Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disorder that manifests as a progressive deterioration of memory and mental function—a state of mind commonly referred to as dementia. In the United States, 5 percent of the population over age 65 suffers from severe dementia, while another 10 percent suffers from mild to moderate dementia. With increasing age, there is a rise in frequency. For example, in people over age 80, the frequency rate for dementia is more than 25 percent.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Progressive mental deterioration, loss of memory and cognitive functions, and inability to carry out activities of daily life are the characteristic symptoms of AD. These symptoms are related to a reduced level of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter in the brain that is especially important for memory.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by distinctive changes in the brain. The primary feature is the formation of what are referred to as neurofibrillary tangles and plaques. Simplistically speaking, these neurofibrillary tangles and plaques are “scars” composed of deposits of various proteins and cellular debris. The result is massive loss of brain cells, especially in key areas of the brain that control mental function.
Genetic factors play a major role in AD. However, like most chronic degenerative diseases, environmental factors also play a significant role. Increased oxidative damage, traumatic injury to the head, chronic exposure to aluminum and/or silicon, exposure to toxins from environmental sources, and free-radical damage have all been implicated as causes for AD.
Considerable attention has been given to the aluminum concentration in the neurofibrillary tangle. Whether this aluminum concentration develops in response to AD or whether it causes the lesions has not yet been determined, but significant evidence shows that it contributes, possibly very significantly, to the disease. It certainly seems appropriate to avoid all known sources of aluminum, including antacids and antiperspirants, pots and pans, foil used as food wrapping, and nondairy creamers.
Which Dietary Factors are Important in Alzheimer’s Disease?
In the elderly, studies have shown that mental function is directly related to nutritional status. Better nutrition equals higher mental function. Given the frequency of nutrient deficiency in the elderly population, it is likely that many cases of impaired mental function may have a nutritional cause. Also, since there is considerable evidence that oxidative damage plays a major role in the development and progression of AD, and that diets that are high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E prevent AD, it only makes sense to eat a diet rich in antioxidants, including green leafy vegetables; highly colored vegetables such as carrots, yams, and squash; and flavonoid-rich fruits like citrus, berries and cherries.
Which Nutritional Supplements Should I Take for Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are a number of products that show tremendous potential, but in general, natural products are best utilized in the early stages of any disease process. Here are my key supplement recommendations:
Foundation Supplements. There are three products from Natural Factors that I think are critical in supporting good health:
- MultiStart: Age- and gender-specific multiple vitamin and mineral formulas. Follow label instructions for dosages.
- Enriching Greens: A great-tasting “greens drink” containing highly concentrated greens like chlorella, spirulina, wheat grass juice and barley grass juice, along with herbal extracts. Take one serving (1 tablespoon) in 8 ounces of water daily.
- RxOmega-3 Factors: A true pharmaceutical-grade fish-oil supplement. Take two capsules daily.
Phosphatidylserine plays a major role in determining the integrity and fluidity of brain cell membranes. Normally, the brain can manufacture sufficient levels of phosphatidylserine, but if there is a deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B12, or of essential fatty acids, the brain may not be able to make sufficient phosphatidylserine. Low levels of phosphatidylserine are associated with impaired mental function and depression in the elderly. More than a dozen double-blind studies have shown phosphatidylserine improves mental function, mood and behavior in patients with AD and senility. Take 100 mg three times daily.
L-Acetylcarnitine (LAC) is a vitamin-like compound that has been the subject of numerous studies on the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, senile depression and age-related memory defects. Well-controlled and extremely thorough studies show that LAC is outstanding at delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Take 1,500 mg daily.
Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE). Although studies involving patients with well-established Alzheimer’s disease have not shown much benefit, GBE can definitely help reverse or delay mental deterioration during the early stages of AD. GBE should be taken consistently for at least 12 weeks in order to determine effectiveness. Although some people with AD report benefits within a two- to three-week period, most will need to take GBE for a longer period of time (e.g., six months) before seeing results, and will need to take GBE indefinitely to maintain the improvement. Typical dosage is 240 to 320 mg daily (can be taken all at once).
CURCUMIN, the yellow pigment of turmeric, shows promise in protecting against age-related brain damage. Researchers began exploring this effect after noting that elderly (aged 70-79) residents of rural India who eat large amounts of turmeric have been shown to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world: 4.4 times lower than that of Americans. Studies with an advanced form of curcumin, Theracurmin®, show the greatest absorption of any curcumin product. Take 300 to 600 mg of Theracurmin twice daily.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant hormone in the bloodstream and is found in extremely high concentrations in the brain. DHEA levels decline dramatically with aging, and low levels of DHEA in the blood and brain are thought to contribute to many symptoms associated with aging, including impaired mental function. Preliminary studies show DHEA is effective in enhancing memory and improving cognitive function in elderly people. The level of DHEA necessary to improve brain power in men over age 50 appears to be 25 to 50 mg per day. For women, a daily dosage of 15 to 25 mg appears to be sufficient in most cases. Taking too much DHEA can cause acne, and may increase the risk of hormone -sensitive cancers like breast and prostate cancer.
How do I Know if the Recommendations are Working?
Improvements in mental function and memory should be apparent after two to three months on this program.
From Dr. Murray: “In my clinical experience, I witnessed tremendous improvements in mental function and mood in patients with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who I treated with natural medicines, particularly Ginkgo biloba extract. However, I cannot say the same for patients with more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The sooner treatment with natural measures can be started, the better the results. In the advanced stages of AD, these natural measures (with the possible exception of huperzine A and L-acetylcarnitine) will be unfruitful. The primary goal should be prevention by addressing suspected disease processes (e.g., aluminum and free-radical damage) and using natural measures to improve mental function in the early stages of the disease. Based upon good research, it appears that Alzheimer’s disease does not have to be the price to pay for living longer—it appears it can be prevented and reversed in the early stages.”