A systematic approach to improving cognitive function

Alzheimer’s disease makes up 70% of all dementia cases and research shows that it’s the condition feared most by 22% of Americans second only to cancer. (1)

Characterized by a spectrum of progressive deterioration in cognition, function and behavior the prevalence of dementia is estimated at 24 million people worldwide (5 million in US alone) and is predicted to quadruple by 2050 particularly in North America and Western Europe. (2,3)

No single cure

Unlike other chronic health conditions there is no ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s and annual death rates are increasing currently standing as the 6th leading cause of mortality (the 5th for those over 65). (4) According to the Alzheimer’s Association the annual costs of care for patients is around $172 billion, which is twice that for cancer patients and yet the condition only receives 8-10% of the level of cancer research funding. (5,6) Despite the years of investment to date no single drug has been found to stop or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, and those drugs that are available have only had modest effects on symptoms. (7)

Cognitive function, dementia, alzheimersLosing one’s mind with all its treasured memories and know-how is a scary proposition for us since it is our unique motif and expression of everything we have learned, endured and enjoyed.  The prospect of living in a vacated shell can be too much to bear not only for those affected but for their loved ones who must shoulder the burden alongside.

Genetic susceptibility is a risk only

Alzheimer’s disease hits close to home for me since it is how I lost my beloved grandmother. I’m a carrier of 2 copies of the risk gene APOEe4 increasing my susceptibility for succumbing to the disease by 50% and lowering the age of onset by 6-7 years.  However, I’m aware that the presence of this genetic vulnerability is neither necessary nor sufficient for developing the disease alone.(4)

A therapeutic program shows promise

That’s why I was intrigued to learn of a study published in the journal Aging and performed at  UCLA’s Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. The author of the study Dale E. Bredesen described how a 36-point therapeutic program involving 10 patients with AD was able to reverse symptoms of memory loss. (2) Specifically;

Diet and lifestyle changes were introduced that were able to regress the symptoms of Alzheimer’s so much so the individuals involved were able to regain cognitive function at the level enjoyed prior to their diagnosis.

Systems biology at work

The program was based on the premise that a solution to slowing cognitive decline must be multi-factorial i.e. not the one-pill-per ill pharmaceutical drug model but instead a systematic modification of person’s individual risk factors based on their current health status.  What that means is that they looked at each person’s medical data and proposed a diet or lifestyle change that would affect each specific parameter implicated in the onset of dementia.  Once each parameter was improved in an iterative manner a threshold effect was achieved that lead to a synergistic improvement in their overall cognitive function.(2)

Some of the parameters targeted include:

  1. Diet – removal of processed food and starchy carbohydrates. Consumption of more fruits and vegetables and healthy fish
  2. Exercise – medium intensity and duration several times a week.
  3. Stress reduction and meditation
  4. Optimized biochemical pathways with targeted supplements g. energy production
  5. Detoxification and added antioxidant support

What’s particularly interesting about this finding is that it supports the studies claiming that the highest rates of Alzheimer’s disease are found in developed countries i.e. those eating more of the modern processed foods diet and living a sedentary lifestyle compared to more traditional cultures. (7,8)

I’ll be taking a closer look at the individual interventions that were employed in this study in a series of follow-up posts.

The bottom line

Our bodies are a network of interconnected organs and pathways. By addressing health issues in a systematic way through optimizing individual parameters involved in the development of a specific disease we can start to restore balance and well being as was shown in the UCLA therapeutic research program for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

  1. http://www.alz.org/documents_custom/public-health/value_of_knowing.pdf
  2. Bresden DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program. Aging. 2014; 6 (9):707-717
  3. Reitz C, Mayeux R. Alzheimer disease: Epidemiology, diagnostic criteria, risk factors and Biomarkers. Biochemical Pharmacology. 2014;88:640–651
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm http://www.alz.org/boomers/
  5. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/economic-impact-of-cancer
  6. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/memory-loss-associated-with-alzheimers-reversed-for-first-time
  7. Grant W. Trends in diet and Alzheimer’s disease during the nutrition transition in Japan and developing countries. J Alz Dis. 2014; 4:611-620
  8. Chandra V. Prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias in rural India. Neurology. 1998;51:1000-1008

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