About two years ago a teacher at my college seemed distracted, but was trying her best to be present as our three hour class wore on. During the break I asked if there was something troubling her, and she shared that her mother was near death… but in many ways had left her long ago. Her mother had Alzheimer’s disease.
Around that time I wrote an article on Alzheimer’s disease Â and listed some of the conventional Western medicine treatments used to buy time, as well as some integrative things we can do. One of the suggestions was to take niacinamide, and I have to say I’m still optimistic about that research.
More recently, Dr. David Williams has written extensively in his newsletter, Alternatives, about the connection between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimers. In fact, some researcher’s are beginning to nickname Alzheimer’s disease Â “Type 3 diabetes” due to the link between insulin and the plaque(s) that do the damage to the nerves in the brain. I’m not sure if you can access the article without a subscription, but you might try Googling: Alternatives vol. 15, No. 11, November 2012, and Alternatives vol. 16, No.1, Jan. 2013.
Some of Dr. Williams’ suggested approaches to help keep our blood sugar and insulin levels balanced include:
-avoiding sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
-getting more Omega-3 fatty acids (interestingly, Omega 3’s counteract the effects of HFCS when we can’t avoid the stuff, and let’s face it, it’s seemingly in EVERYTHING!)
-exercise, even in moderate amounts has shown beneficial increases in brain volume in the hippocampus–the area of memories.
-eating more Â in keeping with Â the Mediterranean diet
-adding more turmeric, almonds, apples, and surprise! drinking up to three cups of coffee a day.
Here is my 2010 article. I’m sorry it is fairly lengthy, but if this is a subject of interest in your life, it should be a fast read:
Buying Time: Alzheimerâ€™s Drugs and Alternative Options
It is estimated 1 out of 8 Americans will develop Alzheimerâ€™s disease.Â
While the statistics are scary, there is hope in the form of drugs and natural treatments.
By Gail Gates
This was a bad day. Elsie, age 98, watched in distress as her brother Martin, 92, crouched beneath the nursing homeâ€™s table and refused to come out. Wearing rumpled pajamas and day old whiskers, Martin demanded his toys and incessantly called for his mother. On good days Martin recognized his sister and asked why they were in a nursing home, but on days like today he played among the shadows of a childhood long past. Elsie had heard of â€œold-timers,â€ as she called it, but had not witnessed Alzheimerâ€™s disease, also known as AD, in her family until now. Martin not only showed all the classic symptoms; he was quickly deteriorating as the medical world and his family stood helplessly on the sidelines.
The Alzheimerâ€™s Association states that 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases are AD related. Martinâ€™s story echoes a common pattern of progressionâ€¦small memory lapses, amusing at first, were shrugged off as payment for a busy life and aging. Over time the forgetfulness and confusion began to interfere with daily routines. Martin could easily recall events from decades earlier, but not those from the day before. He began repeating questions, found familiar tasks difficult, lost track of time, and had sudden changes in mood and behavior. Medical tests, including blood work and a brain scan, confirmed the diagnosis of mid-to-late stage Alzheimerâ€™s disease.Â Because AD is a fatal brain disease, Martinâ€™s family made the difficult choice to place him in a nursing home where he would have supervision 24 hours a day.
Extending Time with Drugs
An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Research on AD patients suggests a buildup of plaque, along with protein-formed tangles, interfere with nerve cell transmission in the brain. Scientists are unsure why this happens or what mechanism triggers the pattern of brain cell death. While a cure remains elusive, pharmaceutical companies have developed several medications that delay the progression of Alzheimerâ€™s for 6 to 12 months. In some cases doctors may choose to combine drugs to control and delay the two main symptoms of ADâ€”behavioral and cognitive.
Behavioral symptoms affect actions and feelings. In AD patients this can be witnessed as confusion and fear when there are changes in surroundings, caregivers, and schedules. Non-drug approaches, such as the creation of an environment which is easy for the patient to navigate and allows a sense of continuity, comfort, and security, has proven helpful. However, for AD patients suffering from anxiety, sleep loss, or depression, symptom-specific medications may need to be prescribed in addition to non-drug treatments.
Cognitive symptoms include memory, language, and thought processes. Two types of medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for slowing cognitive related Alzheimerâ€™s symptoms: cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine.
It is believed that as AD progresses less and less acetylcholine is produced by the brain. Cholinesterase inhibitors keep acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that links memory and learning in the brain, from breaking down. Prescription names for cholinesterase inhibitors are:
- Aricept (donepezil)â€”which works in early stages of AD.
- Exelon (rivastigmine)â€”for early to mid stages of AD.
- Razadyne (galantamine)â€” for early to mid stages of AD.
Common side effects of the cholinesterase inhibitors include: nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite.
Memantine works with glutamate, a different chemical messenger in the brain. In AD, the brain produces too much glutamate and the accumulating toxins result in brain cell death. Memantine is believed to regulate the process that stimulates glutamate activation. The prescription name for memantine is Namenda and it is approved for moderate to severe AD. Common side effects are dizziness, headache, constipation and confusion.
Because the cholinesterase inhibitors work differently from memantine, they are sometimes prescribed together. However, in addition to potential side effects, AD drugs only slow mental decline in half of the patients taking them according to Consumer Reports Health.Org. Their research found that, compared to a placebo, just 10 to 20 percent found benefit.Â At that percentage of short term effectiveness, is it worth the cost?
Considering the average expense for an AD drug is $148 and $195 a month, and that patients often take several medications at a time, this can be a financial burden. Even if the patient has insurance or Medicare, the out-of-pocket costs can be high. Is it worth it? Dr. Bryon Schaeffer, a physician whose grandmother has Alzheimerâ€™s disease, believes it can be. â€œFrom a purely financial point of view it CAN be worth the cost if, by delaying the progression of Alzheimerâ€™s disease, you can keep someone out of an expensive nursing home longer.â€ Yet Dr. Schaeffer acknowledges the limitations of the drugs. â€œThe effectiveness can be shown in large groups in a study, but there is no test to know in an individual how much it is helping.â€
In reaction to the expense and confusion of traditional treatments many people are considering natural and alternative remedies. But what is researched, safe, and effective?
Alternative Alzheimerâ€™s Treatment
One of the more exciting 2008 studies coming out of the University of California, Irvine, (UCI) was the discovery that niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3, reversed Alzheimerâ€™s disease in mice. Kim Green, UCI scientist and lead author of the study, found that treated Alzheimerâ€™s mice performed at the same level as normal mice when the dose equivalent of 2,000 to 3,000 mg of niacinamide was added to the drinking water. Green states, â€œThe vitamin completely prevented cognitive decline associated with the disease, bringing them back to the level theyâ€™d be at if they didnâ€™t have the pathology.â€ A clinical study on humans is currently underway at UCI funded, in part, by the Alzheimerâ€™s Association.
The UCI study echoes the work Dr. William Kaufman pioneered in niacinamide deficiencies in the 1930â€™s. He discovered that water-soluble niacinamide gets absorbed by the human body within 3 hours. After much research, he believed 250 mg taken every three hours was the most effective level for general aging issues. For severe conditions like Alzheimerâ€™s, a 250mg dose every 1 Â½ hours was suggested.
â€œAt this point I canâ€™t say for certain that niacinamide in high doses will completely reverse memory loss in humans the way it did in mice,â€ says Dr. David Williams, a traditionally trained doctor who researches alternative health treatments. â€œBut considering its safetyâ€”a person would have to take 375,000 mg a day of niacinamide to be toxicâ€”andÂ costâ€”a bottle of 250 tablets averages $15â€”niacinamideÂ is certainly worth a try, particularly since no other viable options are currently available.â€
Opponents cite concerns over product purity, safety, potential drug interactions, and the lack of conclusive research. The Alzheimerâ€™s Association warns consumers to be careful. While acknowledging natural remedies such as Huperzine A (a moss extract used in Traditional Chinese medicine for centuries), Omega-3 fatty acids (in 2006 researchers found evidence that omega-3s stimulate the growth of the branches that connect one cell to another), and phosphatidylserine (a lipid found in the membranes that surround nerve cells), may be valid treatment options, the Alzheimerâ€™s Association insists more research is needed.
Choices When There Are None
“If you see a little less spring to my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you’ll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway.”
-Charlton Heston upon learning he had Alzheimerâ€™s disease
With no known cure, the number of Alzheimerâ€™s cases is expected to exceed 14 million by 2050. AD does not discriminate, and it does not give pardons. It affects the famousâ€”former president Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 10 years before his death in 2004â€”as well as the not-so-famous. Although rare, some people have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimerâ€™s in their 30â€™s and 40â€™s.
For families like Martin and Elsie, Alzheimerâ€™s disease remains a baffling thief that steals memories, relationships, and ultimatelyâ€¦ lives. After a year in the nursing home, Martin passed away and left Elsie wondering why nothing could have been done to help her brother. Research to unlock the mysteries of AD is ongoing, and scientists believe major progress will be made in the treatment and prevention of AD in the next few decades. Until then, existing treatment options may curb the progression of the disease, and increase quality of life. Buying time with medications may seem like a false gift, but for families watching a loved one slide away into the fog of Alzheimerâ€™s disease, every second matters.
Five Alzheimerâ€™s Myths:
1.Memory loss is a normal condition of aging.
Truthâ€”experts feel severe memory loss is part of serious illness and not an expected symptom of growing older. At this time there is no scientific basis to believe memory loss is natural as we grow older.
2.Â Only older people can get Alzheimerâ€™s.
Truthâ€”Alzheimerâ€™s disease can strike people in their 30â€™s, 40â€™s, and 50â€™s.Â It is estimated that of the 5.3 million people diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s, 200,000 of them are under the age of 65.
3.Â Silver dental fillings increase risk of Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
Truthâ€”there is no scientific evidence between Alzheimerâ€™s and silver dental fillings. The mercury within amalgam fillings is a heavy metal that is a known toxic, however, agencies like the U.S. Public Health Service, the World Health Organization, and the FDA all concur there is no risk factor between the inert mercury in a silver filling and Alzheimerâ€™s.
4.Â There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimerâ€™s disease.
Currently there is no cure or treatment that will stop the progression of AD. FDA approved drugs may slow the symptoms for 6-12 months in some individuals who take them.
5.Â Alzheimerâ€™s is not fatal.
It is. AD destroys brain cells while slowly Â erasing a personâ€™s ability to connect with others, and to perform daily functions. Most people diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s disease die within 10 years.
For more information on Alzheimerâ€™s disease contact alz.org (Alzheimerâ€™s association.Â 24 hour hotline at 1-800-272-3900.
Alzheimer’s Association. What is Alzheimer’s. Exelonpatch manufacturer. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease-what_is_alzheimers.asp
Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center. Alzheimer’s Disease Medications Fact Sheet. National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/medicationsfs.htm
Dr. David Williams. (2009). The $30 Cure for Alzheimer’s. Alternatives. Retrieved from http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/
Drug, P. Could it be Alzheimer’s? Aricept. Retrieved from http://www.alzheimersrxtreatment.com/?source=yahoo&HBX_PK=alzeimers+treatment&HBX_OU=50&o=50:23060039|165867467|362
Green, K. (2008). Vitamin B3 reduces Alzheimer’s symptoms, lesions. The Journal of Neuroscience. Retrieved from http://www.jneurosci.org
Mayo Clinic Staff. Alzheimer’s treatments: What’s on the horizon? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-treatments/AZ00048
Oliver Sacks M.D. Quotes about music therapy. American Music Therapy Association. Retrieved from http://www.musictherapy.org/quotes.html
Patch, E. Is it Just Old Age or Is It Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. Exelonpatch manufacturer. www.exelonpatch.com/info/Diagnosing_Treating_Alzhemers_Dementia/recognizing-alzheimers-disease.jsp?utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=alzheimer treatment&irmasrc=EXLWB0080&utm_source=Yahoo&utm_campaign=ExelonPatch_Unbranded4.7.09
Reports, C. Alzheimer’s Drugs: Summary of Recommendations. Consumer Reports Health.org. Retrieved from http://www.consumerreports.org/health/best-buy-drugs/alzheimers.htm
I would like to thank Dr. Bryon Schaeffer for answering my questions via e-mail, even though he is a very busy man.