Grandpa stands at the kitchen sink, a glazed expression across his face.
He is wondering… What am I here for? Get a drink? Do the dishes? Make a cup of tea?
Is all this preventable? And if so, how much?
More radically, is it reversible? How might that be?
Increasingly, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is being called Type 3 Diabetes. It is known to be another of the major chronic, degenerative, lifestyle related diseases.
So this week we go Out on a Limb once more with the intention of explaining in simple terms (with many references!) the AH / diabetes connection, along with other causative factors, before investigating prevention and reversal, plus details of coming meditation retreats, but first
Thought for the day
Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come—to them, their wives, their children, their friends—catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair! . . .
To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death.
We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere.
To practice death is to practice freedom.
A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
DEMENTIA and ALZHEIMER'S
In our last post, we examined the range of conditions collectively known as dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common of these making up 50% to 70% of cases.
As explained in the previous post, in AD the brain develops beta-amyloid plaque outside the brain cell, and tangles within the brain cell, literally killing the cells and causing the brain to shrink.
This shrinkage is particularly evident in the hippocampus, which is the brain’s memory centre.
It is often said that the seriousness of, and difference between, AD and other dementias, is seen in the response to the question: “Did you turn the computer off?”
Those with dementia respond: “I can’t remember”. Those with AD respond: “ What’s a computer?”.
- from The USA’s Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Facts and Figures Report
# Death from AD increased 68% between 2000 and 2010
# One in three seniors dies with AD or other dementias
# AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA
# Within the next three decades, AD is expected to reach epidemic proportions and become the greatest health impairment in the population
# Diabetics have a 65% increased risk of developing AD
ALZHEIMER'S and the DIABETES CONNECTION
The idea that AD might be Type 3 diabetes has been around since 2005 (Ref.1), while the connection between poor diet and AD is rapidly gaining scientific credence – see a cover story in New Scientist entitled Food for thought: Eat your way to dementia.
Insulin resistance is at the root of Type 2 Diabetes and insulin resistance also affects the brain.
Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas and regulates our blood sugar, allowing the cells to take in glucose for energy.
Insulin is also produced by the brain itself. (ref.4).
Insulin resistance means the cells resist the actions of insulin (either because the quantity and/or quality of insulin is compromised or the cell has lost its receptor ability).
Dr Suzanne de la Monte, a Neuropathologist and Professor of Pathology in the States, found that not only insulin but its receptors, diminished up to 80% in the brain of AD patients. She states: “many of the features of AD, such as cell death (apoptosis) and tangles, appear to be linked to abnormal insulin signalling. This demonstrates that the disease is most likely a neuro-endocrine disorder, or another type of diabetes” (ref.5).
The New England Journal of Medicine stated: “ Our results suggest that higher glucose levels may be a risk factor for dementia, even among persons without diabetes” (6,7).
So not only do liver, fat and muscle cells get adversely affected by insulin resistance, but now we know the brain is also a target organ.
PREVENTION and REVERSAL
We know that diabetes and insulin resistance can be reversed by dietary and lifestyle changes, as evidenced by the wonderful work of people like Drs Neal Barnard, Joel Fuhrman and John McDougall who have been helping people reverse their diabetes without drugs for years. The diabetes connection provides increased hope that AD and dementia are not inevitable consequences of ageing.
However, all chronic diseases are multi-factorial – they have many causes. AD is no different. So first we seek to understand the causes; then the path to prevention becomes more obvious.
OTHER RISK FACTORS
1) Heavy metals
Although involved in a number enzyme systems at trace levels, when taken in excess, copper (8), interferes with a special lipo-protein which helps clear the beta-amyloid plaque from the brain and also stimulates production of the plaque.
Excess iron increases oxidation and free radical damage and therefore increases the risk of AD.
Aluminium has long been suspected of a strong link to AD, but evidence is scant.
2) High saturated and trans fat levels
Researchers have reported people consuming the most saturated fat were up to 300% more likely to develop AD. Those who consumed the most trans fat were 500% more likely! (10). It should be kept in mind that saturated fats have the tendency to elevate cholesterol levels, and there have been some studies done showing that elevated cholesterol levels are also associated with greater AD risk.
3) Lack of exercise
Exercise has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is affected in AD, and this could be the reason why exercise has been shown to improve memory. (11)
4) Low Vitamin D
Links have been found between low vitamin D and AD. There are vitamin D receptor sites in our brains, spinal cord and central nervous systems. The medical profession has for decades discouraged people from sun exposure to avoid skin cancer and this has led to the unexpected consequence of widespread Vitamin D deficiency.
5) Intensive Care Units
Given ICU can be a great place to be when you really need to be there, recent research confirms what many have observed. One in four people had cognitive impairment a year after release from an ICU that was similar in severity to having mild AD, and 1-in-3 had cognitive impairment similar to that seen with moderate traumatic brain injury. This was seen across all age groups, not just the elderly! The mechanism for this is believed to be the experience of delirium, brought on by the aggressive and routine use of sedative drugs.
Delirium is a form of acute brain dysfunction where changes such as inattention, disorganised thinking, altered levels of consciousness and changes in mental status are observed. It is associated with inflammation and neuronal apoptosis (brain cell death).
6) Smoking and Alcohol
We examined the evidence for these two in the previous post.
7) Constricted Life-Space
Researchers have found that seniors who had a constricted life space were twice as likely to develop AD as seniors whose life space extended well beyond the home (13).
8) Nitrates and Nitrates
Nitrosamine (N/S) compounds cause the liver to produce toxic lipids that cross the blood/brain barrier and damage certain cells such that the brain develops insulin resistance (14).
These N/S compounds have been known for a long time to be carcinogenic.
They are found most often in preserved meats, hot dogs, ground beef, smoked meats and bacon.
Increased homocysteine levels in the blood metabolically can be very damaging. This can be caused by excess animal protein, vitamin B12 deficiency or folate (B9) deficiency.
Recent research has shown that one popular anti- diabetic drug, called metformin (15), can significantly lower blood levels of vitamin B12 and folate, which then increases homocysteine levels.
10) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) deficiency
A number of studies have shown the relationship between DHA which is the chief omega 3 fatty acid in the brain, and neurological disease, including AD. The content of DHA in the brain decreases with ageing, and more so in patients with dementia. DHA stimulates growth of the branches that connect one cell to another.
Also, recent studies have shown that DHA increases production of the protein that is found in reduced levels in Alzheimer’s patients. This protein facilitates breakdown of the beta-amyloid plaque. Some studies have shown an inverse relationship betwee
n DHA levels and AD (16). DHA can be synthesized from alpha-linolenic acid in the diet or obtained directly from maternal milk (breast milk), fish oil, or algae oil.
11) Sleep problems
It has been shown that deep sleep facilitates removal of brain toxins through a network of drainage channels called the Glymphatic System, named after brain cells called glial cells.
Normally the lymphatic system does this job in other parts of the body, but the blood/brain barrier precludes lymph drainage in the brain.
Without regular and deep, uninterrupted sleep, toxic deposits do not get adequately cleared, leading to cognition problems.
SO HOW DO WE AVOID ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
It is apparent that there are many causal similarities between AD and other chronic diseases.
AD and cognitive decline is not an inevitable consequence of ageing, just as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and most other chronic diseases are not. Most if not all chronic degenerative diseases are both preventable and reversible by maintaining a therapeutic lifestyle. So next week, a thorough investigation of how this fits with Alzheimer’s.
1) Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Feb, 2005,7(1); 63-80;
2) Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine Special Report: Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention, July 2013;
3) Dr Lori Laffel, CNN.com, 15/04/2003 ;
4) National Review of Medicine, Dec 15, 2005, Vol 12, No 2;
5) Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Nov, 2005;
6) NEJM, Aug 8, 2013, 369: 540-548;
7) Neurology, 16/09/11;
8) Science Daily, November8, 2007: “Copper damages protein that defends against Alzheimer’s”;
9) Dr Fuhrman’s Healthy Times Newsletter, Jan, 2008 “ Dementia is Not a Natural Part of the Ageing Process”;
10) Archives of Neurology, 2003; 60: 194-200 “ Dietary Fats and the Risk of AD”;
11) Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Aug, 2013;
12) NEJM, Oct 3, 2013;
13) American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, April, 2011;
14) op.cit reference 1;
15) British Medical Journal, May 20, 2010;
16) Archives of Neurology, 2006; 63: 1545-1550;
WITH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND GRATITUDE TO GREG FITZGERALD of
Greg Fitzgerald’s Health for Life Clinic & Seminars
www.healthforlife.com.au email: firstname.lastname@example.org 02 9544 0445
WINTER MEDITATION RETREATS AND TRAINING
June 5 – 9th Deepening Your Meditation
Our only 5 day meditation retreat, this program is all about taking time out, entering into a meditative environment and being supported to deepen your experience. Then, with this deeper experience, being able to take it with you so that your ongoing practice is more rewarding, more beneficial, more enjoyable.
July 1 -7th Mindfulness and Meditation in Daily Life
We have had many requests to present a meditation retreat in Queensland, so this is it. This retreat will focus on integrating mindfulness and meditation into daily life.
I know when I first started, meditation was something I did for a few minutes (or hours) every day; but at first, I then went back to my day as if nothing much had happened. The real benefit of these practices is in how they inform our daily life, so this retreat will be very practical.
We will practice mindfulness and meditation together formally, and then use the rest of our time to bring the qualities of the practice into our daily experience – in a way that we can take them home and maintain them. My sense is that for many this could well be life changing.
We are fortunate to be able to use the facilities of the Chenrezig Institute – a purpose built Retreat Centre in the hills back of the Sunshine Coast.
October 9 – 13th Meditation Teacher Training – Module 2
In this training we use a fully documented manual to learn how to teach 2 4 week programs one on guided imagery; the other contemplation. These training have been booking out, and like all our retreats, it is wise to register early.