Updated: Mar 29
By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Today’s article is straying from my usual writing about hormones because I have come across some pretty incredible research showing a reversal of memory loss in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The common belief with Alzheimer’s is that it is a progressive, irreversible disorder with very limited treatment available. And given the increasing number of people diagnosed with this condition with our aging population, it is important that this knowledge becomes more widespread.
The research and program is run by Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD, Professor of Neurology and director of the Mary S. Easton Centre for Alzheimer’s Disease Research. You can learn more about his program here: https://www.mpicognition.com, and an interesting interview with Dr. Bredesen here: https://www.mpicognition.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/IMCJ2015.pdf
A new way of looking at Alzheimer’s:
The current, standard view of Alzheimer’s disease focuses on the presence of beta amyloid plaques that form outside neurons in the brain, interfering with synapses which connect neurons and affect memory and cognition.
The new way of viewing Alzheimer’s states that normal mental function depends on a balance between synaptoblastic (synapse-making) and synaptoclastic (synapse-destroying) activity. Alzheimer’s occurs when there is chronic synaptoclastic activity.
36 factors that affect synapses:
Dr. Bredesen’s research has identified 36 synapse-affecting factors (including beta-amyloid), and by addressing as many of them as possible, in many cases, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can actually be reversed (1,2). According to Dr. Brednesen; “I think that the time has come to quit asking what it is-“Is it Alzheimer’s?”—and turn around and ask why it is very much of a functional medicine–type approach. Why did you get this problem and how, therefore, can we best go about reversing it?” (3).
Lead researcher, Dr. Bredesen, said: “The existing Alzheimer’s drugs affect a single target, but Alzheimer’s disease is more complex. Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well. The drug may have worked, and a single hole may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much.” (2)
These 36 factors include: addressing nutrition with a low-simple carbohydrate, low-grain diet; fasting 12 hours at night; stress reduction; regular exercise; optimizing sleep, including treatment for sleep apnea; supporting methylation processes with B-vitamins to lower homocysteine; reducing inflammation through diet and supplements like curcumin and DHA; optimizing hormone balance (thyroid, progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and pregnenolone); gastrointestinal repair and probiotics; optimizing vitamin D status; antioxidant supplements such as vitamin E, selenium, NAC, vitamin C and alpha-lipoic acid; optimizing mitochondria function; detoxing heavy metals; and consideration of other supplements such as resveratrol, l-arginine, Ashwaghanda, coconut oil and others. (2)
These factors probably look very familiar to you if you have been treated by a Naturopathic or Functional Medicine doctor – it is a multifactorial approach to address the ‘why’ of chronic disease. Addressing factors such as; insulin resistance, heavy metal (or other) toxicity, nutrient deficiencies, mitochondria function, methylation pathways, hormone balance, inflammation, chronic stress, and gastrointestinal function, are essential to disease treatment and prognosis.
Reviewing a few of the core factors that can reverse (or prevent) Alzheimer’s:
Nutrition plan to reduce inflammation and reverse insulin resistance: Avoiding anything made with white flour or sugar, processed foods, trans fats and gluten. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables, non-farmed fish. Both high insulin and overall inflammation are synapse-destroying.
Night-time fasting: Not eating 3 hours before bedtime, and having at east 12 hours from the last meal at night and breakfast will increase ketosis, reduce insulin and enhance ‘autophagy’. Ketones can help to protect neurons, and autophagy is the body’s ability to ‘clean up’ dysfunctional cells such as beta-amyloid.
Sleep optimization, aiming for at least 7-8 hours nightly. When we sleep, our bodies clean up toxic synapse-damaging compounds. Addressing sleep apnea is also essential to improve overall oxygenation; and if there is difficulty sleeping a low does of melatonin at bedtime can help.
Stress reduction: Practicing an activity that relieves stress for at least 20 minutes per day such as yoga or meditation. Stress is a big factor with Alzheimer’s progression – it destroys neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that creates short- and long-term memory; cortisol is a synapse-damaging hormone; and stress increases corticotropin-releasing factor, a hormone linked to Alzheimer’s.
Exercise: Greatly increasing exercise to 30-60 minutes 4-6 days per week is key. One of the key benefits is that exercise produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is a powerful synaptoblastic compound.
Addressing methylation, especially if homocysteine levels are high. High homocysteine levels cause more age-related shrinkage of the hippocampus, and double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Supplements such as folate (in the l-methylfolate form), vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin), and vitamin B6 (as pyridoxal-5-phosphate) lower homocysteine levels.
Stimulating the brain with brain-training exercises and games. This actually improves brain function over time.
Now, I know that most of the readers of this blog are probably not personally affected with memory loss and Alzheimer’s, but perhaps a family member or friend is. It’s important that more people know that with early intervention, the cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease can often be reversed; and in those of you who have a genetic susceptibility towards Alzheimer’s, you can take steps in prevention starting right now.
Bredesen DE, Amos EC, Canick J, Ackerley M, Raji C, Fiala M, Ahdidan J. Reversal of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Jun 12.
Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep;6(9):707-17.
Interview with Dr. Dale Bredesen, “Reversing Cognitive Decline”, 2015. (https://www.mpicognition.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/IMCJ2015.pdf).
Bredesen DE. Metabolic profiling distinguishes three subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease. Aging (Albany NY). 2015 Aug;7(8):595-600.