Preventing Dementia

A recent study by Bredesen from the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Research (Aging September 2014, Vol 6) program has turned the concepts of preventing and treating Alzheimer’s and other dementia on their heads. He used a comprehensive nutritional, hormonal and cognitive program to reverse symptoms of dementia in 8 of 10 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Much of his approach is similar to what I do in my practice: optimize diet, use specific nutrients for brain health, remove toxins including metals like lead and mercury and improve hormonal status with bio-identical hormones.

Recommended treatments for dementia

Here are some of the key recommendations from Bredesen’s study;

  • Employ a 12 hour fast between dinner and breakfast with minimum 3 hours between the last food intake and sleep to allow the brain to perform its detoxification function called autophagy

  • Assess and treat through chelation (using DMSA and EDTA) elevated lead, mercury or cadmium levels

  • Supplement with curcumin, folate, bacopa, citicoline, DHA, green tea, ashwagandha

  • Diet is based on large amounts of vegetable and fruits, fats from olive oil, protein from fish and seafood and fruit as dessert, little simple carbohydrates, in other words, a Mediterranean diet similar to what I have described in The Adaptation Diet

  • Exercise 30-60 minutes 4-6 days a week mix of resistance and aerobics

  • Lower homocysteine, a marker of vascular damage through the use of B 12, folate and B6 in the proper forms (methylated)

  • Optimize thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and especially pregnenolone

  • Control excess cortisol through stress reduction and botanical adaptogens like ashwagandha

  • Optimize mitochondrial function with CoQ10, ALA, PQQ

  • Brain stimulation techniques

  • Adequate sleep

Connections between sleep behavior and memory

Sleep behavior is especially important in preserving memory, as sleep disturbance is associated with reduction in task related working memory. Obesity is another major risk for dementia since it impairs vascular function and leads to greater inflammation. In a study of 400 adults ages 20-82, the higher the BMI (measure of obesity) the greater the cognitive decline as they aged. Exercise, including yoga, also has a major influence on risk for dementia. 26 of 27 studies showed an association between exercise and either preservation or improvement of cognitive function in subjects over 60 years of age.

There is a growing awareness that Alzheimer’s, like diabetes and heart disease, is related to an unhealthy lifestyle with some experts even calling Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes. Though this current study was with people already in dementia, every principle he discusses is even more applicable to prevention. I have found many of these ideas relatively easy to implement with my patients and urge everyone to change what they can in their self care to reduce the risk of this terrible disease.