Dementia is the progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond that expected in normal ageing. Although it’s far more common in older people, dementia may occur in any stage of adulthood. Affected areas of cognition may be memory, attention, language and problem solving.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Named after the German neuropathologist who discovered it, Alzheimer’s is a chronic degenerative brain disease characterised by the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. These occur when proteins produced in the brain don’t fold up into the correct shape.
The disease attacks nerve cells in all parts of the cortex of the brain, as well as some surrounding structures. These are the parts of the brain that allow us to govern our emotions, recognise errors and patterns, coordinate movement and remember.
At present there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but much can be done in terms of prevention and to help slow the progression of the condition.
- Memory loss
- Poor decision making
- Loss of personal items
- Loss of interest in activities
- Anxiety, irritability or depression
- Needing assistance to carry out day-to-day activities
- Inappropriate behaviour
- Physical frailty
- Problems with swallowing
- Loss of speech or speech that becomes repetitive
Genetics: only about 10% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease exhibit familial inheritance. However, certain genes do act as risk factors for the disease: apolipoprotein E gene, for instance, helps to transport cholesterol and builds healthy membranes for the brain’s neurons. Those who carry a certain variation of this gene have more than double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia, Smart Nutrition can advise you on key prevention techniques. A Vitamin and Mineral Screen is an excellent preventative measure.
Nutritional deficiencies: the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (Optima) found that Alzheimer’s may be caused by a vitamin-deficient diet. Launched in 1988, Optima has collected blood samples from hundreds of patients. Its results show that those with low levels of B12 and folic acid are between 3 and 4 times more likely to suffer from the disease.
A Vitamin and Mineral Screen gives you a comprehensive overview of your nutrient status, so any deficiencies can be identified and corrected before they become a problem.
The NutrEval Test gives a comprehensive overview of your nutrient status, so any deficiencies can be identified and corrected before they become a problem. Smart Nutrition’s qualified nutritional therapists can advise you on key dietary changes and the best supplements to take to get your body back into balance.
High homocysteine: because B vitamins play an important role in metabolising the toxic substance homocysteine, deficiencies can be extremely detrimental to health. A naturally-occurring chemical produced within the body, homocysteine poses no threat when its levels are kept in check – but if the body’s ability to break it down is compromised, it can accumulate.
As well as being linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s high homocysteine is linked to mental health problems, cardiovascular disease and many other conditions. Once identified with a Homocysteine Levels Test, it can be easily treated with a specially-designed supplement programme and diet.
Oxidative damage and inflammation: inflammatory processes are largely mediated by chemicals called free radicals. Normally the body has very good mechanisms for mopping up free radicals before they do us any damage. However, in chronic inflammation we are constantly exposed to high levels and our body’s defence mechanism can become overwhelmed. Normal brain molecules are disrupted as a result of inflammation, which can cause amyloid beta proteins in the brain to misfold, leading to the formation of plaques and tangles. The presence of these plaques and tangles then causes further inflammation … and a vicious circle begins.
Cardiovascular disease: diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is based on identification of plaques or patches of dead cells in the brain. Formed from a protein called beta amyloid, this is the same substance implicated in the arterial plaques which can cause cardiovascular problems.
Scientists now think that people who suffer from cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, heart attacks and strokes have an increased risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
If you have a diagnosis of these conditions, Smart Nutrition can put together a specific protocol for you to support your cardiovascular health and longterm wellness. You may also like to consider a test to assess your Cardiovascular Health.
Stress: when we’re stressed, our bodies produce more of the ‘fight or flight’ chemicals, which prepare us for an emergency. One of these is cortisol. In small amounts cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory – but elevated levels sustained for a long period of time can damage the brain.
Smart Nutrition’s Adrenal Stress Test uses saliva samples to measure the levels of the different stress hormones throughout the day. This can help to pinpoint any imbalances which can then be corrected with the help of a nutritional therapist, decreasing the chances of stress causing a more serious problem.
Aluminium toxicity: aluminium is often found in the plaques of Alzheimer’s sufferers, though it’s not yet clear whether this is a cause or consequence of the disease. Present in aspirin, antacids, self-raising flour, processed cheese, drinking water, baking powder, tobacco smoke, drink cans, cooking pans and utensils, air pollution, antiperspirants and aluminium foil, aluminium plays no beneficial role in human nutrition, and it’s advisable to keep levels as low as possible.
Studies show that people routinely exposed to aluminium display higher incidence of impaired cognitive function and memory. If you’re concerned about your aluminium exposure, there are two ways of testing for heavy metal toxicity: you can chose between a Hair Mineral Analysis or a Urine Test.
Acetylcholine deficiency: acetylcholine is a molecule used by the brain to coordinate memory and learning; levels are often low in sufferers of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Medications can treat acetylcholine deficiency, helping to relieve symptoms of the disease – but there are also a number of nutrients and supplements that help encourage the body to make more of its own acetylcholine.
Poor blood supply to the brain: brain cells need a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen, which is provided by the blood. If there is any interruption of blood flow to the brain, cells quickly become damaged and may even die – the main cause of vascular dementia. It can also lead to the inflammatory processes implicated in Alzheimer’s.
Poor blood flow is often the result of an underlying cardiovascular problem that needs to be treated by a medical professional. Smart Nutrition can support medical treatment with dietary, lifestyle and nutrient advice.
Digestive and detoxification problems: digestive problems can lead to poor liver detoxification, creating an increased toxic load on the brain and generating inflammation – a likely factor in Alzheimer’s. They also predispose you to nutrient deficiencies.
If you’re concerned about your digestion and detoxification, Smart Nutrition recommend a Stool Analysis Test to identify any irregularities in your digestive process.