27
Mar

Alzheimer’s: Lifestyle Changes Are More Effective Than Medication

Hannah MacKechnie Read 942 times

alzheimers lifestyle changes 

The rise of Alzheimer’s

Diagnosis of dementia is increasing at a rapid rate and is now one of the main disabilities for older people. As you age, it is more likely that you will be affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s, than from cancer, stroke or cardiovascular disease.

By 2051, in the UK, it is estimated that two million people will be living with dementia. Currently, one-in-six over the age of 80 have dementia. 

Research from the London School of Economics from 2015, shows that the cost to the UK is £26.3 billion with two-thirds of this cost being paid for by those people with dementia and their families. Dementia research is severely underfunded. Costs are spiralling and today, in 2018, these numbers will be greatly increased. 

Currently, there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s, yet the predominant treatment is still with prescription drugs.

 

How Alzheimer’s affects the brain

Alzheimer’s affects a healthy brain by disrupting the communication between neurons. A certain degree of shrinkage in the brain is normal with ageing but dementia results in both the widespread death of neurons and the loss of function. Firstly, memory is affected; then language skills, reasoning and social behaviour.

The breakdown of a protein called amyloid precursor results in the formation of the toxic protein beta-amyloid 42. This clumps together and forms a plaque that causes the disruption between neurons and cell function. Most research so far has been focused on how the proteins influence Alzheimer’s.

A brain affected by Alzheimer’s has a faulty blood-brain barrier and this prevents glucose reaching the brain and leads to both a reduced blood flow and lower oxygen levels. Inflammation occurs and there is a cycle of cause and effect that researchers are focusing on, to break this damaging cycle.

  

Drug results are no better than placebos

A great deal of time and research has been applied to the understanding of Alzheimer’s with the potential to manage and halt its destructive rampage, but to date, a cure has remained elusive and researchers still do not fully understand the complexity of the disease.

The current drugs available such as donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine are focused on alleviating symptoms and do not halt the disease or reverse it, and they only work with 40-70% of patients for a limited time. Although, they can offer relief to some.

In recent clinical trials, two drugs developed to tackle the amyloid protein both failed expectation. LMTX and another drug called verubecestat were found to be no better than a placebo.

Natural therapies and new studies have focused on management of inflammation and glucose through controlling diet to tackle the illness.

 

The first results of reversal of cognitive decline

In 2016, UCLA published a paper that showed the first reversal of cognitive decline in early stages of Alzheimer’s. 

Patient two was a 69-year-old entrepreneur who couldn’t remember the combination on his locker and he had lost the ability to add columns of numbers in his head. He couldn’t remember names and faces at work and had been advised by his doctor to ‘get his affairs in order’.

The patient was in the process of winding down and terminating his business but after 22 months on the research programme, the patient and his business were reinvigorated and the business was expanding.

Patient four, a 49-year-old woman with a family history of Alzheimer’s, had her ability to speak foreign languages returned with improvements in recall, mental clarity and facial recognition.

Nine months after commencing the trial programme, she no longer showed evidence of cognitive decline.

If this was the result of a new drug, it would be hailed as a wonder and miracle.

The ‘cure’ was a programme based on lifestyle changes, what you would imagine being the basic foundation of good health and what we, as a society, have lost over the last fifty years.

Evidence and trials are now supporting that changes to diet and exercise can have a huge impact on many conditions and illness, such as depression, asthma, diabetes etc. What we previously treated with medication can now be ‘cured’ with effort and life changes. 

 

Lifestyle changes that dramatically change lives

One of the biggest influences on our health is the quality of the fuel we feed our bodies with. We are, literally, what we eat. A weightlifter cannot gain muscle without following a highly specific diet and someone with depression can see a difference in their well-being by cutting out processed food and sugar.

The latest findings from UCLA underline the ‘holistic’ and health-centred approach to disease management but not only that, this is the first time that a reversal of cognitive function and basically a ‘cure’ has been shown for Alzheimer’s.

Is it not time that lifestyle is made the cornerstone of the doctor’s prescription?

 

What was the remarkable programme?

As mentioned above, two of the effects of Alzheimer’s are the prevention of glucose reaching the brain and inflammation. In fact, inflammation is the underlying cause of most disease and illness and by tackling this, you can relieve a host of problems.

The UCLA trial programme focused on managing glucose through the combined management of stress, diet, sleep and exercise.

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Lifestyle changes to make that can help Alzheimer’s and overall health

 

1. Diet

The Mediterranean diet appears to be the foundation of good health and shows significant benefits:

  • Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Organic and free-range poultry
  • Red meat once a week
  • Goats milk and probiotic yoghurt
  • Legumes and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lots of water
  • A limited amount of red wine

Removing or limiting the consumption of sugar is finally being recognised as beneficial to health and sugar is now considered as damaging to health as smoking - especially sugary carbonated drinks.  

Removing and eliminating as many toxins and processed foods from the diet as possible is also essential to any healthy lifestyle choice. 

Based on the principle of a ketogenic diet and using fat as an alternative energy source to glucose, coconut oil was under trial but had to be discontinued due to lack of funding. There is evidence that coconut oil is beneficial to health on many levels. 

Fasting has historically been part of many cultures. There has been much research into the frequency of eating and the evidence is that intermittent fasting does have a positive effect on reducing brain inflammation.

Intermittent fasting can be for certain days of the week or on a daily basis, such as from 8pm until noon the next day. 

The reasons for stopping smoking are almost unlimited but smoking does increase the risk of dementia

 

2. Stress

Stress has a significant impact on health by weakening the immune system - we are more susceptible to cold and flu when we are stressed and it can also affect the quality of sleep. 

Meditation, breathing exercises and yoga have significant benefits to stress management and also, mindfulness is recommended by the NHS for both stress and depression. 

Having a good support network such as friends, family or a carer to discuss worries and problems with will help to alleviate anxieties.

 

3. Sleep

It is well known that sleep is essential to health and that not getting enough sleep is incredibly damaging and also, not enough sleep will increase stress and inflammation in the body. 

Aim for 7-8 hours per night and avoid sleeping tablets or alcohol as a sleep aid. If you have sleep issues, see your doctor for a referral to a sleep clinic such as Sleep Station who can both reduce insomnia and improve the quality of your sleep. 

Tackle any underlying conditions that may be affecting your sleep such as, sleep apnoea, incontinence, asthma or restless leg syndrome.

alzheimers lifestyle changes

4. Exercise

Daily exercise really is a panacea and even more essential in the older people to keep mobile – use it or lose it!

Joining local exercise classes for seniors, t’ai chi, aqua aerobics or a walking group is a great way to be sociable and to remain active.

The best forms of physical exercise for general health that can be done at any age include, swimming, t’ai chi and walking. Walking is the most accessible form of exercise and 30 minutes every day is the aim.

Older people who sit for ten hours or more a day, age quicker, so simply standing more and moving around the house throughout the day has huge benefits. 

 

References:

  1. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20025/policy_and_influencing/251/dementia_uk
  2. http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/newsArchives/2014/09/Dementia.aspx
  3. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-happens-brain-alzheimers-disease
  4. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20162/drugs/105/drug_treatments_for_alzheimers_disease
  5. http://www.aging-us.com/article/100981/text
  6. https://aeon.co/ideas/lifestyle-changes-not-a-magic-pill-can-reverse-alzheimers
  7. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10559671/Sugar-is-as-dangerous-as-alcohol-and-tobacco-warn-health-experts.html
  8. https://www.alzheimers.net/2014-01-02/foods-that-induce-memory-loss/
  9. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20074/alternative_therapies/119/coconut_oil
  10. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/memory/ketogenic-diet-shows-promising-results-for-all-dementia-stages/
  11. https://www.today.com/health/could-intermittent-fasting-help-prevent-alzheimer-s-t118217
  12. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20010/risk_factors_and_prevention/1198/smoking_and_dementia_risk
  13. http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx
  14. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
  15. https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
  16. https://sleepstation.org.uk/
  17. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-of-the-best-exercises-you-can-ever-do
  18. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/01/18/sitting-hours-day-speeds-ageing-new-research/