The Fear of Alzheimer's
Memory loss is everyone’s fear, and should it occur, we automatically think of Alzheimer’s Disease. So many of our family and friends have forgotten so much of their wonderful lives, even the people they love. There are so many ideas about Alzheimer’s Disease, that it is difficult to know what to try or where to turn for natural options. In fact, there are quite a few options available, and they are excellent for enhancing your memory, as much as they are for maintaining your memories. Alzheimer’s Disease was named for Dr. Alzheimer of Frankfurt, who discovered the first reported cases in 1880, where alum was utilized in the filtration of drinking water. It is characterized by progressive plaques and neurofibrillary tangles throughout primarily the temporal lobes of the cortex and the loss of cholinergic neurons. The temporal lobes seem to thin prior to the onset of symptoms and these same patients showed elevated homocysteine levels. So to translate that into English, it essentially means that all the tiny, long nerves which are much like soft wires, actually get tangled into a maze of sticky bundles, which causes crossed wires and miscommunication between different parts of the brain. So the logical answer to 1 + 1 may end up being take out the trash or worse yet, nothing.
In normal aging, there is little or no loss of cortical neurons. The brain does shrink with age, but it almost exclusively loses white matter, not essential gray matter, so our brain cell bodies remain intact. It is thought that decline in brain function may be more due to a loss of the essential protective and regenerative myelin sheath around nerves and atrophy or degeneration of the receptor sites for communicating neurotransmitter hormones. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for storing information and strengthening memory, so strong emotions or stressful situations can be a stronger memory. This also means that weakened adrenal function will limit the ability to create strong memories. Also prolonged stress can end up impairing or diminishing memory. This is important because it means that it’s possible that severe shock, trauma or prolonged grief can bring on memory loss.
Alzheimer’s Disease is however, not to be confused with simple memory loss. It doesn’t just affect memory, but reaction time, ability to process information and self-preservation instinct. It is a condition that seems to begin with a defect in the ability of the cells to produce energy. This is a response to the presence of excessive amounts of proteins in the brain known as beta-amyloid. The result is excess inflammation, scar tissue, and the tangling of the delicate neurons. This tangling then can trap toxins, heavy metals such as iron and aluminum and an increase in free radical activity, all leading to less and less function of the cells. It’s even thought that exposure to electromagnetic radiation may be one of the causes of the excessive beta-amyloid presence.
So what can we do to hold on to our precious memories, and live a conscious life? These are the steps I recommend to my patients:
Reduce exposure to electromagnetic radation — this means not living close to power lines, reducing television, computer and cell phone time, and reducing electrical applicances and devices in the bedroom so that our sleep time is regenerative.
Reduce exposure to heavy metals such as aluminum - our bodies are designed to excrete up to 20 mg. of ingested aluminum each day, but how much do you really take in? Did you know that aluminum is an ingredient in antacids, buffered analgesics, non-dairy creamers, self-rising flour, cake mix, and even individually-wrapped cheese slices? Also, many municipal water authorities add aluminum sulfate to drinking water to remove solid particles. This may account for the metallic taste that many people notice when drinking city water as opposed to filtered water. And just think of how many cans of soft drinks your children are consuming? The acidity levels in carbonated beverages chemically reacts with the aluminum container causing precipitation of the aluminum into the drink.
A simple heavy metal detox on a regular basis can also help reduce stored metal deposits. If you are curious just what you do have in your body, then consider a Trace Mineral Hair Analysis which can detect and measure soft tissue deposits of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic.
Nettles and Horsetail have high levels of soluble silica which are excellent for reducing aluminum absorption and enhancing its elimination from the body. As aluminum is released, it frees up space for magnesium. In fact, taking extra magnesium is essential as long-term aluminum toxicity will prevent the use of magnesium in the body.
Increase antioxidant protection for nerves — many herbs that are designed to promote memory are actually antioxidant, such as Ginkgo Biloba. Bacopa is wonderful for memory as well, especially consolidation of medium and long-term memory, concentration and mental performance. Green Tea extract is vital and making sure that you have enough whole food vitamin C in your diet are things to focus on. Bilberry is another great herb for increasing the microcirculation in the brain and keeping cells bathed in nutrition and oxygen.
Part of sustaining levels of antioxidant activity has to do with reducing homocysteine levels in the brain. One of the best ways to do this is with Folic Acid B12 combinations
Hormonal balance - interestingly, the area that is most important in addressing memory is the hippocampus, because this is the part of the brain concerned with memory, concentration and learning. Did you know that the hippocampus contains estrogen receptors and so is highly affected by estrogen levels? If women’s bodies are used to high levels of estrogen throughout their reproductive years, then when estrogen levels fall with menopause, the efficiency of communication can diminish and memory can become fuzzy. To prevent this, balancing your estrogen levels throughout your reproductive years will make a big difference in keeping your receptors happy through menopause. Herbs such as White Peony and Chaste Tree are key, so begin early!
Maintain healthy immunity — since inflammation is an important consideration in the development of Alzheimer’s, keeping body-wide inflammation under control throughout your life is important. The adrenal glands are one of the cornerstones of inflammatory modulation, so herbs that support adrenal health such as Rehmania and Eleuthero are important. Then maintaining a balanced immunity can mean the difference between nerve plaque and perfection. Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea are my favorites for keeping the immune system balanced. Reducing body inflammation with Hemidesmus, Boswellia, Turmeric and Feverfew (especially good for the brain), Baical Skullcap, Gotu Kola and Tylophora can make all the difference.
But the one thing I always recommend is a complex of Cat’s Claw, Pau D’Arco and Echinacea. Studies have shown that this potent combination is not only great for addressing any immune challenge but it is also perfect for preventing the tangling of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain.
Strengthen your memory — there are many ways to maintain strong memory, and often it is simply with repetition. This is the natural way in which the body consolidates memory. In memory consolidation, numerous pathways are formed with nerves to allow repetitive activities and behaviors. By constantly adding new things, trying new activities and exposing yourself to new experiences, more and more of your nerve pathways can be incorporated for use. Also, varying your activities and then repeating them can really broaden the scope of your brain’s abilities.
Hydration - I can’t stress enough the importance of hydration. Often as people age, they reduce their fluid intake, and even substitute carbonated beverages, tea & coffee and juices for pure water. Although some of these can be healthy in moderation, the base of water for body function cannot be avoided. Since nerves are living cells, they rely on the availability of water for flexibility, movement, chemical synthesis and even energy reactions. A lifetime of dehydration can really take its toll on the health of the brain’s nerves as you age. I recommend ionized water to my patients which actually restructures water into smaller units so it’s easier to absorb and be utilized by cells. This is especially true if you have spent your life without water as a staple part of your diet.
So begin today, and live the conscious life you crave.