"Betty" was 65 years old when she was diagnosed with progressive memory loss. Two years later, her condition had progressed to the point of unemployment, she wasn’t eligible for long term care insurance, and was told by her family physician that there wasn't anything to do to stop the deterioration of her mind. Her mother had died at age 80, after suffering from Alzheimer's for over 15 years. Betty didn't want the same future… and planned to commit suicide.
Luckily, a friend intervened and Betty enrolled in a new program headed by Dr. Dale Bredesen. The program involved utilizing decades of research on nutrition and lifestyle habits, and combining the information from the research into a detailed program focused on improving the cognition of patients with progressive memory loss (aka “early dementia/Alzheimer’s).
Within 3 months, Betty had improved her memory and cognition, lost 20 pounds, and was able to return to the job she had lost. She is now in her 70’s, still working in a highly demanding job, and thriving. She only had one relapse in her symptoms, when she discontinued many of the recommendations of the Bredesen protocol after a bout of illness. But she returned to the protocol, and hasn’t deviated from it since.
We are all aware of people like Betty, diagnosed with dementia and cognitive decline. Such a diagnosis imparts hopelessness and havoc on patients and caregivers. And although we all know of someone who “beat cancer” or survived a heart attack, no one has been able to say they “reversed Alzheimer’s”.
Dr. Dale Bredesen’s published research, rooted in the principles of functional medicine, has demonstrated that we can reverse early and moderate cognitive decline – if caught early enough. We have a variety of advanced laboratory testing that can “catch” early signs of brain damage (which occurs up to 15 years before symptoms are seen). And we have over 30 treatment “tools,” per Dr. Bredesen’s research, which we can use to personalize and reverse this damage.
We may think “that will never happen to me,” or “I want to enjoy life and deal with my repercussions later”. But what if you are one of the people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s by your 50’s and 60’s? Our current habits can change the course of our health, and health needs to be one of our top priorities if we are truly concerned about losing our memory (and humanity). If you are interested in getting advanced testing per Dr. Bredesen’s protocol (mentioned in his book and research), I recommend seeking guidance from a Bredesen trained practitioner. But if you want to start changing your habits now, the most successful recommendations (per Dr. Bredesen’s research) are as follows:
- Optimize diet by avoiding simple carbs (particularly grains, such as wheat, corn, rice, quinoa, oatmeal) and inflammatory foods (“bad” fats such as margarine and canola oil, sugar, dairy). Every time you consume a food such as those listed above, these remain in the body for up to 3 months (perpetuating inflammation and over activating the immune response in those at risk).
- Fast 12 hours each night (i.e. from 7pm to 7am). This helps your body take out “old/dead” cells, decrease insulin, and reduces the formation of plaque in the brain.
- Have a daily habit to reduce stress (yoga, tai chi, meditation, prayer, listening to music, etc). This does NOT include sofa/screen time (which still stimulate the brain, even if the body is relaxed).
- If you wake up tired, with a headache, or are known for snoring, have a sleep study performed to make sure you are getting enough oxygen to your body while sleeping.
- Exercise 30-60 minute per day, 4-6 days a week. If you are currently inactive, make sure your heart is safe to engage in exercise per evaluation from your physician/health care provider.
- Take a few key supplements (from a reputable supplement company – all the below are offered at our store, on-site in our clinic or online):
- Curcumin: 1000-2000mg a day
- Magnesium Threonate (caution if you have a pre-existing heart condition that causes slowing of your heart rate)
- Probiotics (take with “prebiotics” - aka the food for probiotics - such as green leafy vegetables or berries).
- Omega 3 fatty acids or Algae-based DHA (caution if on a “blood thinner”): 2000 mg a day
- MCT oil (1-2 tsp): Start slowly, to decrease risk of unwanted GI symptoms
If you have blood work done through your health care practitioner, here are some of the markers to request (with optimal values):
- Homocysteine: <7
- Vitamin B12: >500
- hsCRP: <1
- Fasting insulin: <7
- HgA1c: <5.5%
- Vitamin D (25 OH): Between 50-100ng/mL
The next time you forgot something, or a word was "on the tip of your tongue" but you couldn't recall it, think about how frustrating this would be if this occurred hundreds of times a day and impacted the quality of your life. This is what people with mild cognitive decline and “early Alzheimer’s” experience daily.
Don’t let this become your daily reality.
Wishing you great health, happiness, and a life at ease.
Meg McElroy MS, PA-C
P.S. Here's Dr. Bredesen's full list of recommendations from his first published study (from 2014):
- Optimize diet: Minimize simple carbs and inflammatory foods.
- Enhance autophagy (clearing out "old/dead" cells) and ketogenesis: Fast 12 hours each night, including 3 hours before bedtime. This helps decrease insulin levels and A beta
- Reduce stress (yoga, meditation, music): Reduces cortisol.
- Optimize sleep (8 hours per night): If needed use melatonin 0.5 mg, Top 500mg 3x/wk if waking up at night; rule out sleep apnea.
- Exercise 30-60 minute per day, 4-6 days a week
- Brain stimulation (posit or related?)
- Homocysteine <7: If high, use methylated B12, MTHF (folate), P5P; TBG if necessary
- Keep serum levels vitamin B12 >500
- Keep CRP <1; A/G >1.5
- Maintain fasting insulin <7, and HgA1c <5.5%: Sugar is inflammatory, insulin promotes weight gain.
- Balance hormone levels: Optimize thyroid levels including free T3, free T4; improve estradiol (E2) if indicated; optimize testosterone, progesterone, pregnenalone, and cortisol.
- Take care of gastrointestinal health: Repair if needed; take prebiotics and probiotics.
- Reduce A Beta via curcumin and ashwaganda.
- Enhance cognition with bacopa monniera and magnesium theonate (MgT)
- Maintain vitamin D (25 OH) levels between 50-100ng/mL: Supplement with vitamin D3 and K2 if indicated
- Increase NGF: Use H. erinaceus or Acetyl L carnitine (ALCAR)
- Provide synaptic structural components: Citocoline and DHA omega 3 oil
- Optimize antioxidants: Mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols (forms of vitamin E), Selenium, blueberries, NAC, ascorbate (aka Vitamin C), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- Optimize zinc:free copper ratio: Many people often require addition of zinc picolinate 50mg
- Ensure nocturnal oxygenation: Must rule out sleep apnea or periodic episodes of apnea. This is an easy step to skip, but essential.
- Optimize mitochondrial function: Use of CoQ10 or ubiquinol (200mg), ALA 100mg, PQQ, NAC, Acetyl-L-carnitine, selenium, zinc, resveratrol, ascorbate/vitamin C, and thiamine
- Increase focus: Use of daily pantothenic acid
- Increase SirT1 function: Resveratrol
- Exclude heavy metal toxicity: Evaluate for mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd). Use chelation therapy if indicated.
- Utilize the effects of MCT with coconut oil or Axona