimer disease remain mysterious and treatments have been elusive. Drug companies have spent billions trying to develop medications to treat the inexorable cognitive decline of this condition, but the results have been disappointing. None of the medications approved for treating Alzheimer disease does much more than slow its progression temporarily.

This doesn’t mean that there is no hope for people who are beginning to notice moments of confusion or forgetfulness, though. Scientists led by Dale Bredesen, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have developed a novel therapeutic program that addresses many contributing factors at once (Aging, Sept., 2014).  They have reported on ten patients who had Alzheimer’s disease and have been able to reverse it and return to work or improve their work performance (Aging, June, 2016).

Personalizing the Treatment:

The approach that they followed to reverse or prevent Alzheimer disease is personalized to address what is going wrong with each individual. They consider everyday elements like sleep, exercise and diet as well as inflammation. This is measured by hs-CRP (C-reactive protein) or NF-kappa B. Dr. Bredesen also tests a person’s fasting blood glucose, HbA1c and fasting insulin levels. In addition, he reviews markers of thyroid function, homocysteine, vitamin D and sex hormones. The aim is to optimize approximately two dozen factors.

What Can You Do to Prevent Alzheimer Disease?

How can people concerned about their brain power take steps to protect it? The first step is to make sure that they are not taking medications that impair cognitive function. Such anticholinergic drugs are surprisingly common, since they may be prescribed to treat a wide range of conditions from depression or insomnia to overactive bladder or motion sickness. There is a list of anticholinergic medications at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Exercise for Prevention:

Equally important is to take a proactive approach for prevention. Exercise is key. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can cut the risk of developing dementia by as much as 40 percent (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Aug., 2016). It doesn’t seem to matter what type of exercise you choose: swimming, dancing, cycling, hiking or just plain walking can all help prevent Alzheimer disease, so long as you do it several times a week (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, March 11, 2016).

Eating for Brain Health:

Diet is also critical. To minimize inflammation in both body and brain, one of the most practical recommendations is to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, with plenty of legumes, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruits (Alzheimer’s & Dementia, online July 23, 2016).  Avoiding simple sugars and refined carbohydrates can help with blood sugar control for better brain function.

Ayurvedic Herbs May Help:

Dr. Bredesen also offers his patients some Ayurvedic herbs. These plants from traditional Indian medicine appear to be helpful in maintaining cognitive function. They include ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Bacopa monnieri and curcumin, a component of turmeric.

One of these, ashwagandha, appears to regulate NF-kappa B in brain cells, suggesting that it can reduce brain inflammation (Neurochemistry International, July, 2016). It may have other neuroprotective activity as well (Medical Hypotheses, July, 2016).

Another of the plants Dr. Bredesen uses, Bacopa monnieri, also seems to fight inflammation in the brain (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, online July 26, 2016). Research in rats shows that this botanical medicine has neuroprotective effects (Neurochemical Research, online Aug. 10, 2016).

Curcumin is a polyphenol that shows promise for treating or preventing dementia (Life Sciences, online Aug. 1, 2016). Mice given curcumin learn better than control mice and have less beta-amyloid accumulating in their brains (Molecular Neurobiology, online Feb. 26, 2016). Australian researchers recommend using curcumin early in the development of dementia, before a definitive diagnosis can be established, because that may be most useful to prevent Alzheimer disease (British Journal of Nutrition, online Feb. 14, 2016).

Even people who have a genetic risk of developing Alzheimer disease may benefit from a program that incorporates a healthful diet and lifestyle. Dr. Bredesen’s report of 10 cases included several people with ApoE-4 variants that are unfavorable (Aging, June 2016).

Avoiding drugs that may impair neuronal function is also worthwhile. Since cognitive decline is affected by so many different factors, it is important not to focus on just one problem but to take a multi-faceted approach to prevent Alzheimer disease. You can learn more about Dr. Bredesen’s protocol by listening to our hour-long interview with him, Show #994.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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