Category Archives: Health tips

The Risk for Alzheimer’s disease, in Our Control or Not?

alzheimer generation

There are certain risk factors, such as family history, genetics, and age that are beyond our control, but there are some that can be mitigated with early intervention and maintenance. Let us examine the two sets of risk factors to better understand how we can take action to defend ourselves or loved ones from this devastating disease.

Risk factors that we cannot change are:

1. Age

The data shows us that age is a significant factor in developing Alzheimer’s, but we do not fully understand why. Among those aged 85 or older, one in three were found to have the disease. Compare this to one in nine among those aged 65 or beyond.

2. Family history

Family history is a good predicator for many health conditions. If one of your parents or siblings has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s your chance for developing the disease is increased.

3. Genetics

Scientific study has found that genes play an integral part in Alzheimer’s. Genes that have a causal role in the disease fall into two categories: deterministic genes and risk genes. Let’s look at each type.
• Deterministic genes are the direct cause of developing a disease. Scientists have found three proteins where the genetic coding is deviant: presenilin-1 (PS-1), amyloid precursor protein (APP) and presenilin-2 (PS-2). Autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD) is the name given to Alzheimer’s when one of these deterministic genes is the cause. It could impact several generations within a family and the symptoms usually appear before the patient reaches the age of 60. However, deterministic genes are found in a very few hundreds of families throughout the world.
• Risk genes may be present, but it does not mean that Alzheimer’s is guaranteed to develop. To date, several risk genes have been discovered by Alzheimer’s researchers: apolipoprotein E-e4 appears to have the greatest influence on developing the disease. The gene is present in approximately 20-25% of Alzheimer’s cases. There are two other configurations of the APOE gene, the other two being APOE-e2 and APOE-e3. It is important to remember that even if the gene is inherited from both parents, it does not mean that it is guaranteed you will develop Alzheimer’s. The APOE-e4 gene also seems to be responsible for earlier onset of Alzheimer’s.

alzheimers disease with two trees

Risk factors that we can impact:

There is nothing we can do to change our genetic makeup or family medical histories. What are some of the factors we can change?

1. Healthy aging

We cannot control the reality of aging, but we can impact how we age. There are many strategies to keep both our bodies and minds as young as possible. For instance diet, social interaction and exercising both your body and mind. There are many mind exercises available in bookstores, on the internet, or through Alzheimer’s websites.

2. Head injury

Scientists believe there may be a link between head trauma and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This is especially true should there be repeated episodes of serious injury to the head. Be careful to always wear a helmet when biking, buckle up no matter how far you are going in your car and install safe surfaces around your home to avoid slipping and falling.

3. Healthy heart, healthy brain

Studies have proven that the health of your heart impacts the health of your brain. Your brain receives vital nutrients through the blood vessels. Should there be any blockages or complications within the vast network of your blood vessels, such as from high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart disease, the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain will be severely diminished, resulting in damage to the brain’s vessels, and increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. If you have any of these conditions it is very important to maintain a regular check-up schedule.

Reviewing New Research in Treating Alzheimer’s Disease

Synapse in brainIn a recent article discussing the findings of Korean researchers into the use of new drugs targeting Alzheimer’s disease, Lauren Horne discusses how the team may have discovered new information in the fight against the development of the disease. The study, titled “GABA from reactive astrocytes impairs memory in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease”, is the work of Drs. Daesoo Kim and C. Justin Lee and was published in June of 2014 in the medical journal “Nature Medicine”. The article highlights how the neurotransmitter inhibitor GABA when released in higher dosages through the BESt1 channel has been shown to negatively affect the functioning of synaptic transmission, as well as plasticity, and memory. The research delves into the role that reactive astrocytes play in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly how it can be treated in the future.

According to the description of the study by Horne, the team in Korea began conducting their tests after discovering that there were large quantities of reactive astrocytes found in the brains of mice who had Alzheimer’s disease. In the course of their research, they found that the reactive astrocytes were creating the GABA transmitters through the enzyme Monoamine oxidase B(MAO-B). When the GABA transmitters were being released through the Bestrophin-1 channel, it was discovered that they were having a suppressive effect on the flow of normal information at the time of synaptic transmission.

In an attempt to reverse the effects of the B(MAO-B) that was being produced by the reactive astrocytes, the researchers utilized B(MAO-B) inhibitors to help return the levels to normal. This result of these changes was made clear in testing performed on mice with Alzheimer’s disease when their memory showed signs of improvement following the treatment. However, the benefits of the treatment using Selegiline as the inhibitor agent were not long lasting. While it has been shown to have positive results in treating Parkinson’s disease, it is unlikely that it will be use long term in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

While this study is only a preliminary entry into this avenue of research, I suspect that it holds great potential for further courses of study into finding a cure to Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease

The cognitive decline of an Alzheimer’s disease sufferer is heart-rending to family and friends. This disease is debilitating and as yet, has no certain cure. Although there is also no concrete way of predicting how Alzheimer’s will progress, recent studies show that lifestyle changes may play a significant role in deterring the disease. Preventing the onset of the disease requires therapeutic lifestyle modification early in life thereby reducing risk factors associated with the disease?

The Research

Several studies have been made in which it was concluded that lifestyle changes and social enhancement do indeed play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) conducted one such study with astounding results. All the participants selected for the study were at risk for developing Alzheimer’s due to factors like age and heart health not being optimal. Participants were given basic healthcare across the board.

Only half of the participants were given a complete lifestyle make-over and a social support system that included cognitive training, control of risk factors and social activities. When the study ended after two years, these participants were in much better health than their peers who did not benefit from an improved lifestyle and social support. These individuals not only made significant improvement in their chances of avoiding Alzheimer’s disease but also drastically enhanced their quality of life – a win-win situation.

How to Start Making Changes

Try to adapt your lifestyle to make as many of the following changes as possible:
• Decide on a daily exercise regime: Consult a physician to ensure that it is suitable to your current health status.
• Eat healthy: In recent years the so-called Mediterranean diet has become associated with optimum health and considerably lower risk of cognitive decline. It consists of fresh ingredients like vegetables, fish and uses olive oil as the main source of fat. Avoid processed foods, excessive sugar, salt and saturated fats.
• If you smoke, stop. Damaging the brain vessels in any way increases inflammation and the risk of Alzheimer’s as well as many other serious health threats.
• Get enough sleep: Sleep is good for learning and memory and lack of it can seriously impact on your mental functions.
• Take supplements, but not to excess: Deficiencies in Folate and Vitamin B12 have been proven to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. However, nothing has been conclusively proven in studies conducted on the effects of other vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
• Finally, avoid impact to your head if possible: It is a known fact that Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. Accidents happen but taking precautions like wearing protective headgear when engaging in sports and investing in anti-slip mats around the home is an excellent practice.

While we cannot as yet cure the disease, it is possible to lower the risk with a lifestyle overhaul. Remember the sooner you adopt a healthier lifestyle, the more likely it is to be an effective preventative measure. Programs like Sci-Brain  that is developed to primarily address an objective way to optimize cognitive outcome based on reducing risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease based on Research at the Roskamp Institute.

Ten tips to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease – part 7

Putting it all together.

More than any one particular activity it seems that a lifestyle that encompasses all of the above aspects is required to combat a slip into Alzheimer’s Disease. When looked at together the above recommendations look like a big change in lifestyle for some of us. One important point is that people who incorporate some of all of these aspects into their lives do much better in staving of Alzheimer’s Disease than those that that just adhere to one of them. So the message from the scientific studies is that we should adapt our lifestyles as much as we can in each of these areas to be lower our risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. That can be both challenging and fun especially when undertaken with family or friends. A positive outlook on our ability to defeat Alzheimer’s Disease by our own efforts puts us back in control of our lives and lets us not see ourselves as victims of this disease. The scientific literature more and more suggests there are many ways we can defy Alzheimer’s Disease and the more we do in each of the areas above the more successful we will be. So start now and push back the cognitive clock. Enjoy your new regimen!

Ten tips to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease – part 6

cigarette-stubbed-outDon’t smoke

Although there have been some contradictory findings over the years it’s very clear from very large studies that smoking increases the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and other  dementias. There are probably many reasons why this is the case the most prominent of which is that chemicals in tobacco smoke are severely detrimental to blood vessels in the body including in the brain. Damage to brain vessels reduces the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain and increases local inflammation. We know from many studies that the pathological processes underlying Alzheimer’s Disease interact very negatively with those that underlie stroke. Consequently, these two diseases interact very harmfully together to produce the symptoms and signs of dementia in individuals who have both disorders. All possible measures to quit smoking should be adopted as the negative health consequences are so profound.

head-against-wallDon’t hit your head

It has long been known in the scientific community that head injury or Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] increases risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Sportsmen and women who take part in activities that increase risk for TBI have a higher prevalence and incidence of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. Avoidance of such activities or at least minimization of such risk by wearing appropriate protective head gear [such as wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle, motorcycle or horse] is highly recommended. For our senior citizens falls at home or out are a common cause of head injury as are vehicle crashes. Simple home precautions like anti-slip mats in the shower or bath may prevent slips and falls.  In addition various experimental interventions have been tried to reduce the number of falls in the elderly such as strength and balance training. As part of a physical exercise program such activity may have considerable benefit. The most important thing to remember is that multiple head injuries throughout life either from sport or other trauma and even single injuries as we age can be highly detrimental increasing our risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.

Ten tips to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease – part 5

7) Supplements and vitamins

Much work is still being conducted on the use of vitamins and supplements to protect against Alzheimer’s Disease. Several vitamins are well established to either contribute to dementia if they are lacking or to specifically protect against Alzheimer’s Disease if they are present. Folate and B12 deficiencies are both known to increase risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Thus ensuring that both of this vitamins are present in the blood in appropriate amounts is one reason why yearly routine blood tests are important. Studies of other vitamins has proved much less conclusive. For instance, the use of vitamins C and E have not shown that decline into Alzheimer’s Disease can be prevented. And although low vitamin D levels have been associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease the use of vitamin D prophylactically has not yet demonstrated benefit in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. The message about vitamins seems to be – don’t be deficient – but taking excess of any of them is not helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Another hot area of research concerns the role of fatty acids in the cause or prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. Fatty acids are derived directly from our diet and are taken up by the brain by neurons to help build their outer walls. However, certain fatty acids lead to over-excitation and inflammation of neurons leading to their degeneration and death. By manipulating our diets it’s possible to change the composition of fatty acids in the brain. Scientists believe that this is why certain diets protect us from Alzheimer’s Disease [see above] and others do not. A typical western diet can be high in polysaturated fats and those known as omega-6 fatty acids whereas diets known to be protective against Alzheimer’s Disease are low in polysaturated fatty acids, high in unsaturated fatty acids and have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular is associated with reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Again though it is unclear whether taking DHA as a supplement can reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease although it is clear that diets associated with high fish consumption do lower risk for the disease. Fish oil supplements are very popular and are taken to ward off or even treat a wide range of ailments but at this stage it’s not possible to recommend daily supplementation with DHA or other fatty acids contained in fish whereas the substitution of fish for meat dishes can be recommended.

Many other supplements have been investigated in the prevention of AD most noticeably Ginkgo Biloba. Despite several very large scale studies searching for a beneficial effect of Ginkgo there is no evidence that it can fend off Alzheimer’s Disease or inhibit cognitive decline. Many other claims for supplements or mixtures of supplements in the prevention or reversal of memory loss have never been as thoroughly tested as has Ginkgo and therefore the claims remain unproven. Until other supplements are thoroughly investigated it’s recommended that they are not taken in excess.

Michael Mullan | Alzheimer disease

Ten tips to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease – part 4

6) Drink well?

 

Large studies following thousands of senior citizens show that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risk from Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. Some studies suggest that the type of alcohol consumed is not important in conferring this protection whereas others have specifically pointed to red wine as being protective. It may be that alcohol per se has a protective effect and red wine in particular has additional protective qualities. Although there is some controversy over why so many studies show an association between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease [and stroke related dementia] there is general agreement that the phenomena is real. This doesn’t mean that most doctors or medical professionals will start recommending alcohol consumption because alcohol abuse and binge drinking are associated with cognitive impairment and dementia. Nevertheless, studies consistently show that alcohol taken in moderation is a protective factor. Work on red wine has suggested that chemicals called polyphenols that are generated mostly in the grape skin have anti-oxidant properties that can protect blood vessel cells from  the stress of vascular disease and neurons from the stress of Alzheimer’s Disease.