Alzheimer’s disease is currently the 3rd leading cause of death and it’s anticipated numbers will increase, as western populations get older. And that is the current perception – that it goes hand in hand with old age, so it’s simply viewed as a numbers game and the luck of the draw. But is this actually the case? Such a perception deters many people from seeking a diagnosis, believing little can be done.
We all know someone who has been diagnosed or perhaps we are observing an older relative and wondering if their forgetfulness may be early symptoms, but how many of us know that research is now categorising Alzheimer’s as a ‘disease of civilisation’ – i.e. caused by our modern diet and lifestyle?
In fact it shares the same causative factors as Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease, leading some scientists to label it Type 3 Diabetes. What – another metabolic disease? Well yes – Alzheimer’s pathology does ultimately affect the brain, but due to the role that insulin resistance, glucose metabolism and inflammation plays, it is fundamentally another metabolic manifestation of poor diet and lifestyle choices.
So I eagerly anticipated the September conference: “Why nutrition is the key to Alzheimer’s” having just read the extraordinary results of the research led by Professor Dale Bredesen MD, of UCLA who would be presenting, and has spent 30 years researching the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s.
At the conference he shared the scientific basis and unprecedented clinical results demonstrated by a series of case studies using ‘The Bredesen Protocol’, a multi-factorial, lifestyle and nutrition based approach to treating and reversing early stage Alzheimer’s symptoms. His first pilot study involved just 10 cases, but his second clinical trial with 110 subjects, all with early stage Alzheimer’s, showed 90% of them had their symptoms reversed.
It has been questioned by the detractors of nutrition-based therapy if these might perhaps be his ‘best cases’, cherry picked from a larger cohort, how else to explain such extraordinary results? One can sympathise to an extent with such cynics, because to date, there is no pharmaceutical cure for even the early stages of the disease. Drugs currently available may slow disease progression, but none reverse or cure it. My response to such detractors, were it to be the case that Professor Bredesen cherry picked his best cases, and there’s no suggestion he has, is that he has still shown nutrition and lifestyle interventions are capable of removing signs and symptoms in some cases. Oh – and without side effects of course. To date, no drug has achieved this.
The key finding of Professor Bredesen’s research is that ‘cognition’ does not exist in isolation. Mainstream medicine compartmentalised the body into organ specialties, the neurologist would rarely confer with the cardiologist or the gastroenterologist. Which is a shame, because it turns out Cognition and Metabolism do go hand in hand, so by focussing on the patient as a whole entity, rather than a set of isolated cognitive symptoms, Bredesen has achieved some remarkable results.
He likens the disease to having a roof with 36 holes in it, and patients do invariably present with multiple metabolic disturbances alongside the cognitive impairment. So mono-therapy drugs are failing because in reality they need to have dozens of therapeutic routes in their sights, to plug all the different holes. If a variety of lifestyle factors conspire to ultimately produce those holes in the roof (brain degeneration being one aspect), then it makes sense to me that multiple lifestyle interventions might be needed to plug those holes.
Bredesen’s approach involves many of the old familiar lifestyle enhancements, better sleep, the consumption of healthy dietary fat with less carbohydrate consumption – for improved glucose control, stress reduction, exercise to improve insulin sensitivity, management of homocysteine levels, vitamin D3 and the supplementation of other critical nutrients if testing reveals insufficiencies. It also involves investigations of tissue toxicity, genetic errors, soluble/insoluble beta-amyloid, tau tangles, hormone imbalance and inflammation. But the application of any intervention depends on an individual’s assessment of need, based on their own particular habits/dietary shortfalls and results, this is not a one size fits all.
The detractors to this holistic approach would prefer to see large, randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trials – before they will even consider the worth of such a new approach. Such trials work well to test the efficacy of a single drug on a single biomarker, but would struggle to simultaneously test something as broad and varied as diet and lifestyle factors on what is crucially a multifactorial pathology. And it is the multiplicity of both the causes of the disease and the lifestyle interventions that is key.
Nutrition science is still the new kid on the block, but some of the most potent modifiers of systemic and neurological inflammation and insulin resistance are dietary, nutritional and lifestyle factors. This much is a proven fact. Evidence from clinical intervention studies of the sort conducted by Professor Bredesen is building and needs recognition as being far better suited to test multifactorial conditions resulting from a multitude of causes.
Endorsement by Dr Ranjan Chatterjee of the BBC ‘Doctor in the House’ series and Dr Aseem Malhotra is to be welcomed. They both advocate the use of lifestyle and nutritional interventions in the management of health. Dr Chatterjee will be the lead clinician for the Bredesen Protocol in the UK in collaboration with Cytoplan.
See also ‘The Over-medicated Population’: “Doctors are misinformed, patients are misled and millions of people are taking medication with no benefit for them.” http://bit.ly/2dhCHQz
Bredesen D (2014) Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program. Aging 6(9):707-717 http://www.aging-us.com/article/NjJf3fWGKw4e99CyC/text