Alzheimer's Disease: There is Hope!
by Hans R. Larsen, MSc ChE
Have you or someone you care about been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease? Don't accept it as a fact without some very careful checking. A prominent Canadian psychiatrist estimates that as many as 40% of all Alzheimer's diagnoses are wrong(1). This is particularly tragic in cases where the symptoms of dementia (gradual loss of intellectual functioning) are due, not to Alzheimer's disease, but to a vitamin-B12 deficiency, a drug reaction, hypothyroidism, or cerebrovascular disease(1,2,3). All of these latter conditions are reversible.
A vitamin-B12 deficiency can be treated with injections of the vitamin if caught in time. However, if left untreated the neurological damage caused by the deficiency becomes permanent(4,5). Some researchers believe that a vitamin B-12 deficiency and Alzheimer's disease are closely linked and that a deficiency can actually lead to the disease(6).
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and occurs worldwide. About four million Americans now suffer from it(7). The disease is rare in people younger than 40 years of age but its prevalence grows rapidly between the ages of 65 and 85. It is estimated that almost half of all people over 85 years are victims(3,7). AD is an insidious disease that is usually fatal within 10 years of onset(2,4). Its victims are frequently unaware that they have it and the initial suspicions are often raised by relatives or friends. The first sign is usually the loss of short term memory, then follows difficulties in time perception, communication, reading and writing and eventually in using common household objects and in caring for oneself. Midway through the progression AD patients tend to lose the ability to recognize people and eventually become totally helpless. Anxiety, depression, wandering, and aggressive behaviour are common conditions seen in the progression of AD(2,3).
AD is difficult to diagnose correctly and the diagnosis can only be made with certainty through an autopsy. The brain tissue of Alzheimer's victims contains characteristic neurofibrillary tangles and deposits of amyloid plaque. It is believed that the neurofibrillary tangles and the plaque deposits are somehow connected with the death of brain neurons and the subsequent development of dementia(2,3). Although there is no consensus as to the ultimate cause of AD medical research has uncovered a number of significant risk factors.
It is estimated that about 20% of all cases of AD has an important genetic component(3). There is, however, no question that environmental risk factors are of prime importance in determining who develops AD and who does not.
Epidemiologic studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have a higher level of aluminum in their brain than do healthy people(1,2,8). Particularly high levels have been found in the beta-amyloid deposits which are so characteristic of the disease. Aluminum is known to be highly toxic to brain neurons and recent research has shown that it can cause amyloid fibrils to aggregate into structures resembling neurofibrillary tangles(9,10). Canadian studies have found a direct correlation between the aluminum content of drinking water and the incidence of AD(11,12). Although some medical doctors still question the aluminum link there seems to be growing consensus that aluminum is somehow involved, if not in the initiation of the disease, then at least in accelerating its progression(2,10).
The level of mercury in the brain of AD patients is significantly elevated and it is now accepted that chronic low level mercury poisoning may be a significant factor in the development of AD. The level of mercury in the brain has been found to be proportional to the number of amalgam fillings in the teeth(1,2).
Free radical reactions are believed to be directly involved in the development of AD(2,13-16). Researchers at the University of South Florida have found that beta-amyloid, in an interaction with superoxide radicals, constricts and damages the lining of the tiny blood vessels which supply the brain. The researchers believe that this process ultimately leads to neurodegenerative disease, specifically AD(16). Other researchers suggest that free radicals destroy brain neurons directly(17). Free radical reactions can be suppressed by antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase and vitamin-E(15,16,18).
Exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation has been linked to the development of AD as have severe head injuries and a family history of AD or Parkinson's disease(2,19,20).
Vitamin deficiencies have been implicated in the development of AD(1). A vitamin B-12 deficiency is particularly serious as it can mimic the symptoms of AD and may even progress to AD itself(6). One recent study found that 40% of elderly Americans suffers from a vitamin B-12 deficiency(21,22). People who have had surgery for stomach ulcers are particularly prone to a vitamin B-12 deficiency(5). Lack of vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene has also been linked to the development of AD. British researchers found that AD patients admitted to a London hospital had only half the vitamin E level in their blood as did healthy, matched controls. The patients' beta-carotene levels were four times lower than that of the controls(17).
A low level of education and attainment has been linked to AD as has a paucity of ideas and low linguistic ability(2,23-25). Some researchers postulate that brains which have greater intellectual capacity are better able to tolerate neuron death without developing AD(24,25).
It is tempting to speculate that vigorous exercise of the brain, particularly in the early years, may be effective in preventing AD. However, recent research has discovered many less speculative measures that anyone concerned about developing AD can easily take:
Conventional medical wisdom has it that there is no cure for AD and no effective means of slowing its progress. Fortunately, this has not prevented medical researchers and alternative medicine practitioners from discovering several ways of halting or at least slowing the progression of AD. NOTE: The treatments described in the following should not be undertaken except on the advice of your health care professional.
The first and absolutely crucial step in the fight against AD is to ensure that the diagnosis is correct. Insist that your doctor take all the necessary steps to rule out other causes of dementia. To spend the rest of your life in a nursing home as a vegetable because a vitamin B-12 deficiency was misdiagnosed would indeed be a cruel twist of fate.
It also makes sense to follow the suggestions given for preventing AD with an increased intake of antioxidants and vitamins as prescribed by your health care provider. Removal of amalgam fillings at this point can also bring about dramatic improvements(1,36). Amalgam fillings should always be removed by a dentist specially trained to do so - otherwise the condition may worsen.
British scientists believe that sage oil may be effective in the treatment of AD. They found that sage oil inhibits the action of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine. An abnormally low acetylcholine level in the brain is a key feature of AD. It is interesting that the 17th-century herbalist, John Gerard, said about sage: "Sage helpeth a weake braine or memory and restoreth them being decayed in a short time"(37).
The herbal supplement Bio-Strath has been found highly effective in the treatment of early AD symptoms such as memory loss and mental confusion. Recent clinical trials carried out in Germany showed that 59% of the AD patients involved saw significant improvement in their condition after three months of Bio-Strath supplementation (2 teaspoons of the syrup 3 times daily). In another 41% the progression of the disease was halted and in no cases did the condition worsen among the treated patients. In contrast, 31% of the patients in the placebo group had a significant worsening of their symptoms over the test period(38).
Ginkgo biloba is the most prescribed medicine in Germany and is effective in correcting conditions of cerebral insufficiency (including memory loss) and intermittent claudication(1,39,40).
Homeopathic treatment of AD is an important option. The remedy alumina was discovered by the founder of homeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, in 1829. Dr. Hahnemann found it highly effective in treating "Great weakness or loss of memory" and in cases where "Consciousness of personal identity is confused"(41,42).
Homeopathy is based on the principle that a substance which in relatively large amounts will cause a disease will, when given in infinitesimally small (homeopathic) amounts, cure that same disease. It is ironic that homeopaths knew over 150 years ago that homeopathic concentrations of aluminum oxide would cure symptoms of dementia while we are just now realizing that much larger amounts of aluminum may actually cause these symptoms.
Alzheimer's disease is a cruel, debilitating and demeaning disease which can turn many a period of hoped for "golden years" into a living hell. Research is constantly uncovering new facets of the disease and preventive measures and promising new therapies are being developed which will ultimately halt its relentless progress. There is hope!