Remembering Reagan, Avoiding Alzheimer's
One More for "The Gipper"
Ronald Reagan was one of America's most memorable Presidents. Even those who disagreed with his politics were attracted to his unflinching optimism, eloquent speech and fierce belief that America was and should always be the "beacon of light in a world of darkness." For a moving recount of the life and times of this Great American Dreamer, we offer this link to Newsweek Magazine:
Alzheimer's Disease: The "Retirement Robber"
We salute a life well lived in public service, in Hollywood and in politics by a man who kept himself fit, optimistic and intimately involved in life. What should have been a golden last decade in the life of Ronald Reagan was instead spent with a swiftly diminishing mental and physical capacity. Alzheimer's disease robbed he and his wife of 52 years of the noble retirement they deserved.
What Alzheimer's Is --- and Isn't
Alzheimer's disease, first described in 1907 by German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, is a degenerative condition of the brain that results in progressive memory loss. In its most severe stage, afflicted people become unable to care for themselves, lose bowel and bladder control and are often unable to swallow and eat. Death usually ensues from infection, often pneumonia.
There are many causes of memory loss besides Alzheimer's. It is estimated that an approximately equal number of people over age 60 suffer from senile dementia and Alzheimer's. (Four million Americans have Alzheimer's disease at a cost of $90 billion annually). While dementia is most frequently caused by atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's is caused by the deposition of an abnormal protein --- beta amyloid --- in the brain. These protein deposits are accompanied by "neurofibrillary tangles," (tangles of tiny filaments in the brain) and a loss of many nerve cells. The two conditions are often difficult to differentiate.
Any memory loss with age COULD be serious, but many causes of decreased memory are due to correctable abnormalities such as low thyroid function, nutrient deficiencies, atherosclerosis and tumors. Some decreased capacity to recall names is not necessarily a sign of anything worrisome. One expert described the difference between benign age-related memory changes and Alzheimer's like this: aging memory is forgetting where you put the car keys; Alzheimer's is forgetting how to drive the car. Benign aging memory is forgetting an old high school friend's name; Alzheimer's is forgetting your spouse's name.
When to be Concerned about Memory Loss
Any persistent memory changes in a person of ANY age should be evaluated by a physician. Again, there are many correctable causes of memory loss. Many of these corrections are best made as early as possible. For example, deficiencies of B6, B12 and folic acid are associated with increased levels of homocysteine. Increased homocysteine, in turn, is associated with memory loss. This nutrient-related memory decline is felt to be completely reversible within the first 6-12 months. After that, although further memory decline can often be prevented, the existing memory deficits are most often irreversible. (Another good reason to take your daily Maxi Multi, which contains the optimal target doses of these nutrients).
Again, any memory or personality changes should be thoroughly evaluated by a physician. Don't wait to see your doctor for memory concerns.
Causes of Alzheimer's
The major abnormalities seen in Alzheimer's are beta amyloid plaque deposition, neurofibrillary tangles, and loss of neurons. The cause of this collection of abnormalities is not known, although strong evidence exists to support several mechanisms.
1.) Genetics. There appears to be some genetic predisposition to the disease, with 15-20% of cases running in families.
2.) Free Radical Damage (oxidative stress). Brain lesions in Alzheimer's patients exhibit typical free-radical damage, including damaged DNA, lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation and Advanced Glycosylation end products (AGE's, see # 3 below).
3.) Inflammation. The same inflammatory cascade that is a known risk factor for heart disease appears in Alzheimer's at the site of beta amyloid desposition. These inflammatory products accelerate the loss of neurons (brain cells). The hs-CRP test that I encourage all patients to have on an annual basis to help predict heart-disease risk is an indication of this type of low-grade inflammation.
4.) Advanced Glycolsylation End products (AGEs). Glycation is a process whereby a protein binds irreversibly to a sugar molecule, producing an abnormal complex that impairs tissue elasticity. Evidence for AGEs as a cause of Alheimer's relates to the fact that AGEs are found in the neurofibrillary tangles characteristic of the disease. Many researchers feel that AGEs may be a more important cause of Alzheimer's that beta amyloid.
5.) Aluminum toxicity. Although this potential cause is dismissed by conventional medicine, the evidence is strong in favoring aluminum as a causative factor. First, the senile plaques chracteristic of Alzheimer's patients have been found to accumulate aluminum. Lab animals injected with aluminum will develop neurofibrillary tangles as seen in Alzheimer's. One study (McLachlan, et al. 1996) found a 250% increase of Alzheimer's disease in people drinking municipal water with high aluminum levels for 10 years or more. Finally, one drug used to treat Alzheimer's (desferrioxamine) shows a significant benefit in slowing progression of the disease. This drug chelates aluminum.
6.) Homocysteine. This metabolic intermediate, clearly recognized as a risk factor for coronary artery disease, non-Alzheimer's dementia, and stroke, is now felt to be a significant risk for Alzheimer's disease as well. Elevated homocysteine levels results from deficiencies of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid.
Although other theories of the genesis of Alzheimer's disease exist, the above-listed causes appear to have the most research and relevance behind them.
Avoiding Alzheimer's: Prevention Steps to Take NOW
With the exception of genetics, all of the most widely supported causes of Alzheimer's are amenable to preventive and possibly even corrective measures. This is good news, because it means we are not helpless to prevent such a devastating disease. Here are the most-proven methods for addressing the causes of Alzheimer's:
1.) Prevent Free Radical Damage to the brain and elsewhere. This is a two-step process. First, avoid or minimize exposure to factors that cause free radicals in the body. These factors include first and second-hand smoke, excessive exposure to X-rays, excessive sun exposure, dietary trans fatty acids, heavy metal toxicity. Secondly, take an abundance of nutritional antioxidants to neutralize free radicals in the body. Common antioxidants inlude: vitamin A, C, E, beta carotene, flavonoids, CoQ10 and acetyl-L-carnitine. The herb Ginkgo biloba is also a potent antioxidant.
2.) Prevent and Reverse Subtle Inflammation. The herb turmeric (curcumin), is a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrin substance. It is also a potent antioxidant with liver-protecting properties. Ginkgo is another anti-inflammatory herb (actually mentioned in The Merck Manual of conventional medicine as being helpful for Alzheimer's). Essential Fatty Acids, such as those found in flax and fish oil, are anti-inflammatory.
3.) Reduce Advanced Glycosylation End products (AGEs). This is best accomplished by means of a lower carbohydrate diet. In the absence of chronic high blood sugar, AGEs form much less, if at all. The Super Fast Diet is an example of a health-restoring diet that minimizes the production of AGEs by lowering average daily blood sugars and insulin levels. Vitamin B1 and B6 decrease AGE formation.
4.) Chelate Toxic metals, especially aluminum. A hair analysis should be employed to evaluate for heavy and toxic metal toxicity. This inexpensive test costs $65. Call 1-800-Dr.Myatt (376-9288) to order a hair mineral analysis kit or see page 135 of the Holistic Health Handbook for more information. An excess of ANY toxic metal should be chelated with the guidance of a physician. In most cases, this can be accomplished by taking an oral chelating agent (the agent will differ depending on which toxic metal is accumulated). For severe toxicity, IV chelation is sometimes more expeditious.
5.) Lower Homocysteine Levels. This can almost always be easily accomplished by taking optimal doses of B6, B12 and folic acid.
A Simplified Action Plan for Preventing Alzheimer's
1.) Take Daily Multi Vitamin and Mineral Supplement. This should include vitamins A,C,E, beta carotene, bioflavonoids, B complex vitamins (especially B1, B6, B12, folic acid), and selenium. Maxi Multi contains optimal daily doses of these nutrients.
2.) Max EPA (fish oil): 1 cap, 3 times per day with meals to prevent or reverse inflammation. Take higher doses as directed if your hs-CRP tests are elevated. Flax oil is also beneficial but requires a biochemical conversion in the body which is deficient in many people, so fish oil is more certain.
3.) Extra protection: take any or all of these proven neuro-protective substances:
I.) CoQ10: 50-300mg per day. This powerful antioxidant, produced by the body, diminishes with age. It is especially valuable for all types of heart disease. CHOLESTEROL-LOWERING DRUGS deplete CoQ10.
II.) Turmeric: 1 capsule, 3 times per day (target dose: 900mg). Potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrin herb, turmeric acts by three different mechanisms to help protect the brain from the presumed causes of Alzheimer's.
III.) Ginkgo biloba: 1 cap, 2 times per day. [target dose: 240mg of a 24% flavoneglycoside formula]. Ginkgo is a potent antioxidant that also improves cerebral circulation. This herb is mentioned in The Merck Manual of (conventional) Medicine as being helpful for Alzheimer's!
IV.) Phosphatidyl Serine: 1 cap (100mgPS), 3 times per day. PS increases brain cell communication by improving membrane fluidity.
V.) Acetyl-L-Carnitine: 1 cap (500mg), 3 times per day between meals. A-LC acts as a powerful antioxidant in the brain.
VI.) Alpha-Lipoic Acid: 1 cap, 2-3 times per day. This neurological antioxidant chelates free iron from the forebrain, thereby protecting against free-radical induced brain aging.
VII.) Melatonin: this hormone decreases with age. It is a potent antioxidant and one of the only ones to cross the blood-brain barrier. It should be used in almost all cases of any neurological disease and is an important part of longevity and anti-aging programs.
Alzheimer's disease is not an inevitable part of aging even though it is common in our country. Don't let this memory-robbing disease deprive you of YOUR Golden Years!
Dr. Dana Myatt