Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most feared conditions associated with aging in people, likely next to cancer and ranked above cardiovascular disease. Alzheimer’s disease is often a very progressive dementia condition associated with aging that leaves many helpless, not only as the patient but the caregiver. In today’s society, we often ban together to find cures for various health conditions that threaten our health, especially as we age, but all too often the cures that we expect to see, just never manifest. Like many other health conditions, Alzheimer’s disease is complex and there are many facets to the disease process, often developing over time, not overnight. Despite the millions if not billions of dollars spent on Alzheimer’s research, there is no cure in sight, but this research has shed some lights on lifestyle factors that could be potent means of prevention. Should we pay more attention to what has been revealed to us, regarding Alzheimer’s prevention, rather than holding our breath waiting on that cure?
According to the Alzheimer’s association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases in the adult. Alzheimer’s has traditionally been thought to be a disease of aging, impacting many over the age of 65, but truth be told, there are many ‘early-onset’ cases of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed in many under the age of 65. There are an estimated 5.5 million adults over the age of 65 and 200,000 under the age of 65 impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. Does this mean it is NOT a disease of aging? Not really, at least in my opinion, as we then have to define ‘aging’ and what that truly entails, speaking outside of just associating passing years with aging.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
In past articles, I have discussed the ultimate cause of aging, which is directly linked to cellular damage inflicted by free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Our brains are just as susceptible to this oxidative stress and inflammatory damage as our skin, our hair, or any other part of our body. We realize and accept that our skin changes as we age, impacted by our diet, stress, lifestyle factors, and even UV light exposure, but more often than not, we tend to not make the same connection with our brain. This is likely because it is hidden well inside of our skull and out of sight.
Alzheimer’s disease is hard to differentiate from common dementia situations and often first manifests in the aging adult as memory loss or decreased ability to retain newly acquired information. Due to the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease, many affected adults begin to note changes to behavior, moods and are often confused or disoriented at times. The rate of progression of clinical signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease can vary widely between patients. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States with the average patient living 4-8 years after the original diagnosis, but some live dramatically longer.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and most therapies that are employed include pharmaceuticals that target clinical signs and have hopes for delaying of the progression. The response to these therapies is highly variable and can be very costly for the patients and their caregivers. If anything, our ability to diagnose the condition at an earlier stage has improved, but even with an earlier diagnosis, it seems that our means of intervention or therapy have not kept pace.
What Does Research Tell Us About Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex health condition that likely develops over many years and leads to an irreversible deterioration of normal brain function. The condition is often associated with abnormal clumping of amyloid proteins and tau fibers, which create plaques and impair normal nerve and brain function. In addition, there appears to be a loss of connection between nerves inside of the brain which then impairs normal nerve signal transmission. In more recent research, there are questions being raised over vascular damage to the brain, which may impair not only blood circulation and health of the brain, but may actually precede the other well known plaque formation. These damaging affects appears to start initially in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with memories, but over time the damage progresses to other areas of our brain leading to overall loss of brain function and brain size.
The process of inflammation in our body is complex and more often than not, we just associate inflammation with ongoing pain, redness or swelling. This may be true, in the acute stage, but chronic inflammation is often undetected and lying in the background of our lives, causing severe damaging cellular effects that often go unrecognized until a major health condition arises. The inflammatory status in our body also directly relates to the level of oxidative stress damage due to free radicals. This inflammation is one of the main causes of our cellular aging process and is directly connected with our chosen lifestyle, dietary habits, stress, exercise, and other factors. In essence, chronic inflammation is a sport of participation on our end. We, through our choices, contribute to it and create it.
The concept of inflammation has been readily connected with Alzheimer’s disease but more often than not, it has been seen as a secondary event, rather than a primary one. But, the tide is changing and more evidence is being revealed that systemic inflammation in our bodies may actually play more of a primary role than originally thought, even existing in the brain before the presence of amyloid plaque formation.(3)
Other research is indicating the role of microglia cells in the creation of Alzheimer’s disease. Microglia are essentially immune cells localized to the brain and serve to protect the central nervous system. Chronic inflammatory changes in our body, over time, impair these microglia cells much the same as it does to our systemic immune response. When the microglia are not functioning correctly, then the central nervous system is predisposed to cellular damage, including potentially amyloid plague formation and other negative changes.(4)
Research has also made a direct connection between a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and patients that routinely take anti-inflammatory medications for other health conditions including cardiovascular disease or rheumatoid arthritis. In most cases, the class of medications prescribed included non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs). It appears that the longer the duration of time that these medications were routinely taken, the better the overall reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. This reduction in incidence has been associated with a reduced level of systemic inflammation and neuro-inflammation within that patient, often connected with blocking of complement activation.(5)
Biomarker assays of the brain and spinal fluid indicate that likely Alzheimer’s disease begins at least 10 years before the clinical signs develop enough to permit a diagnosis. This finding is often similar to other health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. The health condition is not acutely acquired, but develops over time, often many, many years. Considering the huge time span between development and clinical signs, there is a huge window of opportunity to intervene on a broader level.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Methods of Prevention and Intervention
Considering the connections between systemic chronic inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, it makes sense to try to intervene not only as a means of potential prevention but also potentially intervention in those patients impacted by the disease. In order to do this effectively, you need to understand what does and does not alter or change your body’s inflammatory status.
Things you can do to alter systemic chronic inflammation include:
- Dietary alterations to reduce refined sugars and processed foods
- Increase level of exercise
- Reduction of stress
- Intake of whole-foods and certain herbs
- Routine intake of anti-inflammatory herbs and/or medications (NSAIDs)
Our lifestyle choices, including diet, stress, and participation in exercise directly impacts our body’s inflammatory status. As we age or change our lifestyle, more often than not, our food and exercise choices change and with that, our body condition changes. This is not only evident in an increase of our body mass index (BMI), meaning we become overweight, but internally our cellular function begins to decline on many levels. Thus, through proper food choices, stress reduction, and participation in routine exercise, we might just reduce not only the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease but many other age-related health conditions additionally. Routine exercise, by itself, has been shown in research to reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.(6)
Herbs can also be a powerful ally in our attempts to regain and maintain our health. Many herbs not only provide whole-food nutrient provisions, which help our body to maintain strength and vitality, but herbs can also provide potent anti-inflammatory properties. Many herbs and other nutraceuticals show marked promise as a part of not only preventative therapy but also complementary therapy for patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, likely through modulation of the internal inflammatory process in that patient. Curcumin is just one of many herbs that have demonstrated anti-Alzheimer’s capabilities. The main concern regarding Curcumin, however, has been relative to bioavailability and absorption. Whether if this is truly a concern or not is yet to be determined, however, it does raise the question regarding consuming forms of Curcumin that have proven to be more readily bioavailable, including BCM-95® which is found in all of our Cur-OST Human formulations.
The key similarity and clinical health benefits between Curcumin, Resveratrol, green tea, and many other herbs and certain food groups, including fruits and berries, revolves around their ability to impact the inflammatory pathway, reduction of oxidative stress, and impact on certain cellular signaling pathways. Many of these herbs and food groups contain polyphenols, which are antioxidant type of chemical compounds that exert these benefits. These polyphenols, when routinely consumed as a part of a daily diet, have shown much benefit in research regarding the impact on neurodegenerative health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.(7)
Alzheimer’s Disease; Intervention is Up to You
As with all health conditions, you do have a choice in the matter. Most chronic health ailments do not develop overnight, but instead are created over years and decades, progressing slowly over time. The fact is that most research findings are indicating that our lifestyle choices are likely playing a large role in our health decline, whether if that is Alzheimer’s disease or otherwise. As much as we all want to see a cure developed for Alzheimer’s disease, in the form of an injection or pill, the reality is that this is likely far off into the future if at all. In the meantime, we can just sit idle waiting for a cure to be developed, playing a victim of sorts, or we can look at what research has indicated to us and implement it into our daily lives.
It may be possible, quite possible indeed, to prevent Alzheimer’s disease before onset and even maybe impact the disease progression after diagnosis with some simple lifestyle changes, including diet choices and daily consumption of specific herbs. The jury is still out, as long-term studies are needed in Alzheimer’s, but one thing does stand clear. That is that choosing a healthier diet, taking on routine exercise, reducing our stress, and consumption of certain herbs does improve overall health and mental outlook. So, why not implement it now?
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M., CVCH, CHN
- Alzheimer’s Association, general patient information
- National Institute of Health, Alzheimer’s disease
- Holmes, C. Review: Systemic Inflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuropath App Neurobiol. 2013. Feb;39(1):51-68
- Spangenberg EE, Green KN. Inflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease: Lessons Learned from Microglia-depletion models. Brain Behav Immun. 2017. Mar;61:1-11
- McGeer PL, et al. Inflammation, Anti-inflammatory Agents, and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Last 22 Years. J Alzheimer’s Disease. 2016. Oct 4;54(3):853-57
- Do K et al. The Effects of Exercise on Hypothalamic Neurodegeneration of Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model. PLoS One. 2018. Jan 2:13(1)
- Molino S et al. Polyphenols in Dementia:From Molecular Basis to Clinical Trials. Life Sci. 2016. Sep 15;161:69-77