Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can rob people of the ability to think clearly, perform everyday tasks and ultimately, remember who they even are. Because the disease is so devastating, and since previous treatments failed to come up with a cure, I’m always on the lookout for Alzheimer’s natural treatment options and Alzheimer’s news, scouring the medical journals for for Alzheimer’s breakthroughs.
There’s so much we still don’t know about the human brain, but thankfully, 2016 marks a year of progress and some pretty significant Alzheimer’s breakthroughs. Let me share some of them with you.
There are several theories including free radical damage, an inability to use glucose properly, vitamin deficiencies or environmental toxins. This illness affects a third of people over the age of 85 in the U.S. (1)
The good news is that there are Alzheimer’s natural treatment options that can effectively improve this condition. Recently, scientists are also uncovering major Alzheimer’s breakthroughs that may, one day, lead us to a cure.
7 Notable Alzheimer’s Breakthroughs
1. What you eat TOTALLY matters
If you’ve spent any time at all on this website, you know my mantra: Food is medicine. It’s not hocus pocus, either. Hippocrates knew the importance of food in healing the body back in 400 B.C. when he advised people to prevent and treat diseases first and foremost by eating nutrient-packed foods. Modern science is catching up.
Scientists recently found that the Mediterranean diet seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease. A UCLA study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that the Mediterranean diet is one of the main lifestyle factors that seems to keep the brain from developing the toxic plaques and tangles associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. (2)
Plaque is characterized by deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain. Think of tangles of knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells. Both are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer’s.
The new study used PET imaging to study the brain for changes and is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer’s. (3a)
Food staples of the Mediterranean diet include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens like spinach and kale and non-starchy veggies like eggplant, cauliflower, artichokes, tomatoes and fennel)
- olive oil
- nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame seeds used to make tahini)
- legumes and beans (especially lentils and chickpeas used to make hummus)
- herbs and spices (like oregano, rosemary and parsley)
- whole grains
- eating wild-caught fish and seafood at least twice a week
- high-quality, pasture-raised poultry, eggs, cheese, goat milk, and probiotic-rich kefir or yogurt consumed in moderation
- red meat consumed on special occasions or about once weekly
- plenty of fresh water and some coffee or tea
- oftentimes a daily glass of red wine
One study found the MIND diet, a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, specifically designed to help reduce cognitive decline through berries, whole grains, leafy, green vegetables, other vegetables, olive oil, poultry and fish more effectively reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease than the two respective diets did when followed separately. (3b)
Similarly, the ketogenic diet appears to help neurological disease like Alzheimer’s. For example, in one study clinical improvement was observed in Alzheimer’s patients fed a keto diet, and this was marked by improved mitochondrial function. (3c)
2. Exercise is a potent Alzheimer’s preventer
That same UCLA-led study also produced some robust results surrounding exercise’s brain-protecting properties. Those who were more physically active on a regular basis also had the lowest levels of tangles and plaques on the PET scans, meaning they had a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (2)
While any type of exercise is certainly better than sitting around, if you’re time strapped, Burst training, also known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great option. Here are 3 HIIT workouts to help you get started.
Keep in mind, though, that we need more research on how HIIT impacts the brain. We know that it does melt away fat faster than traditional steady state cardio (and a lower BMI lowers your risk of the tangles and plaques associated with Alzheimer’s, according to the latest UCLA study). However, a previous study did find that steady state cardio creates more brain neurons compared to weight training or HIIT. (4)
More research is needed to see if one form of exercise is best to prevent Alzheimer’s. For now, just focus on any physical activity and getting into a healthy BMI range.
3. Your profession could act like an anti-Alzheimer’s drug
Did you know that certain jobs could protect against Alzheimer’s? Humans are social creatures, and working directly with other people instead of primarily with data or things seems to offer protection against Alzheimer’s.
Scientists from Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute looked at 284 brain scans of middle-aged people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. They found that those who worked closely with people in complex work situations were able to tolerate brain damage better than those who worked in more isolated settings. Those who worked in more social settings, examples may include teachers and doctors, seem to be able to better maintain cognitive function. (5, 6)
The researchers say these analyses underscore the importance of social engagement in the work setting for building resilience to Alzheimer’s disease. If you work in isolation and can’t do much to change that, take extra steps to be as social as possible after work hours and on your days off to make your brain more resilient. (7)
4. Marijuana could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease
In what could be a huge finding in the natural Alzheimer’s treatment world, scientists from the Salk Institute discovered that tetrahycrocannabinol, a main component of cannabis, and other compounds found in marijuana could block the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the lab, the plant compounds blocked the disease by easing cellular inflammation and removing toxic amyloid proteins on brain cells. This is a first-of-its-kind study showing that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells. Clinical trials are now needed to see if the promising results hold true in humans, too. (8, 9, 10)
5. Avoiding certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs could lower your Alzheimer’s risk
Drugs linked to dementia now include popular sleep and allergy meds. These include things like diphenhydramine (for allergies), dimenhydrinate (for motion sickness/nausea), a combination of ibuprofen and diphenhydramine citrate (for pain and sleep) and doxylamine (for allergies), among others. These pills have anticholinergic properties, something increasingly linking to dementia.
A 2016 study published in JAMA Neurology used MRI and PET scans to show how anticholinergic drugs lower brain metabolism and trigger higher rates of brain atrophy. Taking anticholinergic drugs also led to worse scores on memory tests. (11)
Certain antidepressants, COPD and asthma medications, along with drugs for overactive bladder issues, could also fall in the anticholinergic category. Therefore, if you need these medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if safer alternatives exist.
6. Your gut plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease
Your gut is responsible for so much more than digestion. In 2016, University of Chicago researchers found that a long-term dose of antibiotics changed the gut bacteria of mice in a way that seemed to help reduce levels of amyloid-beta proteins in mice brains. (13)
This is preliminary research, and I certainly don’t suggest we all start taking antibiotics. But what I like about this breakthrough is that it highlights the fact that our guts — or our microbiome — are very closely tied to our brains and brain-related disease. In fact, many called our guts the “second brain.” Future research could potentially look at more natural ways to keep our guts healthy to protect our brains.
7. A personalized approach to treatment
A 2016 a small study published in the journal Aging, researchers from the Buck Institute and UCLA were able to use personalized treatment to actually reverse Alzheimer’s disease in patients dealing with the early stages of the disease. Using a 36-point therapeutic personalized program that involves comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep optimization, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins and other steps that impact brain chemistry, the team was able to improve some patients’ symptoms to the point where they were actually able to return to work. (14)
(Bonus info: Sleep positions matter. Side sleeping improves one of the brain’s waste-clearing processes, lowering the risk for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.)
This is just more science-backed evidence that lifestyle really matters when it comes to natural Alzheimer’s treatment and prevention.
Top Alzheimer’s Foods to Eat & Avoid
Foods to Eat
Organic, unprocessed foods — Make sure you diet includes plenty of “real foods.” These are foods that don’t have an ingredient listing. Vegetables, clean meats and fruit in moderation are all important foods to consume.
Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E — There may be some connection between free radicals and Alzheimer’s. Antioxidant foods help combat the damage caused by free radicals. Colorful fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants and should be consumed at every meal.
Wild-caught fish — A great source for omega-3 fats, DHA specifically, which are critical for brain health.
Foods high in zinc — Many people with Alzheimer’s are deficient in zinc. Foods high in zinc include pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef and dark chocolate.
Coconut oil — Coconut oil uses include providing the brain with ketones, which serves as brain fuel instead of glucose. Some people have seen significant improvement to memory after adding coconut to their diet.
Foods to Avoid
Any food containing toxins or additives — These foods can possibly be neurotoxic.Be sure to especially avoid the “dirty dozen“: nonorganic fruits and vegetables that are coated with neurotoxic agricultural chemicals. Studies show people with higher levels of organochlorine pesticides in their blood, including DDE, a breakdown compound of DDT, face a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (15, 16) It’s also best to avoid any processed foods.
Alcohol — Alcohol is a toxin and can cause brain cells to die faster than normal. In fact, there is such a thing as “alcohol-related dementia.” Research shows that the frontal lobes of people diagnosed with alcoholism appear particularly susceptible to damage, with evidence of markedly decreased neuron density, volume shrinkage, and altered glucose metabolism and perfusion. (17)
Tap water — Tap water may contain environmental toxins, including aluminum salts (see below), so be sure test your water if you drink tap water (or get a recent water testing report if you drink municipal water) and filter out contaminants. Environmental Working Group issued a great drinking water filter guide to help you find the best one for your circumstance.
Sugar and refined grains — Alzheimer’s may be caused by insulin resistance, similar to diabetes. Therefore, keeping your insulin low by eliminating sugar and refined grains will be an important component in maintaining brain health.
Foods packaged in aluminum containers — Aluminum is neurotoxic at high levels, so it’s best to avoid it. In fact, research shows aluminum enters neurons similarly to how iron does, leading to aluminum accumulation and neurofibrillary damage linked to Alzheimer’s progression. (18) You should particularly avoid heating food in aluminum; the heat is known to release more toxic compounds.
Top 5 Alzheimer’s Natural Treatment Supplements
Along with diet, try these alzheimer’s remedies as part of your natural treatment protocol.
1. Fish Oil with DHA (1,000 mg daily)
The fish oil benefits include DHA, a fatty acid critical for brain function. High-quality fish oil also reduces inflammation.
2. Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU daily)
Vitamin D deficiency could be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Research shows that ample levels of vitamin D can help prevent tangles and plaques from forming on the brain. (19)
3. CoQ10 (200 mg daily)
Levels of CoQ10 decrease as we age and some research has shown that supplementation may slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Ginkgo Biloba (120 mg daily)
Ginkgo biloba helps improve brain circulation and memory and can be an effective Alzheimer’s natural treatment.
5. Phosphatidylserine (300 mg daily)
Phosphatidylserine improves brain cell communication and memory, and it’s shown to be beneficial for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Bonus Remedy: Astaxanthin, a carotenoid antioxidant found in wild-caught salmon, can support brain health. Take 2–4 g 2x daily.
Essential Oils for Alzheimer’s
Frankincense oil and rosemary oil support brain function and neurological development. Put 2 drops of frankincense oil on the roof of your mouth twice daily and rub rosemary oil into scalp after getting out of shower daily.
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, although it’s impacting a growing number of adults. Currently incurable, the disease characterized by toxic plaques and tangles in the brain leads to symptoms of memory loss, personality changes, trouble performing everyday tasks and death.
Scientists have struggled to bring meaningful therapies to the table, but 2016 marks a year of promising findings, including science-backed evidence that food and exercise plays a huge role in prevention.
UCLA researchers used PET scans to show a Mediterranean diet, regular physical activity and a healthy BMI go a long way in lower your risk of developing the toxic plaques and tangles that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
In other Alzheimer’s breakthroughs, researchers have found a link between the gut and Alzheimer’s and between certain popular drugs and the disease. More natural treatments and preventatives may include marijuana, certain foods and supplements — showing promise in reversing Alzheimer’s related inflammation and memory loss.