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Condition - Alzheimer's - Facing up to Alzheimer's

By Emma Mihill ND NT DipCNM MBANT

Degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, osteoarthritis, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s, are becoming an increasingly growing problem in the Western world, yet research suggests that, despite it being an irreversible disease, Alzheimer’s may actually be preventable.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia found in the UK. It usually affects those over 65; the risk increasing with each decade. However, when you reach the age of 85, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s doubles[1]. Even though a few genetic mutations have been identified with the disease, only 10% claim a clear inherited pattern. Other risk factors that may contribute to the disease are:

  • Lifestyle: The same factors that put an individual at risk of heart disease may also increase the likelihood that the person will develop Alzheimer’s. Exercise and diet may be important to prevent and control.
  • Diabetes: Poorly controlled diabetes is another risk factor
  • Mental activity: Some clinical studies suggest that remaining mentally active throughout life, especially in later years, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Mental activity could involve daily crossword puzzles, reading and increasing social activities. There is a theory that the more you use your brain, the more synapses are created, which provide a greater reserve as you age
  • Toxicity: Overexposure to heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and aluminium may be another cause[2]
  • Oxidation: Oxidative free-radical damage from poor lifestyle and nutrition choices may be a contributing factor

What actually happens with Alzheimer’s?

A healthy brain contains billions of nerve cells called neurons that generate electrical and chemical signals to help you think, remember and feel (physically and emotionally). Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters help these signals flow seamlessly between neurons. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, neurons in certain locations of the brain begin to die. When they die, lower levels of neurotransmitters are produced, creating signalling problems in the brain. One neurotransmitter in particular, known as acetylcholine, has been found to be deficient in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s; therefore, conventional medication works towards increasing the amount in the brain. Put quite simply, Alzheimer’s damages and kills brain cells.

When the disease attacks the nerve cells, it impairs a person’s ability to govern emotions, recognise errors and patterns, coordinate movement and remember things. On observing the physiological impact of Alzheimer’s, we can begin to see a pattern of key contributing factors underlying the disease:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidation
  • Reduced acetylcholine production

All of these factors can be addressed nutritionally.

Diet and lifestyle

Reduce Inflammation

  • Increase consumption of essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3 (oily fish, nuts, seeds, flax seeds, avocados and nut and seed butters). As well as managing the body’s natural inflammatory response, omega 3s are vital components of brain cell membranes and help to control calcium flow in and out of cells
  • Avoid/limit alcohol
  • Drink two litres of water every day
  • Avoid sugar (including white bread, white rice and white pasta). Try xylitol as a direct replacement for any sugar in recipes
  • Determine any food sensitivities/intolerances
  • Reduce cholesterol levels. Research suggests that certain forms of cholesterol promote the production of a protein that is the key component of amyloid in the brain

Reduce oxidation

  • Enjoy a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods; include a rainbow of vegetables daily, protein with every meal, nuts and seeds and water
  • Go organic! Pesticides found on foods cause oxidative damage
  • Increase your exercise
  • Avoid aluminium-containing foods and/or items (antiperspirants, aluminium cookware, foil, baking powder, salt, toothpaste and talcum powder)
  • Increase consumption of amino-acid-rich foods (e.g., cysteine methionine) that may assist with heavy metal clearance. Eat protein at every meal
  • Increase the consumption of sulphur-rich foods (garlic, onions, broccoli)
  • Drink antioxidant herbs, e.g. green tea
  • Supplement with vitamin E. As well as being a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E has been shown to slow the progression of the disease
  • Vitamin E is found in high concentrations in cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds and their butters. Its benefits may be related to its ability to mop up free radicals in the brain[3]

Increase acetylcholine and neurotransmitter pathways

Acetylcholine is the ‘memory molecule’. It puts ‘memories’ into storage in the brain.

  • Increase B vitamins:
    • Vitamin B1 facilitates the synthesis and presynaptic release of acetylcholine
    • Vitamin B3 is a cofactor for neurotransmitters and a memory enhancer
    • Choline boosts acetylcholine levels
    • Research undertaken at Oxford University found B vitamins to be a potential weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. High doses of vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 were given to participants and found that reducing the levels of homocysteine may reduce the risk of brain atrophy, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.[4]
  • Reduce homocysteine levels:
    • Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood and is made naturally in the body
    • Vitamins B6, folic acid and B12 (as mentioned above) are important for maintaining healthy homocysteine levels, alongside zinc and tri-methyl glycine, which are required for healthy methylation
  • Dopamine production is found in low levels in Alzheimer’s patients.  The amino acids that are precursors to dopamine are tyrosine and phenylalanine (make sure you’re eating complete proteins, for example, hemp protein)
  • Increase lecithin in your diet and supplement protocol, as it is important for phospholipids, which are a major component of cell membranes. Lecithin is found in eggs and soy

Other considerations

  • Magnesium may help to reduce the excitability of the brain and nervous system
  • Coenzyme Q10 assists in oxygenation of the neurons
  • Vitamin D may help stimulate the immune system to clear the plaques from the brain[5]
  • Antioxidants,such asflavonoids and anthocyanins, help to fight free-radical damage caused by oxidation
  • Stay mentally sharp; read and be social


    [1]Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed February 25, 2009.

    [2]Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed February 25, 2009.

    [3]EE Devore et al (2010) Dietary antioxidants and long–term risk of dementia. Arch Neurol. 67(7):819–25.

    [4]Smith AD, Smith SM, de Jager CA, Whitbread P, Johnston C, Agacinski G, Oulhaj A, Bradley KM, Jacoby R, Refsum H. Homocysteine–lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One 2010; 5:e12244. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012244

    [5]A new study published in the July issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 

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