Few diseases are feared more than dementia.
Dementia is a general term that means memory or thinking problems that impair work and other activities.
Alzheimer's disease accounts for about 3/4 of dementia cases, and cases are expected to triple by 2050.
In the United States, more than five million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and 13 million are expected to have it by 2050.
Dementia is often referred to as “senility”, which reflects the mistaken belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.
Scientists are still trying to reveal the causes of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia … but efforts to develop effective drugs have been virtually fruitless.
So it comes as exciting news that a combination of diet, supplements, and exercise appears able to reverse symptoms quite dramatically.
Before we look at the remarkable results, let's quickly review the causes of dementia, and protective factors.
Aside from Alzheimer's disease, dementia can be caused by depression, thyroid problems, and vitamin deficiencies.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – usually manifesting as mild memory loss – is often a precursor to dementia.
An official diagnosis of MCI usually signals problems developing in the brain that will likely lead to dementia.
New evidence suggests that people who report and fear memory loss (“subjective cognitive impairment”) are at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease, even when their performance on MCI tests is normal.
Fortunately, there's good evidence that you can acquire a “cognitive reserve” that helps prevent or reduce the symptoms of dementia.
You can build up your cognitive reserve though higher levels of education, regular exercise, healthy, Mediterranean-style diets, or learning a second language.
People with larger social networks are also less likely to develop dementia, especially if those social connections are meaningful or rewarding.
Conversely, factors that can drain your cognitive reserve include a prior head injury, high blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol or drug abuse, and high cholesterol.
Landmark clinical study sees lifestyle treatment for dementia
The new findings come from a small “pilot” study in 10 people – five men and five women – aged 55 to 75, who suffered from memory and/or thinking problems.
Out of the 10, six people had either been forced to stop working or were struggling with their jobs.
Each patient's memory and/or thinking problems were associated with a different diagnosis:
- Alzheimer's disease (AD) – 3 cases
- Subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) – 3 cases
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or borderline AD – 4 cases
The study was conducted by researcher Dale E. Bredesen, M.D., from the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research at UCLA.
Dr. Bredesen used an approach that combined several diet and lifestyle factors, which he calls “systems therapeutics.”
Remarkably, nine of 10 participants showed “marked” improvement ... a result that provides the first evidence that memory loss can be reversed through diet and lifestyle changes.
(To a large extent, Dr. Bredesen's program echoes the one urged by David Perlmutter, M.D., in his bestseller, Grain Brain.)
Each patient's program was a bit different, but all involved similar improvements in diet, added exercise, better sleep, and a regimen of brain-boosting supplements.
The results were incredibly encouraging:
- Nine of the 10 volunteers displayed subjective or objective memory and thinking improvements within 3‐6 months. (The one failure was a patient with very late stage Alzheimer's disease.)
- All six who'd had to stop working or were struggling with their jobs either returned to work or continued working with improved brain performance.
- The improvements have lasted two and one‐half years for the patient (a 67-year-old woman) who's followed Dr. Bredesen's program the longest.
As Dr. Bredesen wrote, “These results suggest that a larger, more extensive trial of this therapeutic program is warranted.”
And he made an important point: “The results also suggest that, at least early in the course, cognitive decline may be driven in large part by metabolic processes.”
That's very good news, because research has already revealed how to alter people's metabolisms for the better.
Dr. Bredesen's program draws on cutting edge nutrition/health research and takes the best-researched pages from the holistic health and Paleo diet playbooks.
Each patient followed a slightly different regimen, but these lists capture the key elements:
- Optimal sleep
- Aerobic exercise
- Far fewer grains
- More vegetables, fruits, and wild fish*
- No simple (white) carbohydrates (white flour goods; potatoes)
- More antioxidant-rich foods (berries, cocoa, coffee, tea, colorful veggies, greens)
- More fat – increase the proportion of daily calories from fat and reduce the proportion from carbs. This shift induces ketogenesis**, which reduces body fat, inflammation, and insulin levels.
*We suspect that Dr. Bredesen specified wild fish because he knows that farmed fish are much lower in omega-3s versus their wild counterparts (except farmed salmon, which equals or exceeds wild salmon's omega-3 content), and that all farmed fish are higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.
**Ketogenic diets shift your body from burning carbs to burning fats. A ketogenic diet derives half of calories or more from beneficial fats ... a proportion you can achieve by cutting back on carbs in favor of foods such as fish, grass-fed meat and dairy, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, and raw nuts. If you have a serious health condition, it's smart to consult a physician before you raise your fat intake over 40 percent of calories.
- HgbA1c levels below 5.5
- Fasting insulin levels below 7
- Fish oil*
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K2
- B Vitamins (all)
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- N-Acetyl cysteine
- Coconut oil - One teaspoon
- Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)
- Mixed tocopherols and Tocotrienols
- Ashwagandha herb extract 500mg
- Curcumin (Turmeric extract) 400mg
- Bacopa monniera herb extract 250mg
- Vitamin D (2,000-5,00 IU to attain blood levels of 50-100ng/ml)
*Providing 2000mg of omega-3s (DHA plus EPA).
To this list of supplements one could add other brain-boosting herbs and “nutraceuticals”, such as phosphatidyl serine, acetylcholine, Huperzine A, and Gotu kola (Centella asiatica).
This is really big news.
We hope that the media trumpets these results, which suggest enormous potential for lifestyle changes to prevent or delay mental decline ... and restore brain function in people who are already showing symptoms of decline.
- Alzheimer's Association. What Is Dementia? Accessed at http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp
- Bredesen DE, John V. Next generation therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease. EMBO Mol Med. 2013 Jun;5(6):795-8. doi: 10.1002/emmm.201202307. Epub 2013 May 23.
- Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program. Aging. September 27, 2014. Accessed at http://www.impactaging.com/papers/v6/n9/abs/100690a.html
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- Qian ZM, Ke Y. Huperzine A: Is it an Effective Disease-Modifying Drug for Alzheimer's Disease? Front Aging Neurosci. 2014 Aug 19;6:216. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00216. eCollection 2014. Review.
- Rao RV, Descamps O, John V, Bredesen DE. Ayurvedic medicinal plants for Alzheimer's disease: a review. Alzheimers Res Ther. 2012 Jun 29;4(3):22. doi: 10.1186/alzrt125.
- World Alzheimer Report, 2009, http://www.alz.co.uk/research/files/WorldAlzheimerReport.pdf