Pioneering Doctor Working to Reverse Alzheimer's Offers Ways to Help Avoid the Disease

What you eat today may affect your cognitive as well as physical health.

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 5 million Americans; worldwide, it affects more than 30 million people. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancers, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and accidents.

In a recently published paper, Dale Bredesen at the Buck Institute showed that 9 of 10 patients participating in a program showed reversal of cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Six of the 10 study participants had to leave work or were struggling at their jobs, due to AD; after going through the program, all were able to return to work or to continue working at better performance levels.  

This is the first time anyone has shown it may be possible to reverse memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s. Six of the 10 patients who had left work or were struggling due to memory impairment were able to return to work or keep working with improved performance.  

To quote from the abstract:

"The first 10 patients who have utilized this program include patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI). Nine of the 10 displayed subjective or objective improvement in cognition beginning within 3-6 months, with the one failure being a patient with very late stage AD. Six of the patients had had to discontinue working or were struggling with their jobs at the time of presentation, and all were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Improvements have been sustained, and at this time the longest patient follow-up is two and one-half years from initial treatment, with sustained and marked improvement. These results suggest that a larger, more extensive trial of this therapeutic program is warranted. The results also suggest that, at least early in the course, cognitive decline may be driven in large part by metabolic processes."
Dr. Bredesen’s study upends the current hypothesis of the origins of AD—that Alzheimer’s is a disease caused by the accumulation of sticky plaques in the brain. Bredesen’s work shows evidence that AD stems from an imbalance in nerve cell signaling. It indicates that at least the early stages of cognitive decline may be driven by metabolic processes. In other words, “you are what you eat” is a fair summary of reality. Further, what and how you eat today will affect your cognitive as well as physical health.

The following summary is a layperson’s takeaway of the events in the brain that lead to AD, per Bredesen. The healthy brain generates some electronic signals that have the specific tasks of improving nerve connections and storing memories. Other signals break down memories, losing information. (This might be useful if you want to clear the space occupied by a list of dead presidents, which knowledge you no longer want to retain. But alas, the memory breakers do not select, saying that some memories have lost their usefulness, whereas other memories, such as the poem you had to memorize for graduation exercises in the sixth grade, have value.) There is a balance of memory makers to memory breakers that favors memory making in the healthy brain. But in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, the breakers begin to outnumber the makers, by suppressing nerve connecting signals.

Dr. Bredesen’s study results should be interpreted with some caution, primarily because of the small size of the study group, and because the participants had a range of diagnoses, resulting in different interventions. But the basis of his work was the idea that there are multiple risk factors leading to AD, and therefore, a multiple factor approach, rather than administration of one drug or another, would show beneficial results. In fact, this theory seems to be right, given that 9 out of 10 patients recovered mental functions, and 6 of the 10 returned to work with improved functioning.  

Bredesen’s multiple factors include diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and brain training, commonsensical in the broad view. He has identified 36 separate elements of a therapeutic system for patients, many of which are surprising to adherents of traditional Western medicine.

A Roof With 36 Holes In It

"Each one of these things contributes a small piece of the puzzle," Dr. Bredesen told CNN. "It's like a roof with 36 holes in it. Some people have a big hole in, say, exercise, and maybe a smaller hole in another area...maybe you need to patch some of those holes before trying another drug.”

The multiple front therapeutic approach is certainly not novel, James Hendrix, director of Global Science Initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, wrote in an email to CNN. Hendrix referenced a two-year, 1,200-person clinical trial in Finland. Making changes in their diets, increasing physical activity, brain training and social activities led to improved cognitive performance among study participants.

Bredesen stresses that identifying the factors for early Alzheimer's symptoms must be based on a patient's specific deficits and imbalances. He added that many elements of his program could be used as a prevention strategy, even in people without symptoms of AD.

Based on Bredesen’s research and her own practice, Dr Lizellen La Follette proposes that we can all improve our health and increase our chances of living long, healthy, productive lives, by incorporating as many of the 36 items into our daily lives as we can manage. It may be tough, but we can improve our chances of dodging Alzheimer’s and body failures by adding as many as possible to our daily drills.    

The 36 mechanisms have been distilled into the 18 suggestions below. Consult your physician concerning doses, contraindications and concerns specific to your personal brain and body issues.

  1. Eliminate or greatly reduce simple carbohydrates and processed foods from your diet, including sugar, grains and other starches, since they can stir up inflammation in the brain.  
  2. Add probiotics to your diet
  3. Take 5,000 IUs of Vitamin D3 daily.
  4. Take a good multivitamin daily.
  5. Take Vitamin B6 daily.
  6. Take Vitamin B12 daily.
  7. Take CoQ10 daily.
  8. Add fish oil to your diet.  
  9. Take coconut oil daily.
  10. Exercise rigorously, 30 to 45 minutes, 5 days a week
  11. Sleep 8 hours a night.
  12. Fast for a minimum 3 hours between dinner and going to bed.
  13. Fast a minimum 12 hours between dinner and breakfast
  14. Take turmeric daily. Consider taking Ashwagandha and Bacopa monniera daily.  
  15. If you eat meat, make it chicken, non-farmed fish, and only occasionally grass-fed beef.
  16. Floss your teeth at least twice daily.  
  17. Meditate daily: adequate sleep and exercise improve blood flow to the brain and instigate neuron generation.
  18. Hormone replacement therapy is indicated for women who have a hormonal imbalance that may be affecting brain function.

If you can’t afford grass-fed beef, organic vegetables and fruits, gluten-free grains, and non-farmed fish, and if you can’t squeeze in a half hour of meditation twice a day and a half hour of vigorous exercise five days a week, plus dental flossing, you risk being left out of the healthier cohort. We need to be aware of the best ways to reach and maintain health, and to avoid cognitive loss.


Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018