Alzheimer’s disease is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the US, and rates are predicted to triple by 2050. It is a devastating illness, and conventional medicine has made little headway in preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease. According to the literature, 40-45% of the cases are preventable, but holistic physicians think that number is underestimated. Alzheimer’s has several root causes, which we discuss in this podcast. We also talk about what you can do to prevent and treat those root causes and how you can treat the disease from a holistic perspective. Alzheimer’s is very close to my heart as I have seen the disease firsthand in my grandparents, and I carry a gene that dramatically increases my risk. The strategies mentioned in this podcast are employed in my life to prevent genetic risk from manifesting as disease.
Lifestyle Medicine with Dr. Harris
Links to Amyloid Regulating Supplements
Dr. Richard Harris: Join me, Dr. Richard Harris, as we strive to unlock the secrets of the human body, strive for wellness, strive for great health. Follow the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and Android.
Hello. My name is Dr. Richard Harris, and welcome to the Strive for Great Health podcast. And today, we’re going to be talking about Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is something that is actually near and dear to my heart. My grandfather passed away from complications related to Alzheimer’s, and then my grandmother had Parkinson’s disease and ultimately developed dementia because of Parkinson’s disease. So it’s something that’s affected my family. And so we’re going to dive in and talk about Alzheimer’s, and there’s other types of dementia as well, but Alzheimer’s is the one that we know most about. And that we often talk about when we talk about dementia.
So in regards to that, we’ll just say Alzheimer’s, but we can be talking about other dementias as well. So what is Alzheimer’s disease? It’s a progressive dementia that worsens over time; it can be divided into seven stages, where you have no impairment. Really you’re just starting to have the pathophysiological changes that happened with Alzheimer’s, and then you have a very mild decline.
That’s the next stage. In this stage, you have slight memory problems. You lose things around the house, like your keys. And it’s hard to distinguish from normal age-related memory loss. And it’s not really detectable by memory tests. It’s hard to distinguish even by physicians and family members. The next stage is mild decline, and people around the person start to notice memory and cognitive issues.
There can be a decline in performance on memory tests, word, finding issues, problem, organizing, and planning. And then we’re starting to forget the names of acquaintances, and we start to lose personal property more often. Then you have a moderate decline, and that’s problems with simple math, poor short-term memory, inability to manage finances, loss of details in life history.
Those are the things that are associated with that stage of Alzheimer’s. Then you have the moderate, severe decline, and this is where people start to need help with activities of daily living like dressing themselves appropriately, you know, making sure that we’re wearing a coat in the winter and not wearing a coat in the summer.
Or there can be significant confusion; remembering small details becomes difficult. Usually, you can still recognize family members and stories from our youth at this stage of Alzheimer’s. And then the severe decline is where people need consistent supervision, almost constant supervision.
And this can be, affected by wandering, loss of bladder and bowels, inability to recognize faces, severe confusion, personality changes. And then the last stage is very severe. And this is when people are usually on the brink of passing. They may not be able to communicate anymore, and they may or may not respond to external stimuli.
So Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the US, and the scary part is, is predicted to triple by 2050. Currently, 6 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s, two-thirds of which are women, likely because women live longer. And there’s also some other reasons with hormones that we’re going to talk about a little later. African-Americans are two times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and Hispanics are one and a half times as likely at age 70.
If you have Alzheimer’s, there’s an [00:04:00] 80% chance you’ll die before 80; if you don’t have Alzheimer’s, it’s a 30% chance. So that’s a 50% increase in the risk of death after the age of 70 having Alzheimer’s. So you can see that this is a significant impact, but it goes on. There’s a significant toll on family and caregivers. Now, 30% of the caregivers of people have Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65.
And we know that in this country If you’re over the age of 65, you probably have chronic health conditions that you’re also dealing with. A fourth of the caregivers are sandwiched caregivers, meaning that they also care for children under the age of 18. So this is a lot of stress in the household. If you’re caring for children and you’re also caring for your parents.
So the cost to the nation in dollars is about $300 billion a year. By 2050 in current 2020 dollars not adjusted for inflation, the cost is projected to be $1.1 trillion. That is an insane amount of money that we’re going to be dealing with. And the total care people need who have Alzheimer’s. Now that’s doom and gloom.
Let’s talk about some light on the horizon. If you look at conventional medicine studies, it’s estimated that 40 to 45% of Alzheimer’s is preventable. I think it’s much higher than that. And a lot of us holistic docs think it’s much higher than that. And we’re going to talk about that because of the causes of Alzheimer’s.
A lot of the causes of Alzheimer’s are related to a lot of the things that we try to treat, mitigate, and prevent in holistic medicine. So what’s the pathophysiology meaning what happens at the cellular level to cause Alzheimer’s. So you’ll hear about beta-amyloid, or sometimes it’s just referred to as amyloid plaques, and then something called phosphorylated tau, which is a protein that’s been changed a little bit.
And these make what we call neuro tangles, meaning it just kind of aggregates into these plaques and tangles of fibrils in the brain. And that, of course, doesn’t sound good, and of course, it’s not good. So what happens when these plaques and tangles build-up, you lose nerve cells, you lose nerve synapses, you get gross atrophy, meaning withering of the brain.
And this typically starts in the mesial temporal lobe. The mesial temporal lobe is very important because that’s where we do memory and coding and memory retrieval. So we store memories there. We hardwire memories there. And then when we pull from our memory banks, that’s the area that we pull from. So why is this amyloid plaque-forming?
And new research has shown that beta-amyloid is actually anti-microbial and antitoxin, so the brain develops Alzheimer’s because it’s trying to protect itself from things that are happening in the environment or things that are happening at the cellular level. And this plaque is made by the immune cells in the brain called glial cells.
And what it’s trying to do is protect the brain. But like we talked about in our immune balance podcast, the immune system can go too far. You know you don’t want your immune system overactive. You don’t want your immune system underactive. You want the immune system to be balanced. And if our body is under assault, for the reasons that we’re talking about in the causes, things get out of balance.
This plaque deposition happens. And then, we lead to the clinical condition of Alzheimer’s disease. So how do we diagnose Alzheimer’s? One of the things you’ll do is memory testing. Another is neuropsychological testing. And this can be if you have someone who you think might be depressed because depression, if it’s severe, can mimic some of the findings of Alzheimer’s; you’ll want to do lab testing as well.
Thyroid disorders can mimic it, B vitamin issues, iron deficiency. There can be other key nutrient issues, and hormone deficiencies can cause it as well. Sometimes [00:08:00] imaging is necessary to rule out structural issues. So MRIs, CT scans, you’re looking for brain tumors or, hydrocephalus means increased fluid in the brain.
There’s some other things as well that can cause it, and more recently, new developments have allowed pet scans, pet scans, basically look for glucose uptake in cells. And these pet scans can actually pick up how much amyloid is clustered in the brain. But this is typically used for research purposes.
Currently, this is not something that’s being done at the mainstream yet, but I believe that this will be something that will be used extensively in the future to risk stratify people for developing this disease. Gene testing is something that’s done as well. So there’s a mutation in these proteins called presenilin one and presenilin two, which may lead to auto autosomal dominant forms of Alzheimer’s dementia.
And that just means people develop dementia early on, and it tends to run in families. And so, these mutations affect the way the beta-amyloid is processed. And so you get deposition early. The brain does not clear it as well. One of the main risk factors is APOE 4. And we’ve talked about this a little bit.
I’m actually in APOE 4 carrier. So this is why a lot of my regimen and what got me into holistic medicine was because of this allele and the fact that this puts me at a higher risk for having Alzheimer’s disease. And it’s probably one of the strongest reasons why it runs in my family. So the function of the APOE 4 is involved in the regulation of lipids and cholesterol.
We talked about that in the cholesterol podcast, review that for more about the overall cholesterol system, but it mainly functions in lipid balance, what we call homeostasis, and then the transport of lipids from one cell to another in the brain. It’s produced by astrocytes, astrocytes are kind of nerve helper cells.
They secrete trophic factors. They are like nerve coaches. So the astrocytes are on the sidelines, cheering, rooting for you. They’re your hypebeast; they’re trying to get and make sure that the nerve cells are functioning properly. And so it helps transport cholesterol to neurons. That’s what APOE 4 does.
40% of Alzheimer’s patients, according to some research, have one copy of the allele, I mean gene. Basically increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by two and a half times, and two copies up to 15 times increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Now, this association is weaker for African-Americans; the two copies is 5.7 times for two copies of the gene.
And if you are Hispanic, it’s 2.2. So there are some differences in the risk profiles, according to race. And then it actually in Japanese have the strongest risks at 33 times risk of developing Alzheimer’s, If they have two copies of the APOE 4 gene. So why is this an issue? Why, what causes APOE, especially the E4 version, to be a problem.
So APOE binds to the soluble amyloid, that beta-amyloid that we talked about, and it increases the uptake of it in the cells, which is a problem because that’s how those plaques and tangles form. So then it also prevents the clearance of it. Cause if it’s sequestered or hidden inside the cells, the body can’t clear it.
But it also enhances amyloid deposition in the brain vessels. So not only is amyloid getting deposited in the cells, but it’s also getting attached to the brain vessels, which leads to micro hemorrhaging, basically small amounts of bleeding in the brain. And that causes damage and strokes. APOE2 is actually protective for Alzheimer’s disease, decreasing the risk by 40%. So these are things that you can check on on routine blood tests. And that’s something that I often encourage my clients to check. Just so you know, your risk stratification and in clinical studies, they’ll also diagnose people or look at it by doing lumbar punctures, looking for the specific, [00:12:00] amyloid and tau levels.
Again, that’s not something that’s typically done in practice because it is invasive. So what can cause Alzheimer’s, and this is a laundry list of things. And some of these we’ve already talked about on the podcast, probably the two most likely causes of Alzheimer’s right now in this country are insulin resistance, which is the mechanism of action behind diabetes.
A 2016 study showed you have a 60% increased risk of developing dementia with insulin resistance. And then if you look at autopsy studies done on people who have dementia, you look at their brains, their brains show insulin resistance, even if they don’t have diabetes, even if they’re not diagnosed as having diabetes reports show that brains of people who had Alzheimer’s, they inevitably develop insulin resistance.
Meaning there is a metabolic derangement of the brain cells in Alzheimer’s. And insulin is actually a trophic factor for the brain. This is one of the things that we don’t really talk about as far as the functions of insulin, but insulin actually helps our brain cells function normally. It’s kind of like a brain food, you know, when we say trophic factor, that’s what we mean.
It’s, it’s something that supports the normal function. And the other main causes, inflammation and oxidative stress. We talked about inflammation. We talked about oxidative stress on our initial root cause series episodes; go back and take a listen to those. Inflammation is so damaging. It causes that dysregulation of the immune system, and the immune system’s trying to protect us by laying down these beta-amyloid plaques. It’s trying to prevent inflammation from, you know, infections and, and from toxins and things like that. But it’s actually ending up damaging us. Which leads us to the next one infections, you know, there’s an increase in herpes viruses found in the brain tissues of individuals with Alzheimer’s, and it’s thought that stress or disease or something else can reactivate the viruses.
Cause these herpes viruses, what they do is they get into our DNA. They put a piece of themselves in our DNA, and they lie dormant, but they can be reactivated stress. And that increases amyloid deposition. Toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides. These are profound causes of amyloid deposition in the brain.
Again, these things cause an immune system response. And so they, the body will try to protect itself from them. And unfortunately, it can cause damage. And this is what happens with the amyloid plaques and toxins. You know, things like propylene oxide, which is used to make plastics, and acrolein, which is a cooking by-product.
I just updated my wellness classes about cooking, about how to avoid cooking, and making acrolein in your foods. So definitely check out those wellness classes. And amyloid is increased in these situations because it seems to bind the toxins as well and try to prevent or try to clear those toxins from the brain.
There’s also mold toxins, like gliotoxin. These are produced by molds that have a direct effect on the brain. Unfortunately, mold is very, very common. And if you have certain genes that make you more susceptible, and if you have problems with detoxification, you can have issues with inflammation and things from mold toxins.
Dysbiosis, dysbiosis is a major, major cause of Alzheimer’s. We just talked about this on our research Thursday post; we covered a study that showed that changes in your gut bacteria can decrease butyrate, and butyrate has a protective effect on the brain, and this dysbiosis can be associated with Alzheimer’s because of the increased plaques. [00:16:00] And this can be your oral microbiome as well.
So you’ll hear dentist commercials and things like that saying teeth cleanings can help prevent Alzheimer’s. It’s true. Your oral microbiome is so important as well in our overall health and the bacteria in our mouth, the bacteria in our gut cause lots of different things, you know, they can either help prevent inflammation or cause inflammation. They can make things that are toxic for us or make things that are good for us. There’s a lot of different interactions there, but the key take-home point there is if you have dysregulated or abnormal oral or gut bacteria, that can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Hormones as well. If you have a loss of progesterone, estradiol, testosterone, DHEA, which is an adrenal gland metabolite, thyroid hormones, these things can also affect the normal functioning of the brain and predisposed to Alzheimer’s.
Nutrient deficiencies and a loss of trophic factors. Nutrient deficiencies we covered that in our nutrient deficiencies podcasts.
They’re so common things like low Vitamin D, things like abnormalities in omega-3 and zinc. Things like low levels of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and nerve growth factor can all impact the way our nerve cells work. So if our nerve cells don’t work properly, it’s going to lead to dysfunction, which is going to lead to inflammation, which is going to lead to amyloid deposition, which is going to lead to Alzheimer’s.
We talked about some gene mutations earlier, the APO and presenilin, but also if you have problems with glutathione, the body’s major antioxidant, the body’s major detoxifier. This is something we routinely check on genetic testing in holistic medicine to see if you have problems detoxifying.
And then we give things that support that. And if you have poor methylation and we’ve talked about methylation is how we turn our genes on and off. And that is also very important in allowing the body to respond to environments that it needs to respond in. So if you learn anything from my podcast, anything at all, what we’re talking about is balance that we need the body to be able to respond to different situations in different ways.
And disease is really dysregulation of the body because it cannot respond like it should respond to something that’s happening in the environment or something that’s happening in ourselves.
Hypertension and vascular issues, and this is because of lack of blood flow to the brain combined with amyloid deposition, as we talked about earlier, leads to micro strokes, which leads to brain dysfunction, which leads to inflammation. And so that whole cascade starts again. And also, if you have these issues, vascular issues, hypertension, what happens is the blood-brain barrier, say that three times fast gets leaky. Just like you can have leaky gut where things get into the bloodstream and cell tissues from the gut that aren’t supposed to, your blood-brain barrier can get leaky as well. And that can let toxins in, and that can start this whole process, this cascade of developing Alzheimer’s. And then, of course, repeated trauma to the brain.
There’s a lot of correlation between what you see with CTE and what you see with Alzheimer’s disease. And so repeated trauma to the brain, repeated injury to the brain where the brain has to repair and heal itself can lead to damage and deposition of these amyloid plaques. So how do we prevent or help those with Alzheimer’s?
It’s everything that you’ve heard me say before on this podcast; you know, a lot of people are getting people into ketosis. Why? Well, we talked about how insulin resistance is a hallmark of people who have Alzheimer’s. If a hallmark is insulin resistance, then we need to correct insulin resistance. And one of the best ways you can do that is to get in an alternate food source, ketones, and there’s a lot of protective effects of ketones.
In [00:20:00], the body they’re anti-inflammatory; they help regulate our immune system. They provide more energy for the nerve cells, about 40% more energy for the nerve cells to do their job. You know, if you want to know more about ketones and ketosis, check out our ketosis podcast. So we’re not going to cover that too much in-depth today because we’ve covered that before your nutrition is so important.
We’ve talked about this, people, you don’t process foods, avoid them. Get more fruits and vegetables, the flavonoids, the anthocyanins, the polyphenols. They can inhibit cognitive decline because they can help regulate the normal processes in the body.
A lot of people are using CBD for its neuroprotective effects as well. It’s anti-inflammatory effects; it’s immune modulation effects. We covered a lot about CBD and the CBD podcast and how it works. So I’ll refer to that.
You want to support detox and methylation pathways, and a big portion here is choline. A lot of our methylation goes into making choline and phosphatidylcholine, which is a part of our cell membranes, which of our cell membranes is around every single cell in the body.
That’s why it’s called the cell membrane. And so that’s an essential, important function. And some reports have up to 97% of people are deficient in choline. That’s massive. And the number one source of choline in most people’s diets is egg yolks eat the egg yolks people. It can have up to 200 milligrams of choline.
If you’re getting pasture-raised eggs, which you should be getting pasture-raised eggs. And so this can prevent a choline deficiency. The RDA is 550 milligrams for men, 400 for women. And that’s 550; I believe in pregnant women as well. Again, don’t always hold me to these numbers because some of these things I’m pulling out of my head, but you can check the RDA’s.
I believe those are accurate numbers, hormone support. Again, progesterone is very trophic to the brain. It’s absolutely necessary. Testosterone, estradiol, Vitamin D, thyroid hormones, all of these hormones are absolutely essential to the normal functioning of our brain. We talked about hormone dysregulation in our hormone podcast.
You absolutely need your hormones functioning in concert. And so, I would refer to that podcast to get you the information about how you can naturally support your hormones.
Exercise. Exercise is so important for your brain; exercise increases BDNF. You get a massive surge in BDNF with exercise and with walking, even just walking like 25 minutes a day, increases BDNF brain-derived neurotrophic factor, that brain growth food.
You want to grow your brain. You want to heal your brain. You want your brain to be able to adapt and change the situations, that neuroplasticity you need BDNF, and to get BDNF, the best ways you can do it, are exercise, meditate, fast, get into ketosis. All of those are powerful stimulators of BDNF.
Sleep. You know, we talked about this before, but one of the things that happened when we sleep is that we clear this beta-amyloid that’s made in the brain.
So people who don’t sleep well are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and people with Alzheimer’s don’t sleep well; it’s a vicious cycle, so we need to prioritize sleep when we’re young to help prevent these tangles from forming. And also, as we get older, keep those good sleep habits and sleep routines.
We’re actually going to do a podcast on sleep as well. Just to get you to know the pathophysiology behind sleep, what it is, why we do it. And then, of course, we’ll give you some holistic techniques to improve your sleep. And that’s also something that’s in our wellness classes as well.
And the last thing is fasting; there’s so many benefits of fasting. Anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, lowers blood sugars, improves your metabolism. Gets you into ketosis. You know, we cover all of those benefits extensively in our fasting podcast. So definitely check that podcast out if you want to learn more about fasting. [00:24:00] Now, if you want to learn more about Alzheimer’s and prevention and the holistic methods, or maybe you have a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, I’ll just say this I’m praying for you.
I know what that’s like. And you don’t mind me, myself. I’m someone who has an increased risk because of genetics. So a lot of what I do is to help prevent that. I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s, and I’m going to fight like, heck not to get it, but if you want to learn more about Alzheimer’s and how you can treat it holistically, please check out two books, the end of Alzheimer’s and the end of Alzheimer’s program by Dale Bredesen. These are amazing books about the holistic methods and why we use them, and what causes the true root causes of Alzheimer’s, because I should’ve mentioned this earlier, there’s no drug therapy so far that’s been shown to make any difference in Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s no drug therapy that gets to the root cause because, as you can see, there’s numerous root causes, and it could be different for every person, you know, that new antibody that’s coming out, Aducanumab or something like that, what it does is it binds to the beta-amyloid to help it get removed, but that still doesn’t address the root cause.
It’s not addressing why the amyloid was there in the first place. And so we have to address that, but as you can see, there’s multiple different ways and means why it can be there. And that’s why the holistic total approach is so necessary to prevent that from happening. So. I hope you learned a lot about Alzheimer’s and how you can prevent it, how you can begin to heal those who may have Alzheimer’s, you know, improve their quality of life.
Prevent further damage with the strategies mentioned in this podcast, and definitely check out those two books. And like I said, just if you’re going through this or a loved one is going through this, you know, I’m praying for you. I hope the best for each and every one of you. God bless you. And thank you for listening to the Strive for Great Health Podcast.
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