By Dr. Mercola
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, a severe form of dementia,1 and the most recent data2,3 suggests over half a million Americans die from Alzheimer's each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer.
As prevalence has increased, so have the questions about why, and the search for answers has dished up some pretty curious findings over the past several years.
It seems quite clear that Alzheimer's disease is primarily diet-related, with insulin resistance, processed foods, trans fats, and unhealthy omega 6:3 ratios being the primary culprits.
However, recent research has also uncovered evidence suggesting that the disease may be the result of agricultural practices, and even more surprising, Alzheimer's could potentially be transmitted via certain invasive medical procedures.
Five Routes to Alzheimer's Disease
At present, evidence suggests there are a number of causes promoting Alzheimer's symptoms, including the following:
- Type 3 diabetes: Faulty insulin signaling is an underlying cause of insulin resistance, which typically leads to type 2 diabetes. However, while insulin is usually associated with its role in keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, it also plays a role in brain signaling.
Researchers have found that when insulin signaling in the brain is disrupted, it results in dementia, hence the suggestion that Alzheimer's may be a brain-related form of diabetes.
Even mild elevation of blood sugar — a level of around 105 or 110 — is associated with an elevated risk for dementia. According to neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, if your fasting blood sugar is over 95 mg/dl, it's time to address your diet to lower it, to protect your brain health.
- Gut dysfunction, caused by a combination of excess sugars and processed foods; antibiotic exposure from food and medicine; genetically engineered (GE) grains, which create foreign proteins; and pesticide exposure, just to name a few well-known culprits
- Trans fat consumption: Trans fat is linked to a higher risk of memory impairment. It may act as a pro-oxidant, contributing to oxidative stress that causes cellular damage.
Vegetable oils oxidize when heated, and when oxidized cholesterol and trans fat enter into your LDL particles, they become destructive, contributing to arterial plaque buildup in your brain.
- Imbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio: Researchers have also found a link between Alzheimer's and raised levels of an omega-6 fat called arachidonic acid.
They believe it interferes with the brain's nerve cells, causing over-stimulation, and that lowering levels would allow the cells to function normally.
Most experts agree that the omega 6:3 ratio should range from 1:1 to 5:1. The sad reality is that it now ranges from 20 to 50:1 for most Americans.
Omega-6 fats are found in high concentrations in factory-farmed animals as they are typically fed grains, as well as vegetable oils such as corn, canola, soybean, and sunflower oils.
- Slow-acting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) — the human form of Mad Cow disease, contracted either through:
- Contaminated meat
- Certain medical procedures, such as using human growth hormone extracted from the pituitary glands of infected human cadavers (a procedure now banned due to this contamination risk)
The first four have been discussed at length in previous articles. Here, we'll focus on the last route, which has disturbing implications for the conventional meat industry.
Alzheimer's — A Foodborne Disease?
Researchers have found a compelling link between a particular kind of protein and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's disease.
This protein, called TDP-43, behaves like toxic and infectious proteins known as prions, which are responsible for the brain destruction that occurs in Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease;4 two types of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
According to a study5 published in 2011, TDP-43 pathology is detected in 25 to 50 percent of Alzheimer's patients, and research presented at the 2014 Alzheimer's Association International Conference revealed Alzheimer's patients with TDP-43 were 10 times more likely to have been cognitively impaired at death than those without it.6,7
The common denominator between Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease8 (the latter of which affects deer and elk) is forcing natural herbivores to eat animal parts and byproducts, such as blood and bone meal.9 This is common practice in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
The evidence also suggests humans may be infected with TDP-43 via contaminated meats.
The most infectious parts of a cow carrying these prions are the brain and spinal cord, which may be found in hot dogs, bologna, and products containing either gelatin or ground meat.10
The human version of Mad Cow disease is known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), and some researchers have noted that Alzheimer's behaves like a slow moving version of CJD.11,12,13
The Case for Alzheimer's as a Slow-Acting Version of Mad Cow
Surprising as it may seem, the idea that neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's may be spread via CAFO foods isn't brand new. A 2005 study14 published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, titled "Thinking the Unthinkable: Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and Mad Cow Disease: The Age-Related Reemergence of Virulent, Foodborne, Bovine Tuberculosis, or Losing Your Mind for the Sake of a Shake or Burger", states:
"In the opinion of experts, ample justification exists for considering a similar pathogenesis for Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and the other spongiform encephalopathies such as Mad Cow disease. In fact, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Alzheimer's often coexist and at this point are thought to differ merely by time-dependent physical changes.
A recent study links up to 13 percent of all 'Alzheimer's' victims as really having Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease... Alzheimer's, Cruetzfeldt-Jackob, and Mad Cow Disease might just be caused by eating the meat or dairy in consumer products or feed.'" [Emphasis mine]
The study also notes that bovine tuberculosis serves as a vector for human Mad Cow Disease, and bovine tuberculosis is one of the most prevalent disease threats in American CAFOs. USDA data15 suggests anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of American dairy herds are infected at any given time.
Theoretical Evidence for Person-to-Person Transmission of Alzheimer's
All of this brings us to the most recent development, which has gained widespread media attention.16,17,18,19,20 A study21 published in the journal Nature reveals the first theoretical evidence for human-to-human transmission of prion-like proteins associated with Alzheimer's, introduced via a medical procedure involving contaminated material.
As reported by Scientific American:22
"Between 1958 and 1985, a number of individuals with short stature received shots of human growth hormone extracted from the pituitary glands of cadavers... Some of these samples were contaminated with prions that caused certain patients to develop Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare and fatal brain disorder.
Treatments ceased once these reports came to light, but by that time an estimated 30,000 people had already received the injections. As of 2012, researchers have identified 450 cases of CJD worldwide that are the result of these growth hormone injections and other medical procedures, including neurosurgery and transplants."
To investigate the plausibility of human-to-human transmission, researchers autopsied eight of the patients who died after contracting CJD from the now-banned growth hormone treatments. All had died between the ages of 36 and 51 — too young to have developed Alzheimer's. Yet six of them had the misfolded proteins found in Alzheimer's patients' brains, and four of them had amyloid deposits in their cerebral blood vessels.
Previous animal research23 has also found that when tiny amounts of amyloid-beta proteins — which are a hallmark of Alzheimer's — are injected into mice or monkeys, they act as self-propagating "seeds," unleashing a chain reaction of protein misfolding that results in pathology that is very reminiscent of that seen in Alzheimer's patients.
Another recent study24 out of Germany found that seeds of amyloid-beta can persist for months in the brain, and become pathogenic under certain circumstances. As noted by Scientific American:
"All evidence pointed toward one possibility: Like prions, amyloid-beta seeds were in the growth hormone injections and infected these individuals... [H]ad the patients not died young, they would have developed the disease later in life."
My Alzheimer's Prevention Strategies
Because there are so few treatments for Alzheimer's, and no available cure, prevention really is your best bet. As explained by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the book, Grain Brain, Alzheimer's is a disease predicated primarily on lifestyle choices. Diet is part and parcel of a successful prevention plan, and my optimized nutrition plan can set you on the right path in this regard. In terms of your diet and other lifestyle factors, the following suggestions may be among the most important for Alzheimer's prevention:
Replace processed foods with real foods The vast majority of processed foods contain genetically engineered (GE) grains, which are heavily contaminated with glyphosate — a herbicide thought to be worse than DDT, and DDT has already been linked to the development of Alzheimer's.
Eating real food will also limit your exposure to trans fats. As a general rule, to avoid trans fats, you need to avoid any and all foods containing or cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, so be sure to check the list of ingredients.
Avoid sugar and refined fructose Alzheimer's appears to be intricately linked to insulin resistance. Ideally, you'll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders. Optimize omega 6:3 ratio, ideally should be 1:1 to 5:1 Healthy fats that your brain needs for optimal function include organically-raised grass-fed meats, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, avocado, nuts, organic pastured egg yolks, and butter made from raw grass-fed milk.
High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are also helpful for preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder.
It is imperative to also reduce industrial omega 6 oils, like soy, corn, sunflower, and safflower oils.
Avoid gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but don't avoid raw dairy, such as whole milk, and organic butter) Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don't belong.
That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer's.
Cream is perhaps the most important part of raw milk because the cream is where all the energy is that's needed to digest the milk protein casein. That's why it's important to consume full-fat, raw dairy products instead of non-fat or skim dairy products. The cream is also responsible for regulating the sugar absorption into your blood. It decreases the likelihood of insulin spikes.
Opt for organic, grass-fed, and finished meat The vast majority of all store bought meats, and meats served in restaurants, come from CAFOs unless otherwise labeled as organic or grass-fed. Optimize your gut flora Regularly eat fermented foods or take a high potency and high quality probiotic supplement. Reduce your overall calorie consumption, and/or intermittently fast Ketones are mobilized when you replace carbs with coconut oil and other sources of healthy fats. Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to jumpstart your body into remembering how to burn fat and repair the inulin/leptin resistance that is also a primary contributing factor for Alzheimer's. Improve your magnesium levels Preliminary research strongly suggests a decrease in Alzheimer symptoms with increased levels of magnesium in the brain.
Unfortunately most magnesium supplements do not pass the blood brain levels, but a new one, magnesium threonate, appears to and holds some promise for the future for treating this condition and may be superior to other forms.
Get plenty of folate Vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day. Avoid supplements like folic acid, which is the inferior synthetic version of folate. Exercise regularly It's been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, thus, slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer's. Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha.
Research has shown that people with Alzheimer's have less PGC-1alpha in their brains and cells that contain more of the protein produce less of the toxic amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's.
I would strongly recommend reviewing the Peak Fitness Technique for my specific recommendations.
Optimize your vitamin D levels Sufficient vitamin D is imperative for proper functioning of your immune system to combat inflammation that is also associated with Alzheimer's. Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed. Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, vaccine adjuvants, etc. For tips on how to detox aluminum, please see my article, "First Case Study to Show Direct Link between Alzheimer's and Aluminum Toxicity." Avoid flu vaccinations Most contain both mercury and aluminum, well-known neurotoxic and immunotoxic agents. Avoid anticholinergics and statin 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.
Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10 and neurotransmitter precursors, and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein.
Challenge your mind daily Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's.
Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.