Astaxanthin: A Rising Star in Alzheimer's Prevention
July 01, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
In the United States, someone develops Alzheimer's disease every 69 seconds, and by 2050 this is expected to increase to a new case every 33 seconds, according to the Alzheimer's Association's 2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures1.
The disease is currently at epidemic proportions, with 5.4 million Americans—including one in eight people aged 65 and over—living with Alzheimer's disease.
By 2050, this is expected to jump to 16 million, and in the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer's will affect one in four Americans. If that comes to pass, it would then be more prevalent than obesity and diabetes is today!
Alzheimer's is a sad, devastating disease that develops slowly and gets worse over time. Worse yet, there is no known cure and very few treatments. Alzheimer's drugs are often of little to no benefit at all, which underscores the importance of prevention throughout your lifetime.
Alzheimer's develops over the course of a few decades, so the time to start preventing it is yesterday. Your approach to preventing this terrible disease should be a comprehensive lifestyle approach.
I will be discussing the most important aspects of this in a moment, but first, I would like to share new findings about one particular nutritional supplement that has scientists very excited in the battle against Alzheimer's disease.
Astaxanthin is a Rising Star in Alzheimer's Prevention
Astaxanthin is a natural pigment with unique properties and many clinical benefits, including some of the most potent antioxidant activity currently known. It is the same pigment that makes flamingos pink.
These birds are born with grey feathers—and after consuming their natural diet of astaxanthin-containing algae and crustaceans, they turn pink! It has been found to reduce the accumulation of phospholipid hydroperoxidases (PLOOH)—compounds known to accumulate in the red blood cells of people who suffer from dementia—and scientists now believe astaxanthin could help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer's.
As a fat-soluble nutrient, astaxanthin readily crosses your blood-brain barrier. One study2 found it may help prevent neurodegeneration associated with oxidative stress, as well as make a potent natural "brain food."
The molecules of astaxanthin neutralize free radicals and other oxidants without being destroyed or becoming pro-oxidants themselves in the process. It's is a unique molecule whose shape allows it to precisely fit into a cell membrane and span its entire width. In this position, astaxanthin can intercept potentially damaging molecules before they can damage your cells.
In fact, astaxanthin is hundreds of times more effective than vitamin E in squelching singlet oxygen free radicals, and far exceeds the free radical scavenging power of vitamin C, CoQ10, beta-carotene, and green tea. According to a recent article in the Alternative Medicine Review3:
"Astaxanthin improved cognition in a small clinical trial and boosted proliferation and differentiation of cultured nerve stem cells… Astaxanthin's clinical success extends beyond protection against oxidative stress and inflammation, to demonstrable promise for slowing age-related functional decline."
This supports the findings of a prior 2011 study in the British Journal of Nutrition that showed taking 6 mg or 12 mg of astaxanthin daily for 12 weeks lowered levels of PLOOH by 40 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
It is unlikely you will be able to obtain enough astaxanthin from diet alone… unless you are a flamingo. You can get some astaxanthin by taking krill oil, which is a fantastic omega-3 fat supplement. But you can boost your astaxanthin even MORE by adding a pure astaxanthin supplement to your nutritional regimen. For optimal absorption, make sure to take krill oil and/or astaxanthin with a fat-containing meal, since both are fat-soluble.
"Senior Moments" are NOT a Normal Part of Aging
In spite of how common memory loss is among Westerners, it is NOT a "normal" part of aging. Research has shown that even mild "senior moments" are caused by the same brain lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. These cognitive changes are by no means inevitable! People who experience very little decline in their cognitive function up until their deaths have been found (post-mortem) to be free of brain lesions, showing that it's entirely possible to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place.
What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?
In order to effectively prevent a disease, you must address its underlying causative factors. Although we do not have definitive "proof" of what, specifically, causes Alzheimer's, a number of factors have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, and we know enough about those to in turn make educated recommendations for preventing this type of brain deterioration.
The more risk factors you have, the higher your changes are for developing dementia. You may already know I have become passionate about warning of the dangers of fructose. There is NO question in my mind that regularly consuming more than 25 grams of fructose per day will increase your risk of losing your mind.Fructose will catalyze the impact of virtually every other risk factor, like exposure to toxins such as aluminum, or mercury, or even genetic predispositions. It does this by impairing your body's normal self-repair capacity and its ability to recover from these types of assaults.
Following are a number of other factors associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Please note that the first four are related to fructose intake.
Health conditions and drug therapies
- Obesity, especially increased belly fat, insulin resistance, and diabetes: diabetics have up to 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Keep your fasting insulin level below 3 by minimizing sugar and grains and exercising regularly.
- Elevated uric acid levels: fructose is one of the primary factors that drives up uric acid, which is another reason to avoid excess sugar.
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease and atrial fibrillation4: If you have "atrial fib," you are 44 percent more likely to develop dementia.
- Thyroid dysfunction.5
- Head trauma6: There appears to be a "strong link" between a history of head trauma and Alzheimer's disease, especially if the trauma occurred repeatedly or involved loss of consciousness—so keep your seat belt fastened.
- Anticholinergic drugs: Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
One study7 found that those who took drugs classified as "definite anticholinergics" had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment. Regularly taking two of these drugs further increased the risk.
Vitamin D deficiency: In 2007 researchers at the University of Wisconsin uncovered strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer's patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests. Vitamin D may enhance the levels of important chemicals in your brain that protect your brain cells and combat the brain inflammation seen in dementia patients.
A 2011 study at UCLA found the combination of vitamin D3 and curcumin (the pigment that makes turmeric yellow) to be a highly beneficial combination for Alzheimer's patients. Vitamin D can also fight depression, which is experienced frequently by people with dementia.
- Vitamin B deficiencies: Elevated homocysteine levels due to vitamin B6, B12 and folate deficiencies; according to a small Finnish study recently published in the journal Neurology8, people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's in their later years.
- Insufficient omega-3 fats: High intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA lowers your risk for Alzheimer's by preventing the associated cell damage. Researchers also report that DHA "dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer's gene."
- Vitamin E deficiency9: A 2008 study showed that Alzheimer's patients who took 2,000 IU of vitamin E daily showed a 26 percent lower mortality rate.
- Aluminum toxicity: avoid antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, and vaccines containing aluminum (and mercury) adjuvants/additives, such as the flu vaccine
- Mercury toxicity: Avoid fish and seafood, which is usually contaminated with mercury, and avoid dental amalgams, which are probably the largest sources of mercury; implement the mercury detox protocol and utilize a biological dentist if you have dental amalgams
- Fluoride toxicity: More than 23 different studies indicate even moderate fluoride exposure may have damaging effects on your brain
- Copper toxicity: Evidence exists that copper can leach out of copper pipes and into tap water, and when consumed over time, can build up in your body. Copper toxicity has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and diabetes. You should also avoid vitamin/mineral pills that contain copper and iron, especially if you're over the age of 50
- Cell phone radiation. Radiation from cell phones and mobile phone handsets may damage areas of your brain associated with learning, memory and movement, and may trigger Alzheimer's disease
Exercise Your Body, Exercise Your Brain
Clearly, the BEST way to "treat" Alzheimer's is to lead a lifestyle that will prevent it in the first place. John J. Ratey, a psychiatrist who wrote the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says there is overwhelming evidence that regular exercise helps fight dementia and improves mental acuity. Physical exercise may also protect against mild cognitive impairment by:
- Promoting production of nerve-protecting compounds
- Increasing blood flow to your brain
- Improving development and survival of neurons
- Promoting essential cell and tissue repair mechanisms, including growth of new brain cells
- Decreasing your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases that can impact brain function
In essence, exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing your nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections, and protecting them from damage. Exercising your mind daily is as important as exercising your body, so be sure to incorporate some mentally challenging activities into your life, such as playing an instrument, doing puzzles, reading, or other similar activities.
Natural Treatments for Your Anti-Alzheimer's Arsenal
Finally, there are a few other nutritional recommendations worth noting for their specific benefits in preventing and treating dementia. So, although your fundamental strategy for preventing dementia should involve a comprehensive lifestyle approach, you may want to consider adding a few of these natural dietary agents to your anti-Alzheimer's arsenal.
The three natural foods/supplements that have good science behind them, in terms of preventing age-related cognitive changes, are coconut oil, Gingko biloba, and alpha lipoic acid.
- Coconut Oil: The primary fuel your brain needs for energy is glucose. However, your brain is able to run on more than a single type of fuel, one being ketones (ketone bodies), or ketoacids. Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy.
The medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil are GREAT source of ketone bodies, because coconut oil is about 66 percent MCTs.In fact, ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes or Alzheimer's.
- Gingko biloba: Many scientific studies have found that Ginkgo biloba has positive effects for dementia. Gingko, which is derived from a tree native to Asia, has long been used medicinally in China and other countries.
Fifteen years ago, in one of the first issues of my newsletter, I posted the results of a 1997 study from JAMA10 that showed clear evidence that Ginkgo improves cognitive performance and social functioning for those suffering from dementia. Research since then has been equally promising.
One study in 2006 found Gingko as effective as the dementia drug Aricept (donepezil) for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer's type dementia. A 2010 meta-analysis11 found Gingko biloba to be effective for a variety of types of dementia.
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): ALA can stabilize cognitive functions among Alzheimer's patients and may slow the progression of the disease.
How Vitamin D Performance Testing Can Help Optimize Your Health
Additionally, a robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for good health and disease prevention. Vitamin D affects your DNA through vitamin D receptors (VDRs), which bind to specific locations of the human genome. Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D levels, and vitamin D receptors have been found throughout the human body.
Is it any wonder then that no matter what disease or condition is investigated, vitamin D appears to play a crucial role? This is why I am so excited about the D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth. It is showing how you can take action today on known science with a consensus of experts without waiting for institutional lethargy. It has shown how by combining the science of measurement (of vitamin D levels) with the personal choice of taking action and, the value of education about individual measures that one can truly be in charge of their own health.
In order to spread this health movement to more communities, the project needs your involvement. This was an ongoing campaign during the month of February, and will become an annual event.
To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)
As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you "it's time for your next test and health survey."