Alzheimer’s: It’s going to be fine

Illustration by the wonderful Kerry Squires

How do we develop Alzheimer’s?

Whether through its prevalence in the media or knowing a friend or relative suffering from the disease, most people are familiar with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s: a deterioration of cognitive function and memory loss. Stories become repeated, names of loved ones eventually vanish. These symptoms are associated with a build up of protein inside brain cells called tau tangles, or outside them as amyloid-beta plaques. They develop as a consequence of your body protecting itself from bad things. These responses fall into three groups(1):

  • An atrophic subtype. This means low levels of the molecules your brain needs to form synaptic connections between neurons (e.g. nerve growth factor, testosterone, vitamin D), meaning your neural network cannot be sustained as it should.
  • A cortical subtype. This one relates to environmental toxins like heavy metals and toxic moulds.

Increasing autophagy

Let’s return again to the cellular level, and think again about the Alzheimer’s brain accumulating all of that protein gunk. A key area of research into how Alzheimer’s develops looks at the role of process called autophagy. Research has found that it reduces as we age(10), and deficits in its operation precedes protein accumulation in the Alzheimer’s brain(6).

Reducing inflammation

Fasting is also good for reducing inflammation, another key route that we know leads to the development of Alzheimer’s. Inflammation is usually a useful response to fight illness and injury, but can become heightened over the long term and lead to disease and suffering.

Maintaining synaptic connectivity

The secondary type of Alzheimer’s is associated with low levels of chemical signalling molecules that play roles in promoting healthy synaptic connections in the brain. These include, out of a long list, agents such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), nerve growth factor (NGF), testosterone, insulin and vitamin D.

Avoiding environmental toxins

Patients with the toxic subtype of Alzheimer’s also seem to have low levels of serum zinc. Copper and zinc compete in the body to be absorbed as they go via the same machinery, meaning that often if you have too much of one, you have too little of the other. This imbalance is epidemic in the world right now, with 1bn people on earth estimated to be zinc deficient(2). Copper piping, PPIs for gastric reflux and possibly even copper contraceptive coils have all been floated as contributors.

We’re going to be just fine

So, as you can see from my round up, there’s actually a fair amount that we can be doing to avoid the dementia crisis painted in the CDC report. So why aren’t these things being talked about more? Why aren’t these being recommended to us by the healthcare industry?

  • A flexitarian approach, where meat should only be eaten sparingly, and if so, of the highest quality (think grass-fed, free-range, wild-caught etc.)
  • Eating within a 12 hour window everyday, if not smaller. APOE4 carriers should stay within 8–10 hours
  • Never eating within 3 hours of bedtime

Anti-Alzheimer’s cheat sheet

Isn’t that a nice hopeful thought to end on? So rare in our age of doom and gloom. Pulling it all together into one nice takeaway, here’s a list of what you should be doing to live a longer life — and a more enjoyable one at that.

  • Don’t eat 3 hours before bed. When your melatonin rises before bed, it switches off your insulin production for the day and therefore your ability to break down sugar. You’ll be lying in bed on an effective sugar high, and that causes all sorts of chaos for your long-term insulin response. Alcohol loves to be drunk in that 3 hour window, and is another reason it’s terrible for us (sadly).
  • Try once a month to have a water-only 36-hour fast. Much like training to run long distances, whilst it can be difficult at first it soon becomes easier and even enjoyable.
  • Exercise and get real sweaty. Then maybe have a sauna. Then clean yourself with a non-emoillient soap.
  • Get decent sleep. Even just one night of sleep deprivation causes protein to accumulate in the brain (59).
  • Eat organic. One of my greatest irks is watching people buy food that’s been showered with heavy metals, chemicals, antibiotics to save approximately £1, then drop £10 on a detox juice or activated charcoal. Just don’t put the crap in there to begin with.
  • Stick to your low-mercury SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines and herring).
  • Supplement with Lion’s mane for NGF and Cordyceps for testosterone and better, sweatier gym performance.
  • Eat Brazil nuts — potent source of selenium and a good high fat, high protein snack.
  • Eat seeds, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans) and nuts to keep zinc intake high if you’ve reduced your meat consumption.
  • Keep an eye out for any mould accumulation in your home, and use mould-proof paint in particularly damp areas like the bathroom.
  • But most of all…don’t worry about it too much. Over-exercising or anxiety will deliver serious levels of oxidative damage to your body and override any positive changes you make elsewhere.

Footnotes

*They do this with something called an ‘inflammatory challenge’. I find this an incredibly amusing term.

A scientific re-evaluation of humans: health, history and happiness.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store