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Alzheimer's Disease

Overview

Alzheimer’s disease is described as “progressive mental deterioration that accompanies old age.” The condition was first described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, after he performed an autopsy on a woman who had presented the symptoms we now call Alzheimer’s disease. In her brain he found deposits of plaque and bands of fibrous tangles.

 

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease have been known and noted throughout history. They include gradual loss of memory, confusion, loss of identity, disorientation, impaired judgment and language skills and personality changes. It’s estimated that Alzheimer’s disease affects over 18 million people worldwide and nearly 5 million Americans. Because it seems to rob a person of everything that makes them who they are, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded diseases known today.

 

Fortunately, researchers who specialize in aging have learned a great deal about how to protect the brain and the neural system, which come under attack in Alzheimer’s disease. Every month seems to bring new advances and new possibilities for slowing the progressive memory and personality loss that accompanies the disease. While there is still nothing approaching a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it is possible to slow the onset and progress of symptoms, and it may be possible to prevent them from occurring.

 

What Alzheimer’s Disease Does:

Alzheimer’ disease physically effects changes in the structure of the brain. The healthy adult brain contains proteins that form tubes that help transport nutrients from one part of a nerve cell to another. Sometimes these proteins fragment and break off. In the healthy brain, these fragments are broken down and dissolved, and the tubes are repaired as damage occurs. In Alzheimer’s patients, the proteins, called beta-amyloids, harden and form plaques between brain cells, and the tubes that are required to transport life-giving nutrients within brain cells collapse and breakdown.

 

In addition, Alzheimer’s patients experience an overall shrinkage of the brain itself. The ventricles in the brain, chambers that hold cerebrospinal fluid, become enlarged, and the hippocampus shrinks. As the cerebral cortex (the outside layer of the brain) shrinks, patients lose the ability for rational judgment and thought.

 

In other words, Alzheimer’s disease progressively destroys the structures in the brain which are necessary for it to repair itself, and to keep itself healthy.

 

Symptoms of  Alzheimer’s Disease:

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • decline of short-term memory

  • emotional changes

  • personality changes

  • inability to recall faces and names

  • confusion

  • loss of the ability to perform routine tasks

  • loss of bladder and bowel control (in the advanced stages)

 

The overall effects of Alzheimer’s disease are devastating, not only to the Alzheimer’s patient but to all those who know and love that person. The gradual decline in mental faculties and abilities can take as little as four years, or linger for as many as twenty. As the disease progresses, the Alzheimer’s patient requires more and more care and supervision to keep them safe, and eventually requires total physical care for feeding, dressing and hygiene.

 

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease:

Despite the amount of research that has been done on Alzheimer’s disease, scientists simply don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Recent results of research into Alzheimer’s prevention, however, suggest that nutrition may have a great deal to do with determining a person’s susceptibility to the physical changes that are indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease:

Since the 1950s, doctors have treated Alzheimer’s patients with several drugs to help slow the progress of the disease. Recent research has identified a number of key nutrients that seem to slow or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults. Among the most recent discoveries:

 

  • Green tea reduces the production of beta-amyloid in the brain. The results of the study done at the University of Southern Florida showed that ECGC, a prime antioxidant in green tea, slows the production of the beta-amyloid plaques that are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. (Sept 2005)

  • Folates significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In a long-term study conducted by the National Institute on Aging, found that adults who had at or above the recommended 400 mcg RDA in their diets reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 55%. One of the researchers noted that most adults who reported those levels of folate (b vitamins) intake used nutritional supplements containing folates. (April 2005)

  • Antioxidants in combination with exercise and a stimulating environment help slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A separate two year study conducted by the National Institute on Aging determined that older dogs fed a diet high in antioxidant vitamins learned new tasks more easily and performed cognitive tasks better than counterparts. (January 2005)

  • Curry, specifically its antioxidant pigment curcumin, breaks down beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of mice and inhibits the production of those proteins. Researchers at UCLA found that curcumin also appears to be more effective than many drugs currently prescribed for treating Alzheimer’s disease. (December 2004)

  • Omega 3 fatty acid DHA helps protect the brain from memory loss and cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at UCLA stated that “Adding DHA to the diet is something people can control. Anyone can buy DHA in purified form, fish oil capsules or DHA supplemented eggs.” (September 2004)

  • Vitamin C and Vitamin E taken together in supplement form may prevent the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examining the results of a large population based study concluded that Vitamins C and E may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults. (January 2004)

 

These findings from just the past two years suggest the strong connection between a healthy diet that provides all the essential nutrients and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in adults. While a great deal of these research results are preliminary, they are extremely promising and suggestive – and not one of the suggested dietary additions/changes has been linked to any harmful side effects. There is mounting evidence that supplementing the diet with vitamins, enzymes and other natural nutrients can reduce the risk and lessen the effects of one of the most devastating diseases currently known.

 

 

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