Last week, I began a discussion about Alzheimer’s. I shared the suggestion that Alzheimer’s risk is not so much a genetic factor as it is a diet and lifestyle factor. Overall, in those with Alzheimer’s, we see inflammation, damaged cell energy systems, toxic exposure and/or insulin resistance. These are all issues we see as a result of a lifestyle chock full of high stress, toxic chemicals, processed and fast foods, little sunlight and no exercise, which are all common elements of a standard American lifestyle.
Current research is supporting the idea that Alzheimer’s, like obesity and diabetes, is really a “disease of civilization.” Virtually unheard of in traditional hunter-gatherer societies, it’s on the rise here where our lifestyle is continually moving away from what our genes expect and demand for health. While there are side-effects of our cultural “progress” that we can not possibly escape, such as air and water pollution and the need to remain at least partially sedentary to maintain employment, there are plenty of lifestyle factors that we ARE in charge of. There are so many, in fact, that there is no reason to consider Alzheimer’s, obesity, or diabetes as inevitable or irreversible. Let’s take a look at the health factors involved with the onset of Alzheimer’s, and the steps that can be taken to remedy them.
Inflammation is a normal and essential bodily function. The immune system detects a problem, such as an injury or infection, and mobilizes an inflammatory response in order to initiate healing. When the assault is resolved, an anti-inflammatory counter-response is required to return the tissues to normal. Problems arise when a) there is a chronic insult that is not resolved by the inflammation or b) the body is unable to anti-inflame.
Interventions for Inflammation
Reduce stress – Begin a daily yoga or meditation practice. Never underestimate the power of breath work and relaxation.
Increase sleep – Ensure 8 hours each night. 5-6 hours is not enough!
Increase antioxidants – Colorful fruits and vegetables, like berries, beets, and carrots, contain powerful antioxidants, reducing the damage that stresses cause in the body.
Improve gut health – Eliminate irritating, processed foods and food allergens. Increase gut-microbiome diversity with probiotics (yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut) and prebiotics (fermentable fibers such as potato starch). Heal leaky gut with tea made from licorice root, marshmallow root, and slippery elm.
Use natural anti-inflammatories – Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to be more effective at reducing inflammation than both ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Turmeric tea can be made with turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and coconut milk. Turmeric can also be added to curries and other Indian-style dishes. Other anti-inflammatories include healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fats, such as evening primrose oil, and, of course, fish and cod-liver oil.
Damaged Cell Energy Systems
All of our body cells should be efficient at turning the foods we eat into the energy they need to perform their functions. This process is incredibly resilient, but does have a breaking point. After a long enough period of time with a processed foods diet, high toxic load, and unrelenting stress, these systems begin to break down, leading to mass cellular dysfunction and obesity, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Intervention for cell damage
Dietary changes – eliminate sugar, refined flours, and processed oils. Increase fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, plus wild fish and grass-fed or pastured meats.
Shorten your eating window – Go at least 12 hours without eating overnight. This gives the body an opportunity to “clean house” by eradicating damaged cells and liver detoxification, which it can’t do while digesting food.
Regular, challenging exercise – Highly individualized. At least daily walking is essential for anyone who is human.
Add medium-chain triglycerides – This special kind of fat, found in coconut oil, can be used almost immediately by the brain for energy. (Check out Mary Newport’s book listed in my references below.)
This is a wide-reaching category, but mostly refers to molds, mercury, and other metals.
Interventions for toxic exposure
Test your home for molds and respond to the test results with appropriate steps.
Have your tissues tested for mercury toxicity. There are many sources, including fish, water, vaccines, and dental amalgams. Regularly consuming cilantro can help to detox mercury from the body.
Sunlight – Our “indoorsy” lifestyles render us deficient in Vitamin D3 (not to mention dark, Alaskan winters). Typically, even the most “outdoorsy” people spend less time in the sun than humans are meant to. Maximize your sunscreen-free sun exposure in the warm months, without burning, and supplement during colder weather with cholecalciferol, the most bioavailable form of D3.
Brain exercises – We’ve all heard that regularly completing crossword puzzles helps stave off cognitive decline. If words aren’t your jam, there are many options. There is a wide selection of brain games available online, such as brainhq.com. You can also choose to learn a new language (I love the Duolingo app) or even take music lessons. Challenging your brain to new tasks is more than just therapeutic; it’s an essential part of the human experience.
Supplements – A few supplements that have been indicated supporting improved symptoms are zinc, selenium, thiamine, and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC).
Implementing these lifestyle changes early in life can prevent the onset of cognitive decline, and research has shown them to be capable of reversing symptoms even after they’ve started. Are you surprised by the simplicity of these interventions? In our culture of drug-centric therapy, we’ve been coaxed into believing that complex disorders require complex chemistry and expensive pharmaceuticals. What’s even more powerful than super-sophisticated medications? The choices you make every day for your whole lifetime. Your day-to-day decisions may seem minor in the grand scheme of life, but they truly are your most potent weapon against Alzheimer’s and the diseases of civilization.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Sources and further reading:
Kresser, C. (2016.) RHR: Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer’s from a Functional Perspective—With Dr. Dale Bredesen. https://chriskresser.com/prevention-and-treatment-of-alzheimers-from-a-functional-perspective-with-dr-dale-bredesen/
Bredesen, D. E. (2014.) Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program. Aging: Volume 6, Issue 9; pp 707-717.
Hyman, M. (2016.) Alzheimer’s = Type 3 Diabetes. http://drhyman.com/blog/2016/02/12/why-alzheimers-is-now-considered-type-3-diabetes/
Newport, M. (2011.) Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure? The Story of Ketones. Basic Health Publications, Inc.