Alzheimer's Disease

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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2014-07-24 (EDT)

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in North America, and affects over 30 million people worldwide. The disease can be extremely debilitating, and is characterized by memory loss, cognitive decline, motor skill impairment, issues with orientation ability, and loss of language.[1]

Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimers.jpg

Alzheimer's Disease
Causes Heavy Metals, Environmental Toxins, Dietary Factors, Stress
See Also Neurological Conditions, Dementia, Parkinson's Disease, Aging
Books Books on Neurological Conditions
Articles Articles on Neurological Conditions

Naturopathic Assessment

Check out this book The Everything Alzheimer's Book: Reliable, Accessible Information for Patients and Their Families
Check out this book Alzheimer Disease: A Naturopathic Approach


Causal Factors

In order to stimulate the innate ability of the body to heal the causes of disease must be identified and addressed. In the case of Alzheimer's disease the causes are variable and include lifestyle and environmental factors. A detailed assessment is required to determine which factors are contributing to the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Lifestyle

Article Alzheimer's Disease, Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Age-Associated Memory Impairment: Current Understanding and Progress Toward Integrative Prevention, Alt Med; 2009;Vol14(4)
Article Alzheimer’s Disease: The Pros and Cons of Pharmaceutical, Nutritional, Botanical, and Stimulatory Therapies, with a Discussion of Treatment Strategies from the Perspective of Patients and Practitioners , Alt Med; 2010;Vol15(3)
Article Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease with Orthomolecular and Lifestyle Interventions J Orthomolecular Med 2012;Vol27(1)
Article The Prevention of Memory Loss and Progression to Alzheimer's Disease with B Vitamins, Antioxidants and Essential Fatty Acids: A Review of the Evidence J Orthomolecular Med 2012;Vol26(2)
  • Regular physical exercise, including aerobic conditioning, is beneficial and been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.[3]
  • Cognitive exercises including crossword puzzles, music, art, and headline discussion can help to preserve cognitive function. Just as physical exercise is important in preventing dementia and Alzheimers, cognitive exercise is protective against cognitive decline. Interestingly, AD risk declines based on years of formal education, further suggesting that cognitive stimulation decreases risk of Alzheimer's disease.[3]
  • There is an integral relationship between sleep, circadian rhythm physiology and Alzheimer's Disease. Disorders in sleep or circadian disturbances can lead to AD and in turn AD leads to disorders in sleep and circadian disruption.[4]

Social

  • Studies have shown that increased stress has significant impacts on development and progression of cognitive decline. Stress causes the release of cortisol which has been shown to inhibit learning and memory. Techniques used to reduce stress, such as meditation, have been shown to positively benefit cognitive function in AD patients.[3]
  • Economic Status
  • It has been suggested that the correlation between education level and AD risk factor may actually represent socioeconomic status or early childhood medical and psychosocial environment.[5]

Environmental

  • There is evidence that decreased exposure to sunlight in early mornings may increase risk of AD.[2]
  • Aluminum There is some post-mortem evidence of increased aluminum levels in AD sufferers. The neurofibillary tangles considered a hallmark of AD contain up to four times the normal level of aluminum compared to brain tissue in unaffected individuals. It is postulated that aluminum interferes with transport and synthesis of acetylcholine, and the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.[1]

External

  • Accidents
  • Brain injury in early life doubles the risk of AD development, moderate head injury triples the risk of AD, whereas serious, severe head injury quadrupled AD risk.[3]

Genetics

  • AD has a strong genetic component - there are several known genes associated with AD. The gene for the amyloid precursor protein occurs on chromosome 21 which explains the link between Down's syndrome and AD.
  • Like many chronic diseases, while genetic components are important, lifestyle and environmental factors remain crucial in determining AD risk.[2]

Diagnostic Testing

A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is one of exclusion, and can be made after ruling out other possible causes of dementia.

  • Assessment and monitoring of AD can be performed using mini-mental status examinations.
  • There are no laboratory tests available to confirm a diagnosis of AD. Some MRI and PET findings may suggest a diagnosis but are not specific or sensitive and are not routinely used.[5], [2]

The criteria is based on the DSM-IV include the following: [6]

  • The course of AD is gradual with continuing cognitive decline
  • The deficits do not occur only during the course of a delerium.
  • The deficits are not better accounted for by another disorder such as depression or schizophrenia.

Related Symptoms and Conditions

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies presents similarly to AD, and suggest the presence of parkinsonism, hallucinations, and sleep disorders. This correlation between AD and Lewy bodies suggests overlap between the diseases.[5]
  • Mild cognitive impairment is a risk factor for developing dementia, and dementia sufferers have a high rate of transition to AD. Mild cognitive impairment is characterized by impairment of episodic declaritive memory with normal cognitive function and no substantial interference with work, ADLs, or social activities.[5]

Characteristics

Alzheimers.jpg

It is now clear that changes in the brain occur 30 to 40 years before the onset of dementia and AD. Information from PET scans have demonstrated lesions in individuals' brains long before they are symptomatic. The main lesions implicated in AD are known as plaques and tangles. A protein called beta amyloid is found in abundance in AD patients, and forms plaques on the outside of brain cells. These plaques initiate an immune resonse which ultimately leads to the death of neurons. Tangles are formed by the Tau molecule, which structurally supports neurons. When this molecule changes shape it causes tangles which also eventually causes neuronal cell death.[3]

  • Oxidative Stress. There is also evidence that increased free radical damage may increase risk of AD.[2]

Common Symptoms

The symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease includes:[5]

  • Progressive mental deterioration
  • Loss of memory and cognitive functions
  • Inability to carry out activities of daily life (ADLs)
  • Anterograde amnesia typically presents first and most intensely
  • Apathy and loss of intitiative
  • Paranoia
  • Delusional thinking
  • Irritability

Naturopathic Treatment

The goal of naturopathic treatment is to support and work in tandem with the healing power of the body and to address the causal factors of disease with individual treatment strategies. Alzheimer's disease is a chronic disease and requires consistent and comprehensive treatment in order to delay its progression. The earlier the treatment is started the more effective it seems to be.

It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor before engaging in any treatment plan.

Home Care

  • The AD patient's caregiver needs to be very involved in any treatment, including managing supplementation and medication. The nature of AD results in patients not being able to care for themselves as the disease progresses.[1]
  • Home caregivers need to be prepared for, and accepting of, erratic behavior, anger, frustration, confusion, and general upset.[1]
  • Patients will require increasing levels of assistance with activities of daily living.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle recommendations include:

  • The diets that have been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of MS include:
  • Ensure you drink adequate water.
  • Studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercise can increase mental function and slow the progression of AD. It is postulated that this is due to increased blood flow to the brain and production of growth factors important in nerve health.[3]
  • Stress relief is important in AD treatment. In particular, meditation has been shown to decrease cortisol levels, thus preventing further damage to hippocampal neurons. In general it has been shown that meditation has positive benefits on cognition, and meditators have a greater life expectancy than nonmeditators.[3]
  • Addressing sleep disorders can be extremely beneficial. Potential therapeutic strategies for reactivation of the circadian timing system, including melatonin and bright light therapy may also provide benefit.[7]

Naturopathic Therapies

The prescribing of naturopathic therapies requires the guidance of a naturopathic doctor as it depends on a number of factors including the causal factors, a person's age, prescription medications, other conditions and symptoms and overall health. It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor prior to taking any natural therapies.

Naturopathic Therapies for Alzheimer's Disease includes:

Article Citicoline: Applications in Alzheimer's disease, IHP, [1], September 2010
Article Amyloid β -protein of Alzheimer’s Disease: More than Just a Plaque , 2010 April Natural Medicine [2]
Article Ayurvedic Approaches to Prevent and Manage Alzheimer Disease, NDNR; 2012 May
  • Tonify the spleen and strengthen the intellect.
  • Tonify the kidneys, nourish Essence and marrow and strengthen memory.
  • Tonify the heart, strengthen the mind and memory.

References

Reviewed by Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE, ND [3]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Prousky Jonathan (2008) Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Clinical Nutrition CCNM Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Pizzorno Joseph E, Murray Michael T (2006) Textbook of Natural Medicine 3rd ed, Elsevier.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Rakel D (2007) Integrative Medicine 2nd ed. Saunders
  4. Slats D, Claassen JA, Verbeek MM, Overeem S (Apr 2012) Reciprocal interactions between sleep, circadian rhythms and Alzheimer's disease: Focus on the role of hypocretin and melatonin. Ageing Res Rev. PMID: 22575905.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Knopman. (2011) Chap 409 Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias: Goldman's Cecil Medicine 24th ed. Saunders
  6. Dains JE et al. (2007) Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis in Primary Care 3rd ed. Mosby.
  7. Wu YH, Swaab DF (Sep 2007) Disturbance and strategies for reactivation of the circadian rhythm system in aging and Alzheimer's disease. Sleep Med.;8(6):623-36. PMID: 17383938.
  8. Howes MJR et al. (2003) Plants with Traditional Uses and Activities, Relevant to the Management of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Cognitive Disorders. Phytother Res;(17)1-18
  9. Hershoff Asa (2000) Homeopathic Remedies, A Quick and Easy Guide to Common Disorders and their Homeopathic Treatments, Avery Publishing Group, New York
  10. Maciocia G (1994). The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Diseases with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. Churchill Livingstone