Alzheimer's disease

Chronic disease with progressive decay of brain cells leading to memory loss, decreased sense of locality and ability to coordinate, and loss of language and cognitive abilities. Also depression, delusions, and reduced physical abilities.

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is named after the German psychiatrist, Alois Alzheimer, who described the first case as early as in 1906. The subject was a 51-year-old patient who suffered from impairment of memory, impairment of cognitive functions, increasing debility, bluntedness, and desorientation. Before the patient died 5 years later on, she had reached a state where she was not able to eat by her own and she was not able to tell the names of the most simple items from her everyday life.

When professor Alzheimer later examined histological sections of the patient's brain in a microscope, he discovered large areas of dead brain tissue, substantial decay of brain cells, and some characteristic histological changes that are today known as "plagues" or "tangles".

Alzheimer's disease is increasing rapidly in the western world where it has come to be the most common form of dementia.

Dementia basically means decreased function of the brain. Senile dementia means development of dementia after the age of 65. Presenile dementia is therefore development of dementia before the age of 65. Alzheimer symptoms may present themselves as early as at the age of 40, but the symptom debut is much more common after the age of 65.

Making a diagnosis
The disease is diagnosed by using the Pauli principle as well as by use of psychological tests, clinical examinations, and scannings of the brain. Other types of dementia caused by embolies, alcohol- and medicine abuse, decreased perfusion of the brain, or other kinds of brain damage may confuse the diagnose. Decreased activity of the thyroid gland and diseases of the thyroid gland are often seen along with the cognital symptoms.

Several simple and rapid ways exist of making a diagnosis which seems to give a fairly certain forewarning of Alzheimer's disease. One of these is a smelling test. It has been discovered that people who are affected by Alzheimer's disease at an early stage have problems indentifying certain smells, such as strawberry, soap, menthol, pineapple, lilac, lemon, and leather. This is probably caused by the brain cells in charge of perceiving and indentifying the smells being among the first to be affected by the disease.

Another quick test involves the person writing down as many animals and fruits as he/she can think of during one minute. Persons with incipient symptoms will typically list fewer words than healthy individuals. The words listed will also typically consist of those learned before the age of five and more rarely be words learned between the ages of six and ten.

The course of the disease
Alzheimer is an insidious disease, and it can take from a few months to years to develop.
The disease is divided into 7 stages. In stage 1 there is no detectable impairment of memory.
In stage 2 patients often forget the names of things and places. They can have trouble working and there is sometimes depression.
In stage 3 patients have obvious trouble working and it can be difficult for them to find their way from one place to another.
In stage 4 it is increasingly difficult to deal with complex tasks like shopping and patients have difficulties handling their private economy.
In stage 5 patients can no longer dress on their own and it may require some pursuation to get them to uphold their personal hygiene.
Stages 6 and 7 are divided into additional stages. At this time, patients have to be helped with almost everything, and there may be incontinence, anxiety, and depression. The ability to understand the most simple messages may be lost along with the ability to speak, recognize, smile, or even uphold posture. In the early stages there may be clear moments in the progression of the disease.

The seriousness of the condition has been hit head on by the following analogy: If someone forgets his or her car keys, that person has a bad memory. If a person forgets what the car keys are for, her or she has Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease seems to belong to the group of multifactorial diseases; that is diseases that have more than one cause. Inheritance clearly plays a part in the development of Alzheimer's. An Alzheimer patient may be identified by the appearance of their fingerprints in which the patterns of the pulp are differently distributed than in the rest of the population.

Nutritional deficiencies
Alzheimer patients also have terrible nutritional status and vitamin and mineral deficiency is extremely common. This is also the case in other types of dementia. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutritients that protect the mind and body against the action of free radicals and counteract accumulation of heavy metals.

Homocysteine
Research has shown that sustained large amounts (>14 mmol/l) of the toxic amino acid homocysteine doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. If the level is increased by another 5 mmol/l, the risk is increased by further 40%.

Heavy metals
Certain types of poisonings are under suspicion for being contributory causes for the development of AD. In a number of cases, accumulated amounts of aluminium and other compounds like silicon, calcium, sulphur, and bromine have been detected in the brains of AD patients. Especially aluminium has been suspected of being involved in the development of AD. If you are exposed to large amounts of aluminium for sustained periods of time, it can be accumulated in the nerve cell that are being destroyed in AD but a clear connection between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease has not yet been established.

It has been shown that an accumulation of aluminium in the body can participate in the development of dementia. A correlation between a high concentration of aluminium in the ground water and an increased prevalence of AD has also been shown. The absorption of aluminium from drinking water seems to be larger than the absorption from food. Still, the evidence that aluminium contributes to the development of Alzheimer's disease has not been found. In other cases where examiners have investigated the brains of Alzheimer patients, no traces of aluminium have been found. However, the evidence that is available today all points in one direction: it seems like a good idea to avoid aluminium in food and in drinking water.

Aluminium can be found in the water table in varying concentrations. It can be found in large concentrations in certain types of gastric juice neutralizing medicine. Trace amounts can also be brought into the circulation by daily use of aluminium kitchen tools. Trace amounts are also found in canned food, powdered soups, bakery from the supermarket, alu-lined milk or juice containers, and tinfoil. Most types of talcum powder and many deodorants also contain aluminium (aluminium chloride). If we are deficient in magnesium, the absorption is increased accordingly.

Mercury
However, mercury from amalgam fillings is more and more suspected of being a cause or a contributory factor in AD. Research shows that even small amounts of mercury can cause cellular damage corresponding to the cellular damages that can be seen in Alzheimer patients.

Electromagnetic fields
Some investigations also have suggested that there be a connection between electromagnetic fields, radiation and AD. Exposure to electromagnetic fields increases the concentration of the protein beta-amyloid in the brain. This protein is responsible for some of the damages seen in AD.

The latest theory on AD suggests that the disease is caused by defective sugar metabolism in the brain.

Recommendations

General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

Contrary to patients suffering from other types of dementia, the Alzheimer patient does not benefit from trips to the fun fair or ergotherapy. They need shielding, peace, and recognizable sorroundings for as long as possible, since they are easily overwhelmed and frightened by the impressions of daily life.

When dealing with severe degeneratory diseases like Alzheimer's the key-word is prevention, as the Alzheimer patient is very difficult to help therapeutically even from the early stages of the disease. Although still uncertain, it seems likely that disease progression can be delayed and pausated, if not fully avoided, in spite of a genetic disposition.

With regards to the prevention of Alzheimer's - as with most other diseases - the main focus should be on a healthy lifestyle and diet plus daily exercise. It is essential to follow a healthy diet and make sure to eat fresh fruit and lots of vegetables and a broad daily supplement of vitamins and minerals. Make sure not to be deficient in essential fatty acids. Broad beans are also recommended because of their high content of both lechitine and choline.
Drink tea instead of coffee as tea counteracts various enzymes breaking down important neurotransmitters in the brain. Green tea has a far better and longer effect than black tea.

Amalgam removal
Avoid exposure to heavy metals. It is always a good idea to get a check up on your amalgam fillings since they can leek mercury into the blood stream if they are not in good shape. This condition requires dental treatment and detoxification. If you have amalgam fillings in your teeth, you are recommended to have them replaced with fillings of plastic.

Earlier investigations have suggested that smoking could stimulate the brain cells in a manner that was prophylactic to Alzheimer's disease development. The current knowledge on the field actually suggests the opposite; that smokers have an increased susceptibility to Alzheimer development.

Optimum doses of vitamins and minerals are recommended for Alzheimer patients. This should be administered by professional therapists. Reflexology and acupuncture may have beneficial effects with regards to detoxification, brain function, thyroid function, and in the treatment of acute symptoms like panic attacks, insomnia, and a confused state of mind.

Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood is lowered by increasing the consumption of especially the vitamins B6, -B9, and -B12.

Recommended dietary supplements
  • Phosphatidyl choline: Concentrated lecithine with a high content of phosphatidyl choline, or pure concentrated phosphatidyl choline.
  • Lipoic acid: Binds toxic heavy metals and protects the brain from free radicals.

Beneficial herbs:
  • Ginkgo biloba: To a certain degree, ginkgo biloba extract seems to be able to compensate for the brain of Alzheimer patients not being able to produce adequate amounts of the important enzyme acetylcholine esterase. This enzyme administers the phosphatidyl choline metabolism of the brain which, among other things, is important to the memory.
  • Turmeric, Curcuma longa: Contains the substance curcumin; an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It is said to be able to prevent the cerebral amyloid formation of plaque in Alzheimer's patients.
  • Green tea: Can also be taken in the form of capsules if you cannot manage to drink at least 5 cups a day.
Homeopathic remedies:
  • Organic preparations for stimulation of the thyroid gland.
Recommended treatments

Acupuncture:
Stimulation of neural glands and the thyroid gland. Treatment of panic attacks, insomnia, and confusion.

Other types of reflexology, laser therapy etc:
The temporary relief is often substantial, but is only effective in combination with a diet and physical care (basic plan + extra nutrients).

Warnings

Cases of Alzeimer's disease should be attended to by a physician before initiating self-treatment.

Remarks

Also see "Aluminium poisoning", "Common age-related changes", "Heavy metal poisoning", "Mercury poisoning", and "Senile dementia".

Also read the article "Homocysteine - the hidden killer" in the Library.

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