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Alzheimer’s Disease

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. (The second most common form is caused by blood clots from ministrokes, a cardiovascular problem.) Alzheimer’s is characterized by a serious impairment and worsening of memory, plus a decline in at least one other cognitive function, such as in perception or language skills. As Alzheimer’s progresses, it leads to a loss of motor skills and reduced independence in daily activities, such as grooming and going to the bathroom.

Causes

Alzheimer’s is characterized by deposits of beta-amyloid protein, as well as beta-amyloid tangles between brain cells. The beta-amyloid protein is believed, in some way, to choke brain cells.

How Common Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The Alzheimer Foundation projects that more than 14 million people will develop it by 2050, largely a consequence of 76 million aging baby boomers. Although these numbers may be inflated, the number of Alzheimer’s cases is likely to increase because of the aging population and a decline in dietary quality.

Nutrients That Can Help

The role of free radicals in promoting brain damage points to the potential benefits of antioxidant supplements. Indeed, a range of studies with cells, animals, and people have found antioxidants to be of benefit. The most dramatic study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that very high doses of vitamin E (2,000 IU daily) extended the ability of late-stage Alzheimer’s patients to care for themselves. Researchers are currently investigating whether the same dosage of vitamin E can slow or reverse the early stages of Alzheimer’s. However, if your mind is in good shape, 400 to 800 IU is probably sufficient for long-term prevention.

A number of other antioxidant supplements might also be protective, including vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and alpha-lipoic acid. Specific dosages are hard to determine because of the limited amount of research on these antioxidants and Alzheimer’s disease. Extracts of the herb Ginkgo biloba also might be beneficial, though the research has been conflicting. Ginkgo serves as both an antioxidant and as a dilator of blood vessels in the brain, improving blood circulation to neurons.

Some research indicates that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fish oils also can reduce the risk of neuroinflammation. Given the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease, the emphasis should be on prevention or reversing its early stages. It is not likely that advanced Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed because of extensive damage to brain cells.

What Else Might Help?

The role of free radicals in promoting brain damage points to the potential benefits of antioxidant supplements. Indeed, a range of studies with cells, animals, and people have found antioxidants to be of benefit. The most dramatic study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that very high doses of vitamin E (2,000 IU daily) extended the ability of late-stage Alzheimer’s patients to care for themselves.

Researchers are currently investigating whether the same dosage of vitamin E can slow or reverse the early stages of Alzheimer’s. However, if your mind is in good shape, 400 to 800 IU is probably sufficient for long-term prevention. A number of other antioxidant supplements might also be protective, including vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and alpha-lipoic acid. Specific dosages are hard to determine because of the limited amount of research on these antioxidants and Alzheimer’s disease. Extracts of the herb Ginkgo biloba also might be beneficial, though the research has been conflicting. Ginkgo serves as both an antioxidant and as a dilator of blood vessels in the brain, improving blood circulation to neurons. Some research indicates that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fish oils also can reduce the risk of neuroinflammation. Given the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease, the emphasis should be on prevention or reversing its early stages. It is not likely that advanced Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed because of extensive damage to brain cells.

Staying Healthy for Life

REFERENCE: "The Inflammation Syndrome. The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies, and Asthma." Copyright © 2003 by Jack Challem

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