Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases, and it is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050. This progressively crippling disease affects not only the patient, but also their loved ones as they watch the person slowly lose their memory, their personality and their independence. The exact cause is unknown, but it is clear that there are both genetic and lifestyle factors. With a significant aging population, Alzheimer’s research is high priority but still there is no cure. Fortunately there are a myriad of natural options that may help this debilitating disease.
There are seven pillars of good health which can help your body to stay healthy and delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. These are healthy steps for anyone to take, but are especially important if your family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease.
Active Lifestyle – Regular physical exercise reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%.
Learning – Learning new skills pushes your brain to create new neural pathways.
Building Community – People with healthy social networks and active social lives score better on tests of memory and cognition.
Healthy Diet – Increasing veggies and good fats and reducing starches and sugars protects your brain, your heart and prevents diabetes, which is linked to Alzheimer’s.
Good Sleep – Brain repair happens during sleep so quality sleep is necessary for peak cognition and memory.
Moderate Stress – Of course everyone has stress, but keeping levels under control with meditation, yoga or deep breathing helps to reduce your risk of dementia.
Reduce Triggers – Smoking, excessive drinking and head injury are all highly linked to Alzheimer’s dementia so avoiding these, especially if there is a family history of Alzheimer’s, is a great idea.
Lifestyle is the most important factor in Alzheimer’s prevention, simply because the way a person lives strongly determines their day to day health and contributes to disease risk in a way that pharmaceutical drugs or supplements can’t match. There are, however, some natural supplements that show tremendous benefit in Alzheimer’s, especially when combined with proactive lifestyle choices.
One of the most prominent aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is the amount of oxidative damage that happens in the brain including free radical formation, oxidations of proteins, lipids and genetic material; and neuronal death. Antioxidants are the brain’s only protection from this form of damage and in Alzheimer’s the best strategy is to have multiple forms of antioxidants available to the brain, with an emphasis on fat-soluble forms which cross easily into the brain. The most studied antioxidants for brain health include:
Alpha-lipoic Acid – This miracle antioxidant is both fat and water soluble and also helps to reduce blood sugar. At a dose of 600 mg per day this is dual-purpose for Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin – Especially Thorne Research’s Meriva-SR, which is curcumin bonded to a phospholipid which allows it to be transported into fatty tissues more effectively.
N-Acetyl Cysteine – This amino is a precursor to glutathione, which is called the “master antioxidant.”
EGCG – This is the most researched antioxidant from green tea that is touted to reduce aging, protect against some cancers and also help brain tissue to stay young.
Resveratrol – This potent compound found in red wine acts as an antioxidant in many tissues.
Vitamin E – This is one of the most potent fat-soluble antioxidants and all forms are helpful for Alzheimer’s; however, gamma-tocopherol has been shown to have the most protective activity for brain tissue.
CoQ10 – Most known for it’s beneficial cardio-protective actions, CoQ10 is also an antioxidant for neural tissue as well as a component of the fuel production system for the cells of the brain.
Melatonin is best known as a sleep hormone, but it also has a profound effect in Alzheimer’s disease. With age sleep quantity and quality often decline, which can be normal but can also be pathological. In Alzheimer’s disease sleep quality is often one of the first issues that people face, and with lower sleep quality comes poor brain repair. Supplementing melatonin at doses of 10-20 mg each night can have beneficial effects, partially to restore sleep quality and partially to begin to catch up with the brain repair that may not have been happening fully.
Huperzine A has been used in China as a pharmaceutical drug, but is available for sale as a supplement in the US. Although the exact mechanism of action isn’t known, there is evidence that huperzine acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor, which is the same mechanism of action that the major class of Alzheimer’s drugs use. Research also indicates that huperzine A also reduces levels of iron in the brain and that this reduction may help the brain avoid pathological changes.
Maintaining healthy levels of magnesium in the brain has been shown to be effective in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s. Adequate brain levels of magnesium prevents and reverses both cognitive decline as well as synaptic loss. Any magnesium supplement will help with this, but magnesium threonate seems most able to cross into the brain.
The prevention measures for Alzheimer’s disease generally comprise a lifestyle that will minimize risk of many chronic diseases, and the best supplements are also very simple and often have broad helpfulness across other areas of life. The bottom line is that an Alzheimer’s prevention lifestyle is a great lifestyle for long-term health. Speak with a wellness specialist at any Peoples location about this lifestyle and supplements that can help support it.
by Amy Neuzil, ND*. Amy is available for consultation at Peoples Wellness Center North.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.