Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that begins with memory loss and eventually leads to dementia and death. In the United States, it affects up to 10 per- cent of people over sixty-ﬁve and almost half of those over eighty-ﬁve. Scientists pre- dict that in the coming years, these percentages are likely to rise. Such an increase, combined with the rapidly growing size of the older population, could very well result in an epidemic of Alzheimer’s cases.
Where Did I Put My Sunglasses?
We all have occasional memory lapses, and many people notice that by late middle age, it’s harder to remember details than it used to be. If you’ve mis- placed the remote control again or for- gotten to pick up milk at the grocery store—even if you can’t remember the names of your new neighbors—you’re probably not suffering from Alzheimer’s. More likely, you just need to boost your nutritional intake and follow a few other brain-boosting steps. See Memory Prob- lems for further details. And your sun- glasses? They’re on top of your head.
Alzheimer’s disease targets a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is the seat of memory and intellect. In a person with Alzheimer’s, the neurons in the hippocampus become entangled. The resulting forma- tions, often called plaque, result in the loss of brain cells, especially those that make new memories and retrieve old ones. And memory problems characterize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In the beginning stages of the disease, people will experi- ence some mild memory problems. They may struggle with complex tasks like planning a party or balancing a check- book. As the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difﬁcult to remember events that occurred very recently—say, the day before, or even just a few hours prior to the present time. Memory loss at this point looks more and more like dementia: affected people may not recognize others close to them or be able to recall appropriate words. Eventually, com- plete dementia sets in. Personal memories disappear and, with
them, the ability to recognize beloved people and places. Functional memories also become irretrievable. The person forgets how to perform daily functions, which include getting dressed, brushing the teeth, and using the toilet. Hallucinations or episodes of violence often attend this stage of the disease. At this point, it is rarely possible for a family member or a close friend to look after the sufferer, who needs twenty-four-hour-a-day care.
any disorders cause symptoms that are quite similar (or even identical) to those of Alzheimer’s. Before your doctor makes a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, make sure that he or she rules out the following possibilities:
• Heart disease
• Allergies, either food or environmental
• Metabolic disorders
• Nutritional deﬁciencies of vita- mins B12 and folic acid
• Brain tumor
• Not keeping mentally active (by reading, etc.)
• Head injury
• Drug abuse
In addition, certain pharmaceutical medications, whether alone or in combination, can cause signiﬁcant memory problems, disorientation, and even dementia. Bring a list of all your current medications, including over– the-counter drugs (better yet, bring all the pill bottles with their labels), to your doctor so that he or she can examine them for potential side effects.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, largely because no one is quite sure of the cause. Heredity certainly plays a factor, but as with most inherited diseases, a certain gene probably does not result in Alzheimer’s all on its own: it is likely that environmental causes must be present as well. The most promising research into Alzheimer’s has discovered that free radicals (the unbalanced molecules that destroy or damage cells of the body) play a signiﬁcant role in the disorder. Since we know that good nutrition and herbal therapies effectively prevent and ﬁght much free rad- ical damage, it’s wise for anyone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s (or who has a fam- ily tendency toward the disease) to follow the recommendations given here. Environmental toxins seem to be an important factor as well. Although the link between Alzheimer’s to toxins like aluminum and mercury has not been ﬁrmly estab- lished, it is certainly prudent to avoid these poisonous substances as a preventative measure. In addition, stress appears to be a major factor with the development of this disease. Many researchers also feel that prolonged elevation of the stress hormone cor- tisol is a major causative factor. And ﬁnally, elevated levels of the protein metabolism by-product homocysteine is known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although there is distressingly little that conventional medicine can do for Alzheimer’s sufferers, it is very important to see a doctor if you think you may have the disease. One reason is that many elderly people take several different medications at once, and these combinations often result in memory loss, confusion, or even dementia—side effects that can easily be mistaken for those of Alzheimer’s. The ﬁrst step for anyone suffering from memory problems should be a rigorous examination of prescription and other drugs. Furthermore, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s mimic those of several other disorders that are quite treatable; many people who believe they have Alzheimer’s are actually suffering from depression, hypothyroidism, B12 or folic acid deﬁciency, or other conditions. Only after your doctor has ruled out all other pos- sibilities will he or she make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. If your doctor diagnoses you with Alzheimer’s after just one or two visits, make an appointment to see someone else—preferably a doctor with a strong background in geriatrics or neurological dis- orders. If you do have Alzheimer’s, it’s important to work with a good specialist. Although there’s no cure, there are ways to help you improve your health, comfort, and independence.
Natural therapies should be employed to prevent or help slow down the disease and to improve life quality.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Its symptoms are listed here in the order in which they usually occur.
n vitro studies at the University of Calgary have shown that mercury vapors cause a degeneration of brain neurons and also cause lesions similar to those found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
• Memory problems
• Confusion and disorientation
• Mood swings
• Inability to manage basic tasks
• Inappropriate behavior
• Hallucinations and delusions
• Episodes of violence and rage or childlike passivity
Although researchers are not yet sure what causes Alzheimer’s, it is likely that a com- bination of the following factors plays a signiﬁcant role in the disease.
• Genetics (including elevated homo- cysteine levels)
• Free radicals
• Nutritional deﬁciencies (especially
of vitamins B1, folic acid, and B12)
• Environmental toxins, especially aluminum and mercury
• Chronically elevated cortisol levels
Eat a wholesome diet of basic, unprocessed foods. Because conventionally grown foods often contain toxins, buy organic whenever possible. If organic food is unavail- able or too expensive, wash your food thoroughly before eating.
The antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E will combat damage from free radicals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the best sources of antioxidants, so have a couple of servings at every meal. For vitamin E, add wheat germ to salads, cereals, or juices. Nuts and seeds are other good sources of this vital nutrient.
The consumption of ﬁsh is very important. Salmon, hal- ibut, cod, sole, and others are healthful sources of DHA,
Fish is medicine for the brain.
The Archives of Neurology published a study of 815 participants, ages 64 to 94 years. Over a seven-year period, researchers reviewed food frequency ques- tionnaires to quantify ﬁsh consumption
and dietary intake of the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA. Researchers found that people who ate ﬁsh only one to three times a month had a 40 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who never ate ﬁsh. Those who consumed ﬁsh one time per week had a 60 percent lower risk.
an essential fatty acid involved in brain function and GPA, which reduces inﬂammation.
A deﬁciency of the B-complex vitamins can both cause the disease and imitate its symptoms. Brewer’s yeast is a potent source of B vitamins, as are wheat germ, eggs, and spirulina.
Use turmeric as a spice when preparing meals.
Many people with Alzheimer’s are found to be deﬁcient in zinc. To boost your intake, snack on pumpkin seeds reg- ularly.
To improve circulation, increase energy levels, and detoxify your body, drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours.
Eat plenty of ﬁber to keep toxins moving through your digestive tract and to prevent them from taking up resi- dence in your body. Whole grains, oats, and raw or lightly
cooked vegetables are good sources of ﬁber that are also nutritionally dense.
If you’re older, your digestive system may not be able to absorb nutrients as well as it used to. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are easily absorbable and packed with the vitamins you need, so have several glasses daily.
Food to Avoid
If you have Alzheimer’s or have a family tendency toward the disease, it is impera- tive that you stay away from all foods containing toxins and additives. Eliminate processed and junk food from your diet. Alcohol and excessive caffeine are also too toxic for you to consume.
This book never recommends drinking tap water, but in your case it is even more important that you avoid it. Tap water is full of environmental contaminants, includ- ing those that are linked to Alzheimer’s.
Conventional testing, such as a CT scan, an MRI, and an electroencephalo- gram, as well as routine blood work, are standard. Additional helpful testing includes
Toxic metal testing for elements toxic to brain tissue, such as aluminum, mercury, lead, arsenic, and others. The best test is a toxic element challenge urinalysis. The patient takes a chelating agent such as DMSA or DMPS, which pulls toxic metals out of tissue storage. Urine is then collected, usually for twenty-four hours.
Oxidative stress analysis—urine or blood testing Antioxidant testing (urine, blood, or skin scanning) Stool analysis
Hormone analysis by saliva, urine, or blood (estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, melatonin, IGF-1, thyroid panel)
It may surprise you to learn that many foods, especially baked goods, contain alu- minum. Read all food labels carefully. Don’t use self-rising ﬂour, choose nonalu- minum baking powder, and avoid pickling salts. You’ll also need to avoid food cooked in aluminum pots and pans, as well as beverages that come in aluminum cans.
Sometimes food allergies cause reactions that are similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. See the Food Allergies section and the elimination diet discussed there, to determine whether you’re allergic to any foods.
A three-day juice fast once a month will help ﬂush toxins out of your body. Support your fast with a wide variety of juices so that you get the nutrition you need.
If you do indeed suffer from heavy-metal poisoning, consider oral or IV chelation therapy to rid your body of these toxins. Make sure you ﬁnd a qualiﬁed, reputable practitioner.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Alzheimer’s Disease
Super Prescription #1 Acetyl-L-carnitine
Take 1,000 mg three times daily. It improves brain cell communication and memory.
Super Prescription #2 DHA
Take a ﬁsh oil supplement that contains a daily dosage of 1,000 mg of DHA. It supplies essential fatty acids for proper brain function.
Super Prescription #3 Ginkgo biloba (24 percent ﬂavone glycosides)
Take 120 mg two to three times daily. It improves circulation to the brain, improves memory, and has antioxidant beneﬁts.
Super Prescription #4 Club moss (Huperzia serrata)
Take a product standardized to contain 0.2 mg of huperizine A daily. This compound has been shown to increase acetylcholine levels in the brain and to improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
HA is the primary component of the cell membranes of neurons. It also pro- motes nerve transmis- sion in the central nervous system and protects the mitochon- dria (energy ware- house of cells). Studies have shown that low levels of serum DHA are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
The herb ginkgo biloba has been shown to be helpful for people with early- stage Alzheimer’s dis- ease. It has been approved for the treat- ment of this disease by the German gov- ernment. A study done in 1994, involv- ing forty patients who had early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, found that 240 mg of ginkgo biloba extract taken daily for three months produced measurable improve- ments in memory, attention, and mood. In addition, three other double-blind studies have demon- strated that ginkgo is helpful for the early stages of the disease.
Several clinical trials have found that supple- mentation of acetyl-L-carnitine delays the progres- sion of Alzheimer’s disease, improves memory, and improves overall performance in some people with Alzheimer’s disease.
ne placebo- controlled trial found that 58 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease had signiﬁ- cant improvement in memory, as well as in mental and behavioral func- tion, from taking 200 mcg of huperzine A twice a day for eight weeks. This was considered a statis- tically signiﬁcant improvement, com- pared to the 36 per- cent who responded to placebo.
Super Prescription #5 Phosphatidylserine
Take 300 mg daily. This naturally occurring phospholipid improves brain cell communication and memory and has shown beneﬁts for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Super Prescription #6 Vitamin B12
Take 800 to 1,600 micrograms daily. Consider using a sublingual form. Vitamin
B12 deﬁciency mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Super Prescription #7 Vitamin E
Take 2,000 IU daily of a complex with added tocotrienols. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that protects against free radical damage. Studies show that it slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Do not take this high a dosage if you are on blood-thinning medication.
Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) is used as a brain tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. It reduces stress hormone levels. Take 100 to 3,000 mg daily.
Panax ginseng improves memory and balances stress hormone levels. Take a stan- dardized product containing 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides at 100 to 250 mg twice daily. Do not use it if you have high blood pressure.
DHEA is an important hormone for cognitive function. If your level is low, talk with your doctor about starting at a 15 mg dosage.
Cordyceps sinensis is used in Chinese medicine for poor memory. Take 2 to 4 capsules daily.
DMAE helps the body produce acetylcholine for memory, and it also has antiox- idant properties. Take 600 mg daily.
An antioxidant formula to use should contain a wide range of antioxidants, such as selenium, carotenoids, vitamin C, and others.
Chlorella speeds up the detoxiﬁcation of toxic metals that may be causing free rad- ical damage. Take as directed on the container.
Phosphatidylcholine increases acetylcholine levels to improve memory. Take 1,000 to 1,500 mg daily.
NADH has been shown to improve mental function in one clinical trial. Take 10 mg daily.
Vitamin B1 has been shown to improve mental function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Take 3 grams daily.
Although homeopathy cannot cure Alzheimer’s, it can reduce or alleviate many of its symptoms. Consult with a licensed homeopath for a constitutional remedy. In the meantime, here are a few temporary suggestions.
Alumina can clear confusion and reduce memory impairment. The person often suffers from constipation. Take 30C daily for three or four days, and see if improve- ment occurs within a week.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) can help if you’re fearful and have trouble recalling words. Take 30C two times daily for two weeks.
• Stomach 36 tones the entire body, while improving the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.
• Governing Vessel 24.5 is easy to reach (it’s at the center of the forehead, between the eyebrows), and it strengthens both memory and concentration.
• To relieve anxiety or nervous tension, work Pericardium 6.
• Lung 1 will ease depression and encourage deep, slow breathing.
Lymphatic massage detoxiﬁes the body, while improving circulation (including cir- culation to the brain). Because it is a gentle therapy, lymphatic massage is ideal for people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, who may be upset by more vigorous manip- ulation. If your skin is dry, you may want the therapist to use a little lubricating oil during treatment.
To detoxify cells and tissues, work the area corresponding to the lymph system. Encourage blood ﬂow to the brain by working the heart.
Work the lungs to oxygenate the blood.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Hot and cold hydrotherapy is invigorating and stimulates blood ﬂow to the brain. Try alternating hot and cold baths for the best effect.
Juniper helps break down toxins that reside within fatty deposits. Add it to your bath or use it during a lymphatic massage.
Black pepper will stimulate digestion, which can improve the absorption of nutri- ents. Dilute it in some carrier oil, and rub directly onto the abdomen.
The changing mood states of people with Alzheimer’s may sometimes call for relax- ing oils; at other times, oils with a stimulating effect are in order. Oils that have relax- ing, calming properties include lavender and melissa. To rouse the mind and raise the spirits, try geranium, jasmine, neroli, bergamot, or rose.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is an extremely stressful event, especially when you are still quite capable and aware of the challenges to come. During these early stages, it’s vital that you ﬁnd stress-reduction techniques that work for you; they will increase the quality—and perhaps even the quantity—of the time you have left.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Alzheimer’s can make you feel alone, even if you’re supported by a loving family. Join a support group of other people who have Alzheimer’s, to share your feelings. (You may also want to encourage your loved ones to attend a support group of their own. They’re coping with the shock, too.)
Meditation and prayer will help you manage stress and will also keep your mind and memory functioning at their optimum level for as long as possible.
Bach Flower Remedies
Select the appropriate remedy, and place 10 drops under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
Rescue Remedy will help you deal with any crisis calmly, including the initial diag- nosis or the difﬁcult times afterward.
If you are so afraid of what the future holds that you tend to cling to the past, take
If you usually handle obstacles with aplomb and courage but just can’t ﬁnd the strength to face the challenges posed by your illness, take Oak.
• Regular exercise will keep blood ﬂowing to the brain. A daily walk in the morning sunlight can also do wonders for your spirits.
• If you’re trying to prevent Alzheimer’s, keep yourself active and learning. A
lack of mental engagement may be connected to loss of brain function.
• Avoid sources of aluminum and mercury. Some food sources of aluminum
were listed earlier, but you must also read the labels on antacids, diarrhea med-
ications, buffered aspirin, deodorants, and douches. You may want to consider having dental ﬁllings composed of a silver-mercury amalgam replaced with a nontoxic substance.
• Simple routines are quite helpful to many people in the early and middle stages
of Alzheimer’s. Make a schedule for your day, and plan to perform more com-
plicated tasks during the hours when you usually feel your best.
• Although it is very difﬁcult to face the inevitable, many people with Alzheimer’s feel much better when they plan ahead. If you work out your legal and ﬁnancial arrangements now, and discuss your wishes for the future with your family, you may ﬁnd that you can enjoy a stronger sense of peace and well-being.
• If you are the caregiver of a person who has Alzheimer’s, you probably need some help. Contact local support groups to ﬁnd low-cost assistance with trans- portation, meals, and even day care for the elderly.