Dr. Ruben Valdes DC
Director of Admissions Integrated Health Center of Miami, INC
Member Institute for Functional Medicine
Did you know that every 6 seconds someone gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? It is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the US and kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. Unfortunately conventional healthcare fails to offer a solution. In my years of clinical experience I have never seen a more misunderstood, costly, cruel and devastating disease as Alzheimer’s.
Pharmacological and Monotherapeutic approaches to Alzheimer’s disease to date have sadly not led to successful outcomes in the progression of this now epidemic and devastating disease. A better, more effective solution is urgently warranted.
As we observe National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month this November, it seems like for the first time, the solution is emerging. Every day we are seeing more chronic illnesses see dramatic improvements through an emerging healthcare model called Functional Medicine. Diseases which in the past were believed to be drivers of an inevitable progression like Type 2 diabetes, Auto-Immune disorders, Alzheimer’s and dementia are now starting to see improved outcomes in their prevention, treatment and at times even reversal, through a powerful vehicle called a Systems Biology Approach.
The first step in this new systems approach at treating Alzheimer’s understands the driving forces behind the development of the disorder. Most of the current model of diagnosing the disease happens when a patient starts having cognitive decline goes to the doctor, fails a mental status and through specialized imaging, hallmark markers of the disease are found present like atrophy of the brain and eventually plaque deposition and Tau protein fragments. By the time these diagnostic hallmarks are found and described there is now a full fledge disease process underway. The question however that most specialists fail to adequately answer is why? What are the causes or the metabolic drivers that are leading the brain to degenerate and more importantly is there anything we can do to avoid it and/or improve it?
To best answer this I believe it is critical to first talk about the new categorization system that has emerged for the spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease based on cause.
Alzheimer’s Type 1– Ongoing Inflammation (Systemic inflammation due to a plethora of either physiologic, lifestyle or environmental drivers is leading to inflammation in the brain and resulting in degeneration)
Alzheimer’s Type 2– Trophic, decrease in supportive factors (Disorders like insulin resistance decreasing glucose uptake to the brain, Hormonal Imbalances i.e. Testosterone, Progesterone etc., Thyroid Hormone Issues, poor Fatty Acid Intake, Low Cholesterol, Neural growth factor, etc.) result in the brain having a lack of fuel and building blocks to thrive and hence results in degeneration.
Alzheimer’s Type 1.5– Glycotoxic (combination of Type 1 and Type 2). Commonly seen in long term type 2 diabetics that have not worked to improve or reverse their diabetes.
Alzheimer’s Type 3– Toxic Illness (one of the most common forms is chronic exposure to toxic chemicals including but not limited to aluminum, mercury, etc.)
It is critically important to point out that these processes can take between 10-25 years to start manifesting the hallmark symptoms of dementia/Alzheimer’s. What that means is that for someone who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at 59, the metabolic processes that led to this devastating diagnosis started likely in their 20’s. This is very alarming! It means that amongst our younger generations there are millions of us developing the metabolic underlying issues that will eventually lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. There are some hallmark signs and symptoms we should all be very aware, as they might be the earliest indicators that our brain is headed for trouble. Unfortunately many doctors treat these as signs of normal aging, when we now know that none of us should be seeing cognitive decline and much less neuro-degeneration to the degree where it produces symptoms in our lifetimes. It is not that you are getting older; it is that your brain is getting sicker. Some of these symptoms are:
- Mental Fog- Cloudy Thinking, difficulty concentrating, slow recall.
- Forgetfulness- not feeling like your brain or your recall is the same. Not as sharp.
- Depression- Depression with no real reason to be depressed, this is a major marker of brain issues, especially if found in combination with any of the 2 previous points.
Additionally, anything that affects your health affects your brain; so many metabolic disorders can increase your risk for cognitive decline such as:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Thyroid Disease
- Autoimmune Disease
- Long term Statin drug use
The Systems Biology Approach, in a powerful study led by UCLA Neurologist and Lifelong Alzheimer’s Researcher Dr. Dale Bresseden MD in conjunction with tools acquired from the Institute for Functional Medicine (Aging, Sept 2014, VOL 6 No.9), was designed to address many of the root causes for the cognitive decline in these patients, instead of just addressing the symptoms or the consequences of the problem. In the first study 9/10 Patients showed significant improvement both subjectively and objectively and continued to see improvement as long as they stayed on the program. A follow up study showed improvement in 15 out of 16 patients; the patient with no improvement was a stage 4 Alzheimer’s patient who was too far advanced in the disease. Currently over 100 patients have successfully gone through Dr. Bredessen protocols with marked improvements to their cognitive decline and even structurally seeing volumetric changes in the Hippocampus of the brain. There is a lot we can do to help Alzheimer’s patients and to help ourselves to protect our brains from the risk of developing this devastating disease. It’s a great triumph for medicine.
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