Alzheimer’s disease research continues to evolve as researchers are making new discoveries and developing new treatments every day. While there have been many advances in Alzheimer’s treatments, it’s frustrating to me that conventional medicine still treats the symptoms of this disease instead of getting to the root cause and finding a solution. It’s true that these treatments boost chemicals to the brain, however, they do not stop the disease from progressing.
The truth that you may not know: Unlike the rest of our bodies, our brains do NOT have to deteriorate as we age if we take care of them. As my friend, neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter has said: “We are designed to be smart people our entire lives!”
New Alzheimer’s research has revealed what we in functional medicine have known all along: You can prevent and halt Alzheimer’s disease. I will discuss some of the new Alzheimer’s research and treatments and tell you how you can prevent and halt Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. However, not everyone that has dementia has Alzheimer’s disease. New Alzheimer’s research reveals that you can influence Alzheimer’s disease development and progression.1 To better understand how, let’s talk about how the brain functions.
Your brain is the complex “control center” of your body. Synapses transfer information through chemicals called neurotransmitters that are passed from one neuron to another in lightning-fast electrical bursts. Signals flow throughout this network of neurons and synapses, creating the foundation of thought, memory, emotions, and voluntary and involuntary movement.
There are two proteins that are closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease – amyloid precursor proteins and tau proteins. New Alzheimer’s treatments center around these two proteins, which I will discuss more in-depth later.
Amyloid precursor protein naturally breaks down into smaller parts that are cleared away in a healthy brain. One of these smaller parts is a particularly sticky substance that forms beta-amyloid plaques, which remain and build up outside of the neurons in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This inhibits the transfer of signals at the brain’s synapses, impairing the transfer of information. These plaques tend to build up first in the part of the brain that deals with memory.
Tau proteins form “tau tangles” inside the brain’s neurons that disable the brain’s absorption of nutrients and other molecules in the neurons. We do know that this damage to the brain’s neurons significantly impairs cognitive function related to learning and memory. As symptoms increase, an individual will show a decline in the ability to perform daily tasks, such as remembering to keep appointments. As Alzheimer’s disease continues to damage and destroy neurons, it impairs an individual’s ability to perform basic functions such as walking and even swallowing.
New Alzheimer’s research suggests monoclonal antibodies may prevent these plaques from climbing in the brain, which is just one of the new Alzheimer’s treatments conventional medicine is learning that functional medicine has understood for years.
Traditional Alzheimer’s Treatments
In the past, conventional medicine has approached Alzheimer’s disease as an incurable disease. Traditional Alzheimer’s treatments focused on slowing down the symptoms through medications.2 The problem is that these medications only provide comfort and don’t aim to halt the progression.
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are given to patients in the early stages of the disease to control some symptoms. However, scientists do not fully understand how these medications work to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms. What’s more, these medications have harsh side effects including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as suppress your appetite. Why would you take medications with harsh side effects if your conventional medicine doctor isn’t sure how they work?
The good news is that new Alzheimer’s research and treatments are focused on functional medicine principles and narrow in on hormone production and your body’s inflammatory response. Let’s take a look at some of the new Alzheimer’s research and treatments.
New Alzheimer’s Treatments
There is so much to be excited about with all the new Alzheimer’s research available now. This new Alzheimer’s research provides a clearer picture on how Alzhiemer’s disease develops and shifts the focus from treating symptoms to halting the progression of the disease. New Alzheimer’s research focuses on how monoclonal antibodies can help prevent the clumping of plaques in the brain and the role of inflammation, heart health, and hormones.
The accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau plaques, more specifically tau tangles, are one of the first clear signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors can see this using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, however the accumulation of these plaques may not show up until the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Both of these proteins cause memory loss. The buildup of beta-amyloid proteins along with tau proteins that have detached from the neuron’s healthy skeleton block signaling between neurons.3
For years, Alzheimer’s researchers focused on beta-amyloid plaques. However, new Alzheimer’s research targets the formation of tau tangles.
When tau proteins twist into tangles the brain cell communication system collapses. New Alzheimer’s research suggests there might be a way to prevent tau tangles, and in turn prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.4 This research suggests that the interaction between beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles leads to the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s. If new Alzheimer’s treatments focus on preventing the buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins, scientists believe they could stop the neuron damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.5
In order to do this, one new Alzheimer’s treatment aims to recruit the immune system to prevent or remove beta-amyloid plaques through the creation of monoclonal antibodies, which are proteins made in a lab that bind to substances in the body. New Alzheimer’s research has shown that monoclonal antibodies mimic the white blood cells your immune system naturally produces to fight foreign invaders.6
Alzheimer’s researchers looking at the immune system is nothing new to functional medicine. When your immune system is working optimally, your body uses acute inflammation as a critical weapon against severe and immediate stressors. However, when the inflammation becomes chronic it puts your body in a constant alert and your immune system begins attacking healthy cells. This could be why new Alzheimer’s research has also shifted to reducing inflammation as a way to prevent or halt Alzheimer’s disease.
We just discussed how Alzheimer’s researchers have turned to your immune system as it develops new Alzheimer’s treatments. So it makes sense that reducing inflammation is at the heart of new Alzheimer’s research.
Inflammation is at the root of nearly every modern, chronic illness. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disease, and even cancer can all be connected with the body’s inability to keep up with the bombardment of inflammation we experience on a day-to-day basis.
New Alzheimer’s research suggests inflammation in the brain, as a result of beta-amyloid and tau plaque build up, creates an all-out war against neurons in the brain.7 Let me explain how this happens.
The plaques trigger the immune cells in the brain called microglia. Microglia works to remove these harmful proteins along with dead and dying cells. If the microglia are unable to keep up with this housekeeping process, inflammation occurs in the brain. Studies have shown that the microglia get confused and with time begin attacking healthy brain cells, much like in the case of autoimmune disease. This malfunction in the immune system may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, or possibly be a cause of the disease itself.
Studies are being conducted for new Alzheimer’s treatments using anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs and how they may affect the onset of Alzheimers.8 However, NSAIDs are harmful to your gut and shouldn’t be used. The best way to reduce inflammation is to get to the root cause and repair your leaky gut, rather than simply mask the symptoms. That’s why I recommend The Myers Way®! I took this approach with thousands of patients and helped them return to optimal health, without relying on harsh medications. The four pillars of The Myers Way® will help you address the root cause of your inflammation and get you on the path to take back your health.
New Alzheimer’s research has also shown promising results using estrogen replacement therapy for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.9 It makes sense and I’ll explain why.
Scientists have known for years that a woman’s reproductive medical history plays an important role in your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. If you begin menstruating at an early age, have late menopause, or have more than one child, you are at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
New Alzheimer’s research has shown estrogen to have a neuroprotective effect and possibly helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease in women.10 However, Alzheimer’s research has also shown that hormone replacement therapy doesn’t reverse or halt Alzheimer’s disease. It does show some improvement in symptoms with early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.11
Heart Health’s Role in Alzheimer’s Disease
New Alzheimer’s research has found a link between brain health and heart health. This is something we in functional medicine have known for a long time. You likely know your heart sends nutrients and oxygen to the brain through the blood it pumps through your body. Alzheimer’s researchers believe vascular dementia plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is the decline of thinking skills caused by heart disease that reduces blood flow to the brain.12 It makes sense that these two would be linked.
The paradox for women is that while estrogen can help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, our risk of developing heart disease increases when we go through perimenopause. Remember, new Alzheimer’s research showed that estrogen has a neuroprotective effect that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, once women go through perimenopause, our ovaries’ production of estrogen and progesterone slows and eventually stops. Perimenopause can begin in your 40s or 50s. Usually, it begins after age 45.This drop in estrogen levels is believed to be a factor in the increased risk of heart disease in women.13 To support your heart health, I recommend CardioGuard™. This high-quality, physician-formulated supplement features nutrients that actively support your entire cardiovascular system.
These new Alzheimer’s treatments are still being studied, however functional medicine has taken these approaches for years to prevent or halt Alzheimer’s disease.
Prevent and Halt Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally
Alzheimer’s disease can be a scary topic. Yet our brains do not have to deteriorate in this way. The empowering part is that you can take control of your health and prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Even if you or a loved one do start to have symptoms, a change in habits can help slow the progression of this disease.
Whether or not you are worried about preventing or halting Alzheimer’s disease, exercise, mental activities, meditation, and getting optimal sleep can change the trajectory of your brain health now and later in life. Here are some brain-boosting habits you can start today.
- Optimize your diet: Eliminate inflammatory and toxic foods such as gluten, grains, dairy, nightshades, eggs, alcohol, GMOs, refined sugar, and processed foods. Eat a diet rich in berries, coconut oil, curcumin, garlic, green tea, protein, healthy fats, and leafy-green vegetables.
- Exercise your mind: To support your brain health, give it a workout. Learn a new language, study a new subject, do puzzles and memory games, memorize song lyrics, or meditate. I recommend the app HeartMath for meditation.
- Get enough sleep: While you sleep your brain flushes out toxins such as beta-amyloid proteins which contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. As you age, you spend less time in the deep stages of sleep where fact-based memories as well as emotional and procedural memories are made. Getting enough sleep is essential for optimal brain function.
- Eliminate toxins: The best thing you can do to lighten your toxic burden is to prevent the toxins from getting into your system in the first place. You may not have control over everything, yet you do have control over your own home. I focus my efforts on keeping my own home environment as clean as possible. I eat only organic food, filter my air and water, and use chemical-free products on my body and to clean my home.
- Move your body: The science is irrefutable that exercise quite literally changes your genes. Exercise activates the brain’s growth hormone, BDNF, reverses memory decline in the elderly, and increases cell formation in the brain’s memory center. You can walk, jog, do some light cardio at home, or yoga.
There have been so many promising new advances in Alzheimer’s research and Alzheimer’s treatments. I have hope that there will be more as Alzheimer’s researchers continue to study this disease that affects more than 6 million people in the U.S. Functional medicine has always looked at the body as one system of different parts working together and it’s great that the research is catching up. The best news is that the new Alzheimer’s research proves what we in functional medicine have known for years: you can reverse and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- An anesthetic may affect tau spread in the brain to promote Alzheimer's disease pathology. Massachusetts General Hospital. 2021.
- How Is Alzheimer's Disease Treated?. National Institute on Aging. 2018.
- What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer's Disease?. . National Institute on Aging. 2017.
- Alzheimer's treatments: What's on the horizon?. Mayo Clinic. 2021.
- Alzheimer’s Research Shifting to Tau as a Target. Keith Lora. Managed Healthcare Executive. 2020.
- What Are Monoclonal Antibodies And How Do They Work?. America's Biopharmaceutical Companies. 2020.
- For Alzheimer’s Sufferers, Brain Inflammation Ignites a Neuron-Killing “Forest Fire”. Karen Weintraub. Scientific American. 2019.
- Role of NSAIDs in Alzheimer’s Disease. John Hopkins Arthritis Center. 2005.
- The Effect of Estrogen Replacement Therapy on Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease in Postmenopausal Women: A Meta-Analysis. Yu-Jia Song, Shu-Ran Li, Xiao-Wan Li, Xi Chen, Ze-Xu Wei, Qing-Shan Liu, and Yong Cheng. National Library of Medicine. 2020.
- Estrogen and Alzheimer's disease: the story so far. Brenna Cholerton, Carey E Gleason, Laura D Baker, and Sanjay Asthana. National Library of Medicine. 2002.
- Estrogen and cognitive functioning in women. Barbara B Sherwin. National Library of Medicine. 2003.
- Vascular Dementia . Alzheimer's Association. 2021.
- Menopause and Heart Disease. American Heart Association. 2015.