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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia in people over the age of 65, affecting over 4 million North Americans. The disease is characterized by abnormal deposits of a protein called beta-amyloid (plaque) in the brain as well as by twisted fibers caused by changes in a protein called "tau" (tangles). Before arriving at a diagnosis, tests are needed to rule out a stroke, a brain tumor, and other possible causes of dementia.

Blood tests can uncover genetic markers for the disease. The cause of Alzheimer's disease remains unknown, but researchers theorize that chromosomal and genetic factors are responsible for some cases. the increased incidence of Alzheimer's among those with Down's syndrome, which is caused by a chromosomal abnormality, seems to support this theory. Researchers have discovered a genetic marker, apolipoprotein E, which can be detected by blood tests, that identifies those likely to develop the disease. About 40 percent of sufferers have the gene that produces this protein.

In addition, hormonal factors are under study. Women are afflicted more often than men; studies suggest that estrogen replacement may be protective. A study published in 2003 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, has thrown cold water on this hypothesis. Women over the age of 65 who were taking combined estrogen-progestin therapy had a higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease than those not taking hormones. Thyroid disorders are also linked to the disease, while the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) has been linked with a reduced Alzheimer's risk. These drugs may reduce inflammation in the brain linked with the disease. There is insufficient evidence for physicians to recommend taking anti-inflammatory drugs to ward off Alzheimer's

Danger : Aluminum ?

There have been other intriguing leads, but researchers have been unable to pinpoint any specific dietary factors that increase the risk of or help to prevent Alzheimer's disease. Some research has implicated aluminum, which has been found in the abnormal tangles of brain cells in some Alzheimer's patients. However, extensive studies have failed to prove that aluminum actually causes the disease, and it now seems more likely that aluminum is found in Alzheimer's brains because the diseased brain retains it.

 

Avoid taking antacids containing aluminum. Although most researchers discount the aluminum factor, some argue that while the metal may not cause the disease, its increased concentration in the Alzheimer's brain worsens the condition. They suggest that patients avoid taking antacids with large amounts of aluminum or using cookware that allows the metal to leach into food. Concern has also been raised about the aluminum content of drinking water in areas where aluminum compounds are used as flocculating agents in city water treatment.

 

Diet and Alzheimer's

Researchers are studying the role of the B-vitamin folate in lowering risk of Alzheimer's. This vitamin helps regulate blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, high levels of which may play a part in the development of the disease. Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's have high homocysteine levels and there is evidence that high concentrations of homocysteine in healthy adults may lead to Alzheimer's. In addition to folate, vitamins B6 and B12 help regulate homecysteine levels. People with high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure are also at increased risk and taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, particularly the "stains," has been shown to reduce the risk. Basically, it appears that what is good for the heart is good for the brain.

 

The brain is rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is plentiful in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring, and sardines. Low levels of this fat have been associated with age-related dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

 

Antioxidants may be preventives. They mop up free radicals and have been touted as possible preventives for Alzheimer's since the body's ability to neutralize these rogue substances declines with age. The most recent studies, however, may end the hype. In a large trial published in 2003 in the Archives of Neurology, researchers at Columbia University found that people who had high intakes of vitamins C, E, and beta carotene did not have a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. Trials with gingko biloba, another antioxidant, have also been less than encouraging.

 

People with Alzheimer's disease have abnormally low levels of choline acetyltransferase, an enzyme necessary to make acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be instrumental in learning and memory. Also, the brain cells most affected by Alzheimer's are those that normally respond to acetylcholine. In addition, tacrine (Cognex), a drug that appears to improve the memory of some Alzheimer's patients, increases levels of acetylcholine. Some nutrition researchers theorize that supplements or foods high in lecithin or choline (the major component of acetylcholine) can also slow the progression of Alzheimer's by raising acetylcholine production. So far, studies have failed to document its value, but some nutritionists feel that foods high in lecithin and choline may help forestall symptoms and will certainly do no harm; these include egg yolks, organ meats, soy products, peanuts, wheat germ, and whole grains.

 

Monitor nutrition carefully. As the disease progresses, its victims may forget to eat or eat only sweets or other favorite foods. patients should be persuaded to eat nutritionally balanced meals. they may need to be spoon-fed if they have difficulty feeding themselves. A multivitamin may also be advisable; high-dose supplements should not be administered unless specifically recommended by a physician.

 

Even in small amounts, alcohol destroys brain cells, a loss that a healthy person can tolerate but one that can accelerate the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Alcohol interacts with antidepressants, sedatives, and other medications prescribed for Alzheimer's patients. It's a good idea to avoid all alcohol.

 

Evidence is accumulating for the "use it or lose it" theory of reducing Alzheimer's risk. People who exercise their brains with education, puzzles, games, and museum visits seem to be less sensitive to brain damage.

     
     

Drug for late-stage Alzheimer's

A key to preventing Alzheimers found

Brain Injections Lower Alzheimer's Plaques in Mice

Fish oil and Alzheimer's disease

Brain 'drain'

Folic acid for Alzheimer's ?

Treating dementia

Stem Cells And The Mystery Of Human Growth

Cognitive decline

A head start

10 ways to spot Alzheimer's early

Getting to the root of Alzheimer's

7 simple steps to prevent Alzheimer's

Zinc's link to Alzheimer's

Aluminum in common foods and drinks may cause Alzheimer's

Aspirin therapy may prevent Alzheimer's disease

Living with Alzheimer's Disease

8 surprising ways to avoid Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Disease

Medical proof that food is powerful medicine

 

     

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