And it’s attacking more than five million Americans right now.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the scariest diagnoses you can hear, because there really isn’t much mainstream medicine can do about it.
But there is a lot that you can do, right now, to help make sure you never have to hear those words.
And if you or someone you love is already struggling with cognitive decline, you can take steps today to fight it.
Alzheimer’s disease takes a predictable path – and that path starts long before anyone could notice the first symptoms, as long as ten years earlier. So even if you see any drop in your mental powers, your brain could be slowly succumbing to toxic plaques, taking the very first steps toward full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
In the first stage, mild disease, memory loss and muddy thinking strike – far worse than typical age-related cognitive decline. This isn’t just forgetting your neighbor’s dog’s name, or misplacing your keys. With mild Alzheimer’s disease you may forget to pay your bills, consistently repeat questions, even get lost going somewhere familiar.
Did you know…
Back in 1906, a woman died from a mysterious mental illness – and one very curious doctor examined her brain, finding abnormal clumps and fiber tangles… Dr. Alois Alzheimer.
Over time, that progresses into the second stage, moderate Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, damage has occurred in specific areas of your brain, affecting reasoning, language, and conscious thought. Sensory processing begins to break down, affecting what you see and hear, even causing hallucinations. And memory problems mushroom, causing extreme confusion – you may not recognize family or friends, or forget how to dress yourself.
The last stage, severe disease, ravages the entire brain, making it impossible to care for yourself. In this phase, communication turns off completely, as the body begins to shut down, leaving you bedridden.
But, unlike what mainstream medicine would have you believe, you can step off that path, slow the pace, even turn around and head back toward where you were – especially if the disease hasn’t yet progressed to the moderate stage. So the sooner you start doing something, the stronger the impact it will have.
Plaques and tangles
A brain riddled with Alzheimer’s disease looks very different than a healthy brain – especially when it comes to two hallmark changes closely linked with the condition, changes in certain proteins that become utterly destructive.
The first you’ve probably heard of: beta-amyloid. When this protein clumps together, forming plaques, it devastates brain cells, causing damage and destruction. Beta-amyloid plaque interferes with communication between brain cells, leading to cognitive breakdown.
The second isn’t as well known… yet… but it’s getting a lot of attention in research circles. This protein, known as tau, starts out as a helper, transporting nutrients and other crucial materials into brain cells. With Alzheimer’s disease, these proteins get twisted into tangles inside the brain cells – and all that critical transportation service stops – killing brain cells, and adding to cognitive decline.
While this is happening, production of a very important neurotransmitter, called acetylcholine, slows down. Acetylcholine – also called ACh – is the most abundant neurotransmitter we have, and it’s responsible for very important functions:
- Muscle movement
And while a slow decline is a natural part of aging, in Alzheimer’s patients, acetylcholine production decreases by as much as 90%.
That’s where mainstream drugs for Alzheimer’s disease focus, on acetylcholine, because so far they don’t know how to deal with beta-amyloid plaques or tau tangles. And, so far, pinpoint approach hasn’t produced very good results.
Pay attention to homocysteine
Several studies link high homocysteine levels with increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, homocysteine may be predictive… an early warning sign of waning brain function.
For a limited time only
The prescription drugs most commonly used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease include Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne, and they all work in a similar way.
None of these drugs impacts the underlying disease, so they don’t slow its progressive path. Instead, they focus on an effect of Alzheimer’s disease: the major decrease in acetylcholine. They do that by blocking the enzyme that breaks ACh down into component parts, an enzyme called cholinesterase; these drugs are cholinesterase inhibitors.
Here’s the big problem: as ACh production declines, these drugs rapidly lose effectiveness, if they ever worked in the first place. For many people, this type of medication never works at all.
Even in the best case, these drugs might force higher ACh levels, which might help patients hold on to some cognitive abilities… but only for a little while, and not without negative side effects.
Working at cross-purposes
Beware! Many patients ending up taking drugs that work at cross-purposes, essentially cancelling each other out. Cholinesterase inhibitors aim to preserve as much acetylcholine as possible. Anticholinergic drugs do the opposite, limiting acetylcholine to get their jobs done. They’re more common than you might think: anticholinergics include drugs such as Benadryl, Sominex, Compazine, Paxil, and Oxytrol.
Beware these side effects
Cholinesterase inhibitors come with many similar side effects, and each drug may cause symptoms that the others don’t.
Some of the most common are considered “mild,” like diarrhea, nausea, and sleep disturbances, dizziness, and vomiting. But they can get much more serious.
For example, among the total side effects listed for Aricept on their website, you’ll see things like
- Stool that looks like black tar
- Bloody vomit
- Asthma or other breathing problems
- Difficulty passing urine
- Slow heart beat
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Abnormal dreams
Many of those are not considered “common,” but anyone could be at risk to suffer them.
So the available prescriptions come with pretty scary side effects, and offer limited – if any – positive impact on Alzheimer’s patients. But they aren’t the only choices: Some specific natural compounds including nutrients and herbs may help preserve precious brainpower – without causing frightening side effects.
Key nutrients help protect your brain
- More and more, researchers are looking into the way nutrients impact cognition as we age, especially focused on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Several studies have found that supplementing with various nutrients have very positive effects on cognition and mobility in older adults.
One study found that a supplement containing essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, B vitamins, vitamin E, and some other nutrients improved performance on two cognition tests – including word recall – as well as a key measure of mobility. And a few other studies have discovered that low B-vitamin levels are linked with declines in cognitive function, especially in Alzheimer’s patients.
Nature provides brain boosters
Leave it to Mother Nature to supply a basket of herbs, flowers, spices, and seeds, many of which can have very positive effects on our brain function. Those effects range from relieving depression, boosting memory, increasing learning capacity, even improving cognition.
Every plant has a different and unique chemical makeup: some have higher antioxidant content, and others are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, for example. And both of those – antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers – can have a direct impact on brain function.
Among those proven to have positive effects on the brain are some that you’re probably familiar with, and some that you’ve not heard about before:
- Gingko biloba
- Green tea
- John’s wort
- Andrographis paniculata
Each of these works differently, and some may be more effective in combination with other herbs or with specific nutrients.
Challenge your brain
One of the best ways to preserve your brainpower is to use it.
Experts often recommend stimulating and challenging activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and brainteasers. Plus, there are dozens of computer programs and phone apps designed to “train” your brain, and increase your cognitive powers.
Equally important, your brain – and you – can gain a lot of benefit from eating a nutrient-rich diet, staying physically active, and socializing regularly.
The more you do to strengthen your brain right now, the lower your risk of descending into the most debilitating stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic
National Institutes of Health: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet
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