What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by cognitive decline that eventually leads to death. The underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood; however, it appears to be the consequence of many converging factors of aging, including accumulation of toxic protein aggregates in the brain, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Chronic infection with bacterial or viral pathogens also seems to play an underappreciated role in progression of the disease.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. And while available treatments may slightly improve symptoms, they do not alter the course of the disease. However, natural interventions such as huperzine A and lipoic acid may help protect cognitive function and promote brain health.
What are the Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Advanced age
- Family history/carrying a genetic variant
- Certain infections
- Vascular conditions (eg, high blood pressure, diabetes)
- History of head trauma
- High homocysteine levels
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Silent strokes
- Central obesity (ie, high hip-to-waist ratio)
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (eg, donepezil [Aricept], rivastigmine [Exelon], and galantamine [Razadyne])
- NMDA receptor blockers (eg, memantine [Namenda])
What are Emerging Therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease?
Note: Many of the therapies listed below are debated, with some studies that show benefit and others that do not. Alzheimer’s research to determine the efficacy of various treatments is always ongoing.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Blood pressure lowering drugs
- Etanercept (Enbrel), a drug used for certain inflammatory conditions, may have benefits for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), a growth factor that promotes creation of new neurons, has shown benefit in animal models.
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a signaling protein that declines with age and Alzheimer’s, is a potential therapy.
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)
- Vaccines to clear plaque from the brain
- Hormone replacement therapy, and others
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Alzheimer’s Disease?
- The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
- Low-calorie diets have been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Regular exercise can improve brain health.
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Huperzine A. Derived from the plant Huperzia serrata, huperzine A has a mechanism of action similar to existing Alzheimer’s drugs and has been shown to improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients.
- Lion’s mane. Lion’s mane is a mushroom used traditionally in Asia to improve memory. Preclinical and small preliminary clinical trials show promise for improving cognition in Alzheimer’s.
- Lipoic acid. This antioxidant reduces inflammation and has been shown to slow disease progression in small clinical studies of Alzheimer’s patients.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine. Another antioxidant, acetyl-L-carnitine has been shown to benefit patients with mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s.
- Panax ginseng. The Panax ginseng plant produces memory improvements. Alzheimer’s patients given a high dose saw improvements in their cognitive abilities.
- Vitamins C and E. Vitamins C and E are well known for their antioxidant properties. Supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), improved cognitive function and memory in people with age-related cognitive decline.
- Phosphatidylserine. Supplementation with phosphatidylserine, a natural component of cell membranes, improved cognition in elderly people with cognitive impairment.
- Coffee. Coffee consumption is linked with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Long-term coffee intake may enhance working memory as well.
- B vitamins. B vitamins lower homocysteine levels, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Multiple studies have shown that low levels of B vitamins (B12, folate, niacin, etc.) are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and impaired cognitive function while higher levels are protective.
- Many additional natural interventions may be beneficial for cognitive health, including ginkgo biloba, curcumin, melatonin, vinpocetine, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), grape seed extract, and others.