By Dr. Candice Hall
Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Knowing this, it may come as a surprise to learn that only 16 percent of seniors are given cognitive evaluations during their routine medical check-ups.
Until recently, forgetfulness, lapses in judgment, and difficulty reasoning or solving problems have been thought to be a natural part of the aging process. Science is now coming to understand that what we often call “senior moments” are being caused by a downsizing of the brain’s neural network. These reductions within the brain can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
The medical community has identified a multitude of early threats that are responsible for the symptoms found in patients with slow cognitive decline. Among these, inflammation, loss of trophic factors, type 3 diabetes, toxic illness, decreased blood flow to the brain, and head trauma are all factors that can make a person susceptible to different types of Alzheimer’s disease.
Type 1: Inflammatory
Did you know that an adult human’s digestive system contains intestinal lining that can cover over 4,000 square feet of surface area? If this lining is in poor health, it is prone to develop fissures and gaps that can allow toxins to escape via “leaky gut syndrome.” Should these erratic toxins permeate the brain, they can become one of many ways a person can experience inflammation.
Prolonged elevation in systemic and cellular inflammation causes the brain to degenerate. Under this threat, the mind will begin reorganizing resources or downsizing, which can set off an imbalance in what is called the prionic loop. This cycle destroys neurons and diminishes brain health. A recognizable decrease in the ability to retain new information is an early symptom of inflammation.
A proactive way to combat the toxic triggers that lead to neuroinflammation is by subscribing to an anti-inflammatory diet. Replacing processed, refined, and sugary foods with nutritious and whole antioxidant-rich alternatives can help reduce a body’s inflammation.
Type 2: Trophic
Everyone understands that a healthy garden requires a reliable combination of fertile soil, sunlight, and moisture. Together, these elements can sustain a robust seed-to-plant lifecycle. However, if one of those ingredients runs out, the vegetation suffers and stops producing a quality harvest.
Similarly, the human brain must continuously receive a steady diet of hormones and nutrients to survive and function at an optimal level. Trophic factors are molecules that are responsible for creating and maintaining different classes of neurons in the brain. When the mind is deprived of any of these requirements, it will often begin the process of systematically downsizing to conserve resources for higher functions.
A typical type 2 patient may experience challenges when they try to learn and retain new information. This could be the result of an imbalance in any of these areas:
- Thyroid hormones
- Brain-derived neural growth factor (BDNF)
- Neural growth hormone
- Testosterone in males
- Estrogen and progesterone in females
Type 1.5: Glycotoxic (Type 3 Diabetes)
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30.3 million Americans are living with diabetes as of 2015. In research conducted by USC psychologists, patients with untreated diabetes began manifesting signs of Alzheimer’s disease 1.6 times faster than study participants that didn’t have diabetes.
Type 3 diabetes, or glycotoxic Alzheimer’s disease, indicates that a brain is either not secreting enough insulin or that the brain is resisting insulin. High blood glucose is also very inflammatory. Either condition can cause atrophic deficiencies, which will deteriorate the brain’s cells and receptors. This deadly combination is a potent trigger of the prionic loop that leads to downsizing of the neural networks.
Someone dealing with glycotoxic Alzheimer’s disease will tend to be forgetful, while confusing names, places, and dates. They will experience a noticeable decrease in their cognitive abilities.
Type 3: Toxic Illness
Many toxins have now been linked and confirmed to be causative in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. These toxins, which can cause harmful buildup in the brain, are divided into two subgroups:
- Inorganic: The most common examples of inorganic toxins are aluminum, cadmium, lead, and mercury. These substances are everywhere, including the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air that we breathe. Also, individuals with a history of chronic alcoholism, drug use, and multiple rounds of general anesthesia are exposing themselves to dangerous levels of toxic exposure.
- Biotoxin: People are familiar with the dangers of mold infections and Lyme disease. We routinely come in contact with biotoxins in the form of fungi (mycotoxins), plants (phytotoxins), and animals (zootoxins).
Individuals facing a toxic illness may exhibit fatigue and depression while finding challenges in solving everyday problems, such as organizing and math.
Type 4: Vascular
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Evidence suggests that changes in diet, exercise and habits—steps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease—may also lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
One of the critical functions of the cardiovascular system is delivering consistent blood flow from the heart to the brain. Any loss of blood flow to the brain can result in decreased neuronal perfusion, which can harm brain cells and lead to measurable memory disorder.
It is common for brain imaging on the aging population to reveal small vessel disease, which can lead to the small blood vessels in the brain becoming blocked. Meanwhile, vascular traumas like stroke or ruptured aneurysms have been implicated in the prionic loop cascade that can lead to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and Alzheimer’s.
Symptoms of vascular trouble can be manifest in disruptions to awareness, judgment, reasoning, and recollection.
Type 5: Traumatic
In the United States, traumatic brain injuries accounted for approximately 2.87 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths during 2014. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “certain types of traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”
Research indicates that multiple head traumas, concussions, and history of intracranial injury are known triggers for the prionic loop, which can cause the neural network to contract. Dysfunction in these neural networks can contribute to the symptoms of MCI and Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic Alzheimer’s disease may demonstrate confusion, flawed judgment, memory loss, depression, aggression, and anxiety.
Fortunately, comprehensive testing to identify the root cause of the cognitive decline is currently available and accessible to individuals at any stage of the spectrum. Screening includes, but is not limited to, extensive blood chemistry, genetic testing, stool, saliva, and other specialty tests. Plus, the health history and timeline help to complete a very complex picture.
Individualized and patient-centered, the functional medicine model is a science-based relationship between patients and practitioners to identify the source of disease and promote wellness. Data from each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors are leveraged to develop personalized treatments that promote optimal patient results.
Instead of addressing symptoms, practitioners who target root causes have become oriented in identifying the complexities of cognitive decline. To take advantage of these medical breakthroughs, individuals need to be aware of how inflammatory, trophic, glycotoxic, toxic illness, vascular, and traumatic threats can make a person susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. Contact a certified functional medicine practice near you to begin the journey to a healthier you.
Dr. Candice Hall, D.C. and Dr. Wayne Greathouse, D.C. treat patients at Next Advanced Medicine in Tustin, California. Together, they devise life-changing programs for individuals facing diabetes, cognitive decline/early-stage Alzheimer’s, thyroid dysfunction, and autoimmune disorder.