If I can choose a term to describe myself, I would say I am a self-proclaimed ‘old soul’. From childhood to my first job as a nurse practitioner, I volunteered and worked with the aging adult population. This aging population has always attracted me with their vast & countless experiences in life, like living history books. Working with this population, I also was witness to the change in cognitive function and dementia diagnoses for numerous individuals. According to www.alz.org, there is an estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017. One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia (AD). When my role changed to more integrative medicine, I looked at what could be done to naturally slow progression of this disease.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease:
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that occurs when abnormal deposits of proteins in the brain form plaques and tangles, not allowing neurons to appropriately communicate in the body. The build-up of the plaque/tangles creates progressive symptoms commonly known in AD. These symptoms include impaired memory, changes in behavior, language and communication barriers, emotional apathy, inability to perform activities of daily living, and increased dependence on others.
Genes (especially APOE4), insulin resistance, lifestyle and environmental factors, have long been thought of as the main causes of AD. More recent research has indicated inflammation in the brain and body causes chronic damage to all organs and blood vessels leading to multiple diseases, including AD.
Obtaining labs is important with any disease. Each person’s case is unique and so are their labs. People have grown up in different environments, have different genetic makeup, different stressors and different exposures to illnesses, which all play a role in disease formation and progression. Labs to include in a AD workup include (but are not limited to): CRP, ESR, fibrinogen, homocysteine, fasting insulin, HgbA1c, serum B12, vitamin D, full thyroid panel, sex hormones (progesterone, pregnenolone, estrogen, testosterone) and cortisol. Depending on other findings during the exam, looking into heavy metal exposure, chemical exposure, pathogens (virus, bacteria, yeast), and gut health, could be necessary as well.
Once a detailed history and physical is completed, along with in-depth labs, then a plan of care can be discussed. Treating inflammation in the body can decrease severity of disease and halt progression of disease.
Treatments that can be beneficial include:
- Changing Diet: Eliminating inflammatory foods (grains) and reducing sugar intake is important for everyone, especially people with neurological conditions. There is a strong link between diabetes/blood sugar dysregulation and mental decline. Some researchers have even renamed AD as “type 3 diabetes” for this fact. Following a ketogenic diet can help the body get into ketosis which helps increase insulin sensitivity, decrease blood sugar levels and reduce spikes in blood sugar. Inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other diseases are all major risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. These can all be addressed with a balanced, high-fat and low-carb ketogenic diet.
- Managing Stress: Yoga, Meditation, Music and light exercise (30-60 min./day, 4-6 days/week) can improve overall health within the body.
- Adequate Sleep: Getting restful sleep (7-8 hours per night) and ruling out sleep apnea is beneficial.
- Brain Games: Completing crossword puzzles or downloading brain game apps on a tablet can help keep the brain ‘exercised’.
- Supplementation: Depending on the health assessment and labs recommended above, supplementation with key nutrients is recommended. B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, Vitamin D3, Minerals, Phosphatidylcholine, Coq10 and Curcumin can all be beneficial in decreasing inflammation, improving methylation pathways and ultimately improving memory. Each person’s supplemental recommendations will differ depending on their history.
- Treating heavy metals, infections and improving gut health are an important part of AD health as well.
Alzheimer’s Disease does not have to be a rapidly progressing, final diagnosis for you or a loved one. It also isn’t something that will happen to you if your close relatives have had it. My favorite quote when talking about all diseases is this, “genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. We can have poor genes that predispose us to all sorts of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, but if we have a good environment (not exposing ourselves to chemicals, toxins, infections), keep our immune system strong, our stress low, and constantly detox our bodies, we will avoid ‘turning on’ bad genes.