In this blog, we will look at cognitive impairment & Alzheimer’s Disease in relation to various lifestyle factors. You will learn:
- How lifestyle can affect your cognitive health
- What lifestyle factors can influence cognitive impairment & Alzheimer’s Disease
- How to address cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s
Do you know what cognitive impairment is and how it can affect you? If you want to know more about this rapidly growing health concern and how to best optimize your health, then this blog is for you. Please read on for answers!
** Please note: If you want the longer, more scientific version of this article, then please click here **
What is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Symptoms include memory loss, language problems, unpredictable behavior, and, as it progresses, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s (National Insitute on Aging, 2021). You can read about Alzheimer’s in our blog here.
Alzheimer’s Disease Facts:
- Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults (National Insitute on Aging, 2021).
- AD is estimated to be the 3rd leading cause of death (Toups K, 2022).
- Approx. 6 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s Disease (Toups K, 2022).
- Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for almost 70% of all dementia cases (Seaks CE, 2020).
- Your lifetime risk of developing AD is approximately 15%, assuming no prevention (Bredesen, 2016).
- AD and dementia can lead to degeneration of cells in the brain and neuroinflammation.
- AD and dementia are caused by interactions between genes and the environment. Multiple factors cause cognitive decline, such as increasing age, genetic factors, head injuries, vascular diseases, infections and lifestyle & environmental factors (Breijyeh Z, 2020).
- Therapeutic approaches to date have not led to sustainable improvements. The best results from recent clinical trials is to slow cognitive decline rather than stop the decline or improve cognition.
- Each Alzheimer’s patient has their own unique set of triggers that must be identified and addressed.
What is the current Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment today?
Treatment of AD can be challenging. Conventional treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s Disease have been almost completely unsuccessful. The best results from pharmaceutical drug trials show that the rate of progression in cognitive impairment slows down (Toups K, 2022). But there is unfortunately no improvement or stabilization in cognition (Toups K, 2022).
One reason that conventional medicine has no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s is that there is no agreement on the cause of Alzheimer’s. Narrowing in on and treating for one of the possible ‘causes’ is ineffective. It does not target the underlying root causes. It instead tries to address common secondary factors, such as amyloid plaque in the brain.
Fortunately, we have Functional Medicine!
There are a number of approaches to take with AD, depending on the root cause(s). Our Functional Medicine (FM) clinic is well-versed in addressing and treating Alzheimer’s. In our clinic, we know that early-stage dementia can be addressed. Later stage dementia can also be helped significantly by a FM approach.
FM gives us a more effective strategy than the current drug therapy which doesn’t work. A new study looking at early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease using a FM approach proves our point (Toups K, 2022):
In people who followed a detailed and individualized FM protocol, 84% improved cognition.
What is the FM approach and how does it help with AD?
An effective FM approach to dementia is to identify the root cause(s) of cognitive decline in each patient and address them one by one.
What are the Potential Root Causes or Triggers that can contribute to AD?
The factors that can potentially contribute to dementia and eventually Alzheimer’s include (Toups K, 2022):
- Insulin resistance
- Protein glycation: Protein glycation is a reaction between sugars and proteins. It is involved in the pathology of diabetes and neurodegenerative disease. Glycation end-products are present in the brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Vascular disease: Blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and remove waste from tissues. Common vascular problems happen because plaque (made of fat and cholesterol) slows down or blocks blood flow inside arteries or veins.
- Nocturnal hypoxemia: Hypoxemia is when oxygen levels in the blood are lower than normal and can lead to a lack of oxygen in the body’s organs and tissues. If blood oxygen levels are too low, hypoxemia can lead to mild symptoms (headaches, shortness of breath). In severe cases, hypoxemia can interfere with heart and brain function.
- Hormone insufficiency or dysregulation
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome
- Toxin exposure
- Chronic infection
If these factors can be addressed with an individualized protocol for cognitive decline, then dementia can be slowed down, improved and even reversed, depending on the individual case (Toups K, 2022).
For an explanation of how FM differs from conventional medicine see our blog here.
Researchers looked at the Alzheimer’s patients’ lifestyle choices and optimized these where needed:
The diet used in the study is one we advocate in our practice. It was high in fiber, with lots of vegetable, leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables (both raw and cooked). It was mildly ketogenic (i.e., low carb) diet, high in unsaturated fats, low in glycemic load. Participants had a nightly fasting period of 12–16 hours. They ate organic vegetables, wild-caught low-mercury fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring), pastured eggs and meats. Importantly, the diet removed processed food, simple carbohydrates, gluten-containing foods and dairy.
Participants exercised for at least 45 minutes / day, at least 6 days per week (for aerobic exercise) and at least twice per week (for strength training). High-intensity interval training (HIIT) was recommended for a minimum twice / week.
The study included sleep hygiene to make sure participants had 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. People were tested for sleep apnea and were given a CPAP machine, if necessary, to improve sleep.
Stress management was done for a minimum of 10 minutes per day, using biofeedback and heart-rate variability training.
Brain training was done for a minimum of 15 minutes / day. Participants performed 29 cognitive exercises that target speed and accuracy of information processing.
Other health factors were looked at and corrected if necessary:
For study participants with hormonal imbalances, bio-identical hormone replacement and supplements were given to optimize hormone levels. For example, thyroid medication was used for people with low thyroid or thyroid dysfunction. Patients with nutrient deficiencies were given the appropriate nutrients.
Some people in the study had gastrointestinal hyper-permeability, infections, inflammation or impaired absorption / digestion. These people went through a gut healing protocol with dietary restrictions, gut-healing nutrients, digestive enzyme support and treatment of any identified dysbiosis.
People were identified for systemic inflammation. They were given supplement support and anti-inflammatory herbs, such as liposomal glutathione, fish oil, resveratrol, vitamins C and D, Boswellia, quercetin and omega-3 fats.
Any infection linked to cognitive decline or systemic inflammation was identified. For example, people with Herpes simplex infection or a history of outbreaks, took the medication Valacyclovir for 2–6 months. Active Epstein-Barr Virus was treated with herbal protocols (Juniperus, Acer and Tamarix). People with tick-borne infections, such as Borrelia, Babesia or Bartonella, took herbal anti-microbials, such as Japanese knotweed along with immune support.
People who had toxicity from metals, organic pollutants or biotoxins were treated. A targeted detoxification protocol using binding agents (Cholestyramine or bentonite clay), sauna, herbs, sulforaphane and avoiding seafood if necessary (Toups K, 2022).
It is important to utilize testing of various types to assess for cognitive decline and to track improvements or decreases in cognition. This way, the FM practitioner knows where you are, if you need treatment and how treatment, or even lack of treatment, is affecting cognition.
As part of the FM treatment approach to Alzheimer’s, we run lab tests at the start of treatment. These lab tests need to also be run at regular intervals, say every 6-12 months, to track progress. The tests will help to identify issues contributing to or causing Alzheimer’s, such as insulin resistance; inflammation and infections; hormone or nutrient imbalances; and toxic load (chemical, biological or physical).
In addition to blood markers, if you are concerned about cognitive function, it is important to monitor and track status, for which there are a number of tests that can be done online. Re-testing helps to track if cognitive performance declines over time or improves with treatment.
The tests to consider can be found at the following links:
The Results of the FM Approach
The positive results from this study are very encouraging. There were no serious adverse events recorded. Most patients improved their overall health on this protocol. Some no longer need blood pressure meds, anti-diabetes drugs or statins. This is because each person’s root causes of poor health were targeted to address cognitive decline, improve resilience and increase overall health (Toups K, 2022).
The study did not look at patients with intermediate or advanced stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Later-stage AD can be more challenging. But there are anecdotal reports of patients with more advanced dementia showing improvement with a similar FM approach (Toups K, 2022).
Alzheimer’s Disease is a difficult to treat illness and pharmaceutical treatment has provided minimal benefit. Functional Medicine is an alternative approach to treating AD that has shown encouraging results by utilizing a multifactorial, root-cause approach. Potential lifestyle treatments include:
- Sleep optimization: at least 7-8 hours per night
- Diet: High in fiber, vegetables, leafy greens, and other non-starchy vegetables. Mildly ketogenic and high in unsaturated fats
- Exercise: At least 45 minutes/day 6 days/week (aerobic), twice/week (strength), twice/week (HIIT)
- Stress management: 10 minutes/day
- Brain training exercises: 15 minutes/day
- Hormone optimization through supplements and hormone optimization as needed
- Treatment of gut disorders through a gut healing protocol
- Inflammation modulation though comprehensive supplementation
- Addressing chronic infections: Addressing chronic infections as needed
- Reducing toxic burden through detoxification protocols
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, lifestyle factors show promise in slowing, and potentially reversing, cognitive decline through comprehensive personalized protocols. As further root causes are identified, it will be interesting to see what the future of FM treatment of dementia will bring.
Our Functional Medicine clinic is extremely well-versed in addressing and treating Alzheimer’s. In our clinic, we address potential root causes. Please get in touch with us here if you want to improve your cognition and brain health.
** Please stay tuned for our next Blog! **
Are You Suffering From A Chronic Illness?
Does your current health situation look like this…
- Do you feel that you have tried many things and either nothing works, or the treatment does not hold?
- Have you been told that there is nothing that can be done to reverse your illness and you just need to manage symptoms?
- Does your illness impact your work, your family, your happiness and your social life?
We specialize in finding answers and solutions for complicated chronic illness when people feel like they have tried everything. If this sounds like you, book a free call with us to see if we are the right fit for your health goals.