Updated: December 2021
In Alzheimer’s Disease – The Gut Connection (Part 1), we discussed the importance of making better decisions and how life decisions could help prevent cognitive decline.
We also learned how inflammation could possibly lead to the degenerative processes that occur with Alzheimer’s Disease. Enjoy reading (Part 2) to learn more…
Alzheimer’s Disease – The Gut Connection (Part 2)
Three Levels of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Mild Alzheimer’s sufferers forget directions, have trouble decision-making, trouble planning, anxiety, have disconnect and occasional loss of word formation.
- Moderate cases begin to forget family and friends along with some poor judgment.
- Severe is increases in paranoia, depression, violence, and anger. They are also unaware of person, places, or things.
Seven Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Stage 1: No impairment, or impaired individuals experience no memory problems at all or none are evident to a healthcare professional in a medical interview. You can pick up some subtle signs on physical exam though.
Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline, may have early age related changes or earliest onset Alzheimer’s. Individuals may feel as if they have memory loss especially forgetting names or words, or location of keys or other objects/symptoms. The immediate family may report loss of word or name finding ability.
Stage 3: Decreased ability to remember names when meeting new people. Performance issues in social settings noticeable to family friends or coworkers. Reading a passage and being able to recall very little. Loss of memory of where you placed valuable objects and inability to plan or organize.
We look at these and realize that most of us have problems with these kinds of things when we get stressed out and have high anxiety levels. That is an example of cortisol and what it can do to your brain. When you get stressed, your adrenal glands release more cortisol and it affects hippocampal brain function in a negative way.
Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline. Decreased recollection of recent occasions or events. Impaired ability to perform challenging arithmetic such as subtracting the number seven in reverse order starting at 75 going down.
Stage 5: Difficulty planning dinner for guests, managing finances, paying bills, reduced memory of personal history.
Stage 6: Needs help handling details such as flushing, wiping, and disposing of tissue properly.
Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline, lose the ability to respond to the environment, lose the ability to carry on a conversation and eventually control movement. They may still say words or phrases.
Should I Focus on Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Obviously, prevention is key. Early stage cognitive decline can possibly be slowed by getting the body and brain into an anti-inflammatory state. Once someone moves into latter stages, not much can be done.
The further progressed someone is in the Alzheimer’s process, the harder it is for them to bounce back. This is just another reason why prevention is so important. I always say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”
The progression of Alzheimer’s is logarithmic. It starts slow and then as it moves forward, the progression becomes faster and faster. We want to catch these in the earliest stages as possible.
Alzheimer’s prevention is early detection. Accelerated brain synapse loss can be caused by head trauma, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high homocysteine, no exercise, and specific genes.
How is Smell Related to Alzheimer’s Disease?
Early detection of Alzheimer’s can be detected from the loss of sense of smell. Alzheimer’s and dementia starts in the hippocampus but it almost always starts on the left side. A few years back, there was a study that blindfolded patients and had them smell peanut butter.
They measured the distance at which the patient could first smell the peanut butter. The study concluded that 20 to 30 years before someone developed severe stages of Alzheimer’s, they would lose the ability to smell the peanut butter further away on the left side when compared to the right.
There is a correlation here. You have five senses. Four of the five senses go to the thalamus in the brain. The thalamus coordinates by telling your brain what to do with what.
Limbic System and Dementia
There is one of the senses that does not go to the thalamus but instead goes to the limbic system. That is the sense of smell.
The sense of smell goes to the limbic system first. That’s why smells can trigger such strong emotions and memories. That’s why in early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is having some damage done to it, you can lose some level of the sense of smell.
When I run an Adrenal Salivary Index Test on a patient and the patient has a problem with sleep/wake cycles (a broken circadian rhythm) and they are 45 or 50 years old: I view that as a very strong precursor for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
It doesn’t mean that they are going to get dementia or Alzheimer’s but it means that their chances are significantly higher. The pineal gland also coordinates cortisol release but in these situations it is believed to be mostly related to the hippocampus.
Early Signs of Cognitive Decline
Early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be detected by irregularities in gait. A slower gate or walk, or one that becomes variable or less controlled is a sign of poor hippocampal/brain health and that cognitive health is suffering. Impairments in gait can be some of the earliest signs of cognitive impairment in adults.
Primary prevention of dementia is to focus on modifiable factors. Dementia is increasing in an aging world and there is no cure. Once again, illustrating the importance of prevention.
Non-modifiable Alzheimer’s risks would be something such as genetics. An estimated 47 million people are living with dementia worldwide and this number is expected to triple by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is modifiable by lifestyle decisions such as proper eating habits, maintaining gut health, blood sugar regulation, exercise and mental activation and activity.
What are Modifiable Risk Factors for Dementia?
Regulate sugar dysglycemia. As I’ve explained, too much insulin is toxic to the hippocampus. Stay away from foods that are going to cause a surge in insulin and then a corresponding reactive hypoglycemia.
Hypo – or – hyper lipidemia is too little or too much fat. If you don’t have enough fat in the system the brain cells are not going to be healthy. People who have had a cholecystectomy (removal of their gall bladder) can have fat absorption problems and become malnourished over time.
It’s also common for people who don’t have a gall bladder to experience acid reflux (GERD), aka: heart burn or indegestion.
They don’t have concentrated bile (like before they had their gall bladder removed) and can’t emulsify or break down fats. It actually becomes a situation where malabsorption leads to malnutrition.
Brain cells have to have phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol or they are not going to be healthy. Excessive and chronic inflammation, inefficient detoxification, and chronic/low-grade infections have all been shown to dramatically increase the risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Leave No Stone Unturned
That’s why it is so important to have a comprehensive and thorough blood work performed and analyzed in order to look for deep seeded stealth infections, proper liver function, and markers of inflammatory processes.
How is the Immune System Involved with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease?
Again, microglia in the brain are cells that control immune function in the brain. When the gut is inflamed it will send cytokines to the brain which will activate the microglia.
When microglia are activated, the immune system is working overtime which creates all kinds of destruction. Microglia activation releases more cytokines into the brain which causes oxidation that tears down the mitochondrial membrane and creates brain cell death.
This process creates a decrease in acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is what controls the speed of the brain. This is why things like acetyl l-carnitine, coQ10, and alpha lipoic acid are additional supplements that are good for brain health. They help protect the health of the mitochondria which are the energy producers of the body and brain.
The greater question is finding out why the microglia are being activated in the first place. So in the short term it’s good to supplement with these things but in going for the greater good, we want to find out the cause.
The neuron theory which was formulated over 100 years ago says the brain needs three things: sugar, (not too much, not too little), an adequate amount of oxygen, and an adequate amount of activation which is simply keeping the brain occupied.
Mark Twain said that most people’s brains die at the age of 25 and then they live in the shell of the body for another 50 years.
Many people quit learning at some point in their 20’s. Even though the neuron theory was written over 100 years ago (and we know that the brain needs activation) it has been proven that people who have higher levels of education have less dementia.
Should I Always Learn New Things?
It doesn’t matter how old you are, try to learn something new in order to challenge your brain and stimulate neurological pathways. Watch your diet and stay away from inflammatory foods.
Exercise or at least do deep breathing exercises to get oxygen to the tissues. Work to stay healthy so that you are not anemic or have other health issues that create a decrease in the amount of oxygen getting to the cells in your body.
In the body, the brain is the center of all activity. The gut is a close second because the nerves in the gut are called the “second brain”.
Sugar and oxygen are so important because they are the fuel sources for the brain. If you cut the amount of fuel then the engine doesn’t work as well.
The Bottom Line
It’s as simple as this: Long term sugar dysregulation, long term deprivation of oxygen, long term deprivation of activation and learning creates a very high risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia across the board.
What about Dementia?
Dementia is not Alzheimer’s Disease. However, dementia can be a precursor for Alzheimer’s. Dementia is defined as a chronic, acquired decline in memory and at least one other function such as communication, motor execution, recognition, or executive function.
Executive function comes from the frontal lobe which is your ability to act normal or not to act normal in society. Whatever normal is.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
Alterations in mood or personality, memory loss that interferes with daily living, confusion with time or place, difficulty with speaking or writing, inability to retrace steps, and poor decision-making.
Early-onset dementia occurs before 65 and is primarily a genetic problem. Over 95% of Alzheimer’s is actually what’s called Sporadic Alzheimer’s or older age Alzheimer’s (if it starts at the age of 65) and is another “disease of lifestyle choices” like Type 2 Diabetes.
This is where I have the greatest success in helping people get cognitive improvements and also why I try desperately to educate all of my patients and those who will listen.
Because 95% of Alzheimer’s isn’t genetic! Decisions we make lead to tissue and brain damage over many years and could be avoided in many cases.
Women Are High Risk
Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s. One is six women over 60 years of age are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. To compare, the odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 11. Almost 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
High homocysteine has been directly linked with osteoporosis. The mechanism isn’t exactly known, but osteoporosis is an inflammatory driven condition in which the bones will lose calcium and become brittle and weak.
It could be a homocysteine itself directly causing osteoporosis or it could be that inflammation is known to cause osteoporosis by inhibiting osteoblasts (cells that build bones) and activating osteoclasts (cells that break down bones).
It is a fact that both men and women who have high levels of homocysteine (something I test for on my Currie Blood Panel bloodwork analysis) have an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
It is also a fact that women who have cardiovascular disease and high homocysteine have significantly increased risk of dying from a stroke or a heart attack than women who don’t have high homocysteine?
What are your homocysteine levels? You probably don’t know because if you haven’t done my bloodwork, chances are that you haven’t had it tested.
A healthy female should have a homocysteine lower than a 7. A healthy male should have a homocysteine lower than an 8.
Clinical ranges on blood work can be as high as 10-11. However, what if your brain and nervous system would work better with a homocysteine of an 8 or 9?
Just because your homocysteine may not be through the roof and out of clinical range, doesn’t mean that your brain wouldn’t function better if you had it a couple of points lower.
You Are What You Eat!
Remember the saying, “You are what you eat”? I would agree with this statement 100%. However, what if you eat your healthy food but have some digestive health issues that are keeping you from absorbing your food? That could lead to malnutrition from malabsorption.
What if you suffer from a leaky gut, food sensitivities, or a chronic infection that is causing an up regulation of your immune system and systemic inflammation throughout your body (and brain)?
The barrier system in your digestive tract that can lead to a leaky gut is the same barrier system in your brain, so a leaky gut = a leaky brain.
In addition, neurotransmitters are made in your digestive tract. I wrote an article on serotonin that explained how over 90% of serotonin (your “feel good” neurotransmitter that combats depression and anxiety) is made in your digestive tract.
When a patient comes to me with depression and anxiety, one of my first points of focus and emphasis is on digestive system health!
Having a healthy digestive tract is critical so that you can absorb not only proteins, fats, carbohydrates, etc… for fuel but also vitamins and minerals for overall health. Yes, it is important to regulate blood sugar levels to protect brain health.
What Should I Do to Prevent Dementia?
It can be complicated because there are thousands of diets, cookbooks, health counselors, nutritionists, doctors, etc… and just as many opinions about what is healthy or not.
I enjoy following core principles when it comes to health and using lab testing to monitor and track my patients’ health. Eating a clean, anti-inflammatory diet, keeping the immune system calm, using supplements when necessary, exercising and stress reduction are all very important strategies. I hope you enjoyed this article.
Happiness is Health,
Dr. Keith Currie