[Author’s note: This article was originally posted on July 11, 2013. I am re-posting it because someone asked me about it. In 2021, I did more research and will likely post that another time. Most of what you read below is still true.]
My fascination with Alzheimer’s began when I had an accident September 2012 and started spending time, lots of time, in medical facilities where every magazine offered something about it. Two facts grabbed my attention: most often it appears in the 65-and-older crowd (and we, the baby boomers, represent a sizable chunk of the population). The fact that one in eight Americans will get it brought it home as I wondered who among us will get Alzheimer’s?
Beyond “memory loss”—so often treated with humor as nearly every day I hear someone say “Oops. Having a senior moment”—I wasn’t even sure what Alzheimer’s was.
What IS Alzheimer’s?
Defined in Merriam Webster Dictionary, Alzheimer’s Disease is “Progressive mental deterioration occurring in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain” (Wikipedia).
Current (2013) information points out that “. . . of the 5.2 million people who now have it, 200,00 of those are younger than 65” (Alzheimer’s Association). And according to Cancer Tutor, “Alzheimer’s is not a specific disease, but rather a set of symptoms.” Moreover, diagnosis is difficult to distinguish from other forms of dementia, and individuals’ symptoms vary.
Until relatively recently, I’d never even considered Alzheimer’s. The inconclusive research about it, the fact that young guys get it, too, and predictions for the amazing escalation of this phenomenon, warrant more press—lots more.
Today, an American develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds. In 2050, an American will develop the disease every 33 seconds.~Alzheimer’s Association
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
The Mayo Clinic statement is that:
Researchers have identified several genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, genetic risk factors are just one part of the Alzheimer’s disease story. Other factors that may be involved include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes.
Cancer Tutor offers an extensive list of items known to cause Alzheimer’s:
- Mycotoxins (waste products) from microbes. Mycotoxins are highly acidic, interfere with brain signaling, causing “brain fog”
- Heavy metals (e.g. mercury and others)
- Other metals (e.g. aluminum)
- Strokes (whether known about or not)
- Free radicals (i.e. oxidative stress)
- Illegal drugs
- Prescription drugs, (especially statins re’ cholesterol)
- Lack of oxygen. As the body gets older, less oxygen is absorbed, though in many cases the problem is not a lack of oxygen, but rather microbe mycotoxins (see #1)
- Diet, which is high in bad fats (e.g. trans-fatty acids) and low in good fats (e.g. omega-3), including saturated fats.
- Aspartame, Monosodium Glutamate, HVP, cysteine and other “excitotoxins” (which kill brain cells).
Research cited on “Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s” adds these causes:
- high carbohydrate diet (insulin resistance), a.k.a. “type 3 diabetes”
- low-fat diet (high fat is essential re’ HDL cholesterol which has been shown to be related to Alzheimer’s)
- Increased lipid peroxidation from liquid vegetable oils (the polyunsaturates, e.g., corn and soy)
How can I prevent Alzheimer’s?
Mayo Clinic: you can’t. “No proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s.”
If you’re not a fatalist, “Why bother? I’ve got the gene…”, then here’s a list combining what I learned from most sources about prevention:
- Exercise regularly (e.g., walk 1/2 hour/day).
- Eat a Heart-Healthy, Mediterranean-type diet
- Engage in mentally stimulating activities
- Get quality sleep
- Manage your stress (e.g., downtime, meditation)
- Maintain an active social life (call someone, volunteer)
- Give up smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Toss out aluminum kitchen and personal care products
- Take omega 3 oils in food (fish) or supplements
- avoid excitotoxins that kill brain cells (e.g., MSG, see #10, above)
- replace mercury dental fillings
- eat for antioxidants (greens, especially); see #5 above
- avoid polyunsaturated forms of oil (e.g., soy and corn)
- eat healthy fats: butter from grass-fed cows, olive oil, cold-water fish (salmon, sardines), coconut oil
- Stay current with the “research” which changes–e.g., the low-fat diet, once thought a good idea, now proven to be a bad one.
- Minimize or eliminate dietary sources of aluminum including American cheese, chocolate-flavored pudding and beverages in aluminum containers, and chewing gum (!)
- If hormone levels are low, consider hormone replacement therapy (clinical support regarding relationship to memory)
Dr. Oz’s and renowned neurologist Dr. Rajid Fatui’s 5-Step Plan includes these brain superfoods:
- Chicken giblets or clams
- Vegetable Juice
A Naturopathic doctor I spoke with recently stated that “Coconut oil is great for keeping the memory intact. One-fourth cup a day will even reverse Alzheimer’s.” Considering that a tablespoon of coconut oil works really well in coffee, and that drinking three-four cups of coffee daily reportedly helps to prevent Alzheimer’s, then why not?
This personal account offers hope with coconut oil. In her blog post Can God Use Facebook to Answer Prayers? Carol Flett reports:
Within three or four hours after giving Bruce [who suffered from Alzheimer’s] the first couple of tablespoons (of coconut oil) he was speaking in clear sentences again. He did have one relapse, shortly after starting, but it lasted only a day. After that he sprang right back and has been doing well ever since, taking care of many things himself that he hadn’t been able to do for a long time.
Finally, I’m including highlights from cannabis and Alzheimer’s research because “… individuals who smoked marijuana in the ‘60s and ‘70s, who are now entering their 60s and 70s, are not getting Alzheimer’s at the rate they should be.” Why?
These two studies offer some insight:
“How Cannabinoids May Slow Brain Aging” (October 2012) . . . The latest review, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggests that activating the brain’s cannabinoid system may trigger a sort of anti-oxidant cleanse, removing damaged cells and improving the efficiency of the mitochondria, the energy source that powers cells, ultimately leading to a more robustly functioning brain.
“Can Marijuana Prevent Alzheimer’s?” (October 2012) . . . In a 2006 study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, a team of University of Connecticut researchers reported that THC, the chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s high, “could be considerably better at suppressing the abnormal clumping of malformed proteins that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease than any currently approved prescription.”
One researcher noted that “the equivalent of one puff a day could help ward off dementia.”
But for those already diagnosed, there are even studies suggesting that cannabis might reverse the damage, for example:
“Cannabis May Help Reverse Dementia” (May 2013) . . . Dr. Karl found that when the mice were given the cannabidiol they showed drastic improvement on parts of the tests that were related to recognizing and remembering objects and other mice.
“It basically brings the performance of the animals back to the level of healthy animals,” he said.
The cell research, done at the University of Wollongong, found treating the cells with cannabidiol also reduced the amount of the harmful protein that they produced.
Dr. Karl said there had been case reports in medical literature of marijuana smokers who had developed Alzheimer’s disease, only to find their smoking seemed to relieve some of their symptoms.
Of course, this has been just a quick overview and there are no guarantees that following any of this will prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s. Even if you do everything right, even if you teach others how to do it and are a medical doctor, things happen. (Loving nod to Lee Lipsenthal, M.D., author of Enjoy Every Sandwich.)
Even so, following the guidelines for preventing Alzheimer’s, especially as detailed by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (4 pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention: a holistic medical approach) or Help Guide (6 pillars for a brain-healthy lifestyle), can only improve one’s life experience now, and, truthfully, now is all we’ve got.
Back to my original musing—“Who amongst us (boomers) will get Alzheimer’s?”—it might come down to “Who among us toked?” Bet you a nickel the drug companies are already heavily invested in a patch or spray.
[Til next time, I’ll be Skating Thru these hot summer days, hoping I can learn enough about my new laptop and Windows 8 and Word 2010 to finally create my new blog. BTW: please recall that I am a retired teacher, not a medical doctor, and that you alone are responsible for how you choose to live your life. FYI: Medical marijuana is readily available in Durango with a Rx, and it will be legal here without a Rx this August.]
- Wikipedia (Alzheimer’s)
- Mayo Clinic
- Cancer Tutor
- Alzheimer’s Association
- 5-Step Alzheimer’s Plan (Drs. Oz and Fatui)
- Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s
- Three cups of coffee per day might prevent Alzheimer’s in older adults
- How Cannaboids May Slow Brain Aging
- Can Marijuana Prevent Alzheimer’s?
- Cannabis may help reverse dementia: study
- Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention (Help Guide’s 6 pillars for a healthy brain)
- Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation (4 pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention)
- 5 Medical Doctors with Gary Taubes and Robb Wolf Discuss Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s Disease (video)
- Research on Polyunsaturated fats
- Alzheimer’s: Losing your Mind For the Sake of A Burger
- Certain Foods may Protect Against Alzheimer’s
- Marijuana compound found superior to drugs for Alzheimer’s
- Medical Marijuana Research
- Three cups of coffee per day might prevent Alzheimer’s in older adults
- We now know why coffee helps to stave off Alzheimer’s disease
- Alzheimer’s and Brain Health
- Alzheimer’s and Diet: Good for Heart May Be Good for Brain
- Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention