Could This be the Key Factor Spiking the Rise in Dementia and Alzheimer's?
Posted By Dr. Mercola | September 28 2010
Large doses of B vitamins can halve the rate of brain shrinkage in elderly people with memory problems. It may slow their progression toward dementia.
A two-year clinical trial was the largest to date into the effect of B vitamins on "mild cognitive impairment," a condition which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
"[Researchers] conducted a two-year trial with 168 volunteers with MCI who were given either a vitamin pill containing very high doses of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, or a placebo dummy pill ...
[O]n average the brains of those taking the vitamin treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76 percent a year, while those taking the dummy pill had an average brain shrinkage of 1.08 percent."
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
We are in the midst of an Alzheimer's epidemic. Odds are absolutely overwhelming that you personally know someone with this disease or who has recently died from it.
In the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer's will affect one in four Americans.
According to the Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report for 2009, 5.3 million people in the U. S. now have the disease, which bumps it up to the sixth leading cause of death.
"Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects around 16 percent of people aged over 70 worldwide and is characterized by slight problems with memory loss, language or other mental functions.
MCI does not usually interfere with daily life, but around 50 percent of people diagnosed with it go on to develop the far more severe Alzheimer's disease within five years.
Alzheimer's is a mind-wasting disease for which there are few treatments and no cure, and which affects 26 million people around the world."
Absolute Best Way to Treat Alzheimer's
Believe me, I don't mention these statistics to frighten you, but to warn you, because this is a bugger of a disease to beat when you have it.
You want to avoid this disease for sure, and the BEST way to "treat" it is to lead a lifestyle that will prevent it in the first place. And I can confidently assure you that this is possible.
I have absolutely no doubt that I will successfully avoid this disease as my lifestyle prevents it.
It is important to understand that dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, is NOT a normal part of aging, which makes the steady rise in dementia cases all that more frustrating.
Clearly, determining the underlying causes of these brain disorders is imperative if we're going to slow down or reverse this troubling trend.
In this latest PLoS study, extremely high doses of B vitamins were successful in limiting brain shrinkage, which is a common precursor of Alzheimer's disease.
According to one of the co-authors:
"This is a very dramatic and striking result. It's much more than we could have predicted It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay development of Alzheimer's in many people who suffer from mild memory problems."
This is good news, but there are certain factors that must be considered here, and I believe there are other, more effective strategies to combat Alzheimer's, which I'll review at the end of this article.
B Vitamins for Optimal Brain Health
B vitamins are indeed important for optimal brain health, and may even serve as an adjunct to "emergency" medicine in some cases. For example, vitamin B3 (niacin) may be helpful in your neurological recovery after you've experienced a stroke.
In a previous study on the impact of B12 on brain wasting, seniors with lower vitamin B12 levels at the start of the study also had a greater decrease in brain volume at the end.
Those with the lowest B12 levels had a six-fold greater rate of brain volume loss compared with those who had the highest levels!
Interestingly, none of the participants were actually deficient in vitamin B12 -- they just had low levels within a normal range.
This goes to show that "normal" is not necessarily the same as "optimal" when you're talking about nutrients. You don't have to be clearly deficient in order to experience a decline in health. The study's lead researcher commented on this, saying:
"Our results suggest that rather than maintaining one's B12 at a level that is just above the cut-off for deficiency, it might be prudent to aim to keep it higher up than normal range."
This is really important to hear, as most people would assume that if their levels are within the normal range, they're fine. In reality, you cannot always count on the "normal" reference ranges that come with your blood tests.
Vitamin D is another example of a test that lists "normal" ranges that are nowhere near adequate to keep you healthy.
Here, in this latest PloS study, the participants received very high doses of B vitamins. The vitamin pills, which are so potent you can only obtain them with a prescription, contained:
- 800 micrograms (mcg) folic acid -- US RDA is 400 mcg/day
- 500 mcg B12 (cyanocobalamin) US RDA is only 2.4 mcg/day
- 20 mg B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride) -- US RDA 1.3-1.5 mg/day
As one of the researchers stated, this is actually "a drug-, not a vitamin intervention."
The study was based on the presumption that by controlling the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, you might be able to reduce the amount of brain shrinkage, which tends to precipitate Alzheimer's.
High levels of homocysteine are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's, as well as heart disease, and stroke.
B vitamins are homocysteine suppressant, and vitamin B12 in particular is known as essential for neurological function.
It seemed to work. After two years, those who had received the vitamin B regimen suffered significantly less brain shrinkage compared to those who had received a placebo.
According to Reuters,
"People who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the start of the trial benefited the most from the treatment, with their brains shrinking at half the rate of those on the placebo.
Although the trial was not designed to measure cognitive ability, the researchers found those people who had lowest rates of shrinkage had the highest scores in mental tests."
What Do We Know about the Causes of Alzheimer's?
Some believe that we need to wait for the ultimate placebo controlled randomized trial to "prove" an approach before recommending it. I believe that is an absolutely foolhardy approach when we are in the midst of an emergency.
People are losing their minds at an alarming and increasing rate, and we need to act now.
So it makes sense to use natural approaches, which are essentially without any side effects and are very inexpensive. Many of them, like exercise, only cost you time.
So, what do we actually know?
Well, we know that risk factors for brain atrophy include high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, and as already mentioned, brain shrinkage typically precipitates the more serious forms of dementia. If you have followed this newsletter you know we are constantly reviewing lifestyle changes to address these risk factors.
Alzheimer's disease is a chronic form of dementia that results in severe memory loss and eventually death. The average lifespan of someone with Alzheimer's is only about eight years, although many can, survive up to 20 years with proper care.
The primary genetic risk factor is the presence of the Apo lipoprotein E epsilon4 (APOE e4) allele, which is more common among Africans, Inuits, Amerindians, Northern Europeans than southern Europeans.
But genetics certainly cannot account for the vast majority of Alzheimer's cases. Something else is affecting us...
The exact causes and mechanisms behind Alzheimer's disease are still not entirely clear, but the disease has been linked to a number of other health conditions, nutritional deficiencies, and environmental toxins.
Health conditions associated with Alzheimer's:
- Obesity, especially increased belly fat
- Insulin resistance and diabetes Diabetics have up to 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease
- Elevated uric acid levels
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Intracellular T3 (immune system cells) deficiency
- Heart disease
Nutritional deficiencies associated with Alzheimers:
- Insufficient omega-3 fats
- Elevated homocysteine levels due to vitamin B6, B12 and folate deficiencies
- Vitamin K deficiency
Environmental toxins associated with Alzheimer's:
- Aluminum toxicity
- Mercury toxicity
One of the factors that I believe are among the most important of all is insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance and/or diabetes is a major factor in elevating your blood pressure, as well as for gaining excess weight; elevating your lipids, blood sugar and uric acid levels; and developing heart disease.
If you are producing too much insulin, you're going to be at risk for all of these health problemsalong with brain atrophy and Alzheimer's as well.
Yes, once you begin to see the circular cause and effect relationships between these common health problems, it becomes easier to understand how you can prevent nearly ALL disease, including something as tricky as Alzheimer's.
Special Notes About Vitamin B12
Should you decide to boost your B12 intake with a supplement, please be aware that oral or sublingual B12 tablets do not work very well. Injectable B12 is considered the gold standard, however sublingual sprays are just as effective as the injectable versions and far more convenient and less painful to use.
You also need to beware of the fact that certain common drugs can cause you to become deficient in B12.
Prilosec (omeprazole), for example, has been clearly shown to decrease B12 absorption. This might be because it decreases your production of intrinsic factor, which is needed for proper B12 absorption.
Other medications may have similar adverse effects as well.
How to Prevent Alzheimer's Without Drugs
As you probably know, the primary treatment strategy employed by conventional medicine is drugs. Unfortunately, drugs such as Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl, may do more harm than good.
This class of drugs is known to provoke slower heart rates, significantly increasing your chances of getting a permanent pacemaker, as well as increasing your risk of hip fracture.
Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that ginko biloba is effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. One study published in 2006 found that the herb works just as well as Aricept (donepezil) in treating mild or moderate Alzheimer's-related dementia.
It's important to realize that ginko biloba will not cure the underlying problem, however but it is certainly safer to use compared to conventional drugs.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to significantly reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer's.
While effectively preventing associated health risks, such as obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and heart disease, these simple lifestyle changes can also help keep your brain in optimal working order well past your 60's.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed and/or vitamin D3 supplements.
- Eat a nutritious diet, rich in folate. Ideally you'll want to design your diet around your nutritional type. Everyone, however, regardless of nutritional type will want to avoid fructose as much as possible.
Strict vegetarian diets have been shown to increase your Alzheimer's risk, whereas diets high in omega-3's lower your risk. However, vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day.
- Eat plenty of high-quality omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. I recommend avoiding most fish, however, because although fish is naturally high in omega-3, most fish stocks are now severely contaminated with mercury.
High intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA helps by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder. Researchers have also said DHA "dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer's gene."
- Keep your fasting insulin levels below 3. There is no question that insulin resistance is one of the most pervasive influences on brain damage, as it contributes massively to inflammation, which will prematurely degenerate your brain.
- Avoid and remove mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed.
Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed. Please be careful as you could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire like I did if you see a conventional dentist to do the exchange. ONLY see a high quality biologically trained dentist, or your health could be seriously affected.
- Avoid aluminum, such as antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, etc.
- Exercise regularly. According to one study, the odds of developing Alzheimer's were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during their leisure time, between the ages of 20 and 60. I would strongly recommend reviewing the Peak Fitness Technique for my specific recommendations.
- Avoid flu vaccinations as they contain both mercury and aluminum!
- Eat plenty of blueberries. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.
- Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
- Avoid anticholinergic drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain night-time pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
A recent study found that those who took drugs classified as 'definite anticholinergics' had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment. In those who were not carriers of the specific gene, APOE ε4 allele which I mentioned earlier in this article, the risk was over seven times higher.
Regularly taking two of these drugs further increased the risk of cognitive impairment.