In 1906, during a routine autopsy, Dr. Alois Alzheimer found a brain that had shrunk to half its size, with abnormal deposits around nerve cells. He described his findings, and the disease had its name.
More than a 100 years later, scientists and doctors don’t know much more than Dr. Alzheimer did about the causes of the disease.
What we do know is that it is a heartbreaking condition that affects over 5 million Americans today. To not recognize your family, or forget where you live or if you’ve had breakfast that day is the stuff of nightmares.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s are yet to be definitively identified, advanced computer imaging of the brains of patients gives us a clue of how the disease progresses.
Simply understood, abnormal amounts of protein, fibers, and a chemical called acetylcholine lead the build up of plaque in the neurons in the brain. Over time, these fiber tangles and plaque cover the brain, literally suffocating it and cutting off normal communication between nerve cells. This results in:
It’s an age-related illness—that is to say, it largely strikes older patients. Long-standing inflammation (such as in people with diabetes) and oxidative stress in the body seem to be linked to Alzheimer’s.
These changes in the brain usually begin at least 10 years before an individual is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As neurons get damaged and die, parts of the brain start shrinking.
New studies point to conditions that may increase an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, and stroke.
A healthy lifestyle, with a focus on staying physically and mentally active, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, drinking in moderation, not smoking, and eating healthfully helps to decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s.
Supplements that reduce chronic inflammation, damage from oxidative stress, and the aggravating conditions listed above can help reduce the risk of onset of Alzheimer’s and even help those already suffering from the condition. Finally, research is pouring in about how keeping your mind ticking – with puzzles, games, etc. – can help you keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
Important note: Alzheimer’s is a disease that is still poorly understood and difficult to diagnose with certainty. A thorough 30–60 minute consultation with a physician is necessary to rule out other medical conditions related to mental decline. Sadly, this is rarely done in the U.S. Insist on a full diagnostic consultation with your doctor before starting any medication which often has serious side effects.