George Pararas-Carayannis, Ph.D.
from summary prepared under contract for the ReGenesis Medical
Center/ Dec 2000)
Aging of the brain
is a continuous linear process that begins at conception. However,
the brain is a unique organ in that it has enormous recuperative
characteristics and the ability to constantly rewire itself and
regenerate for more efficient operation.
Alzheimer' s is a
common, and very serious, degenerative disease which leads to
the gradual degeneration of the human brain. The illness impairs
mental and emotional functions in older adults, causing them
to lose their memory and their ability to care for themselves.
Alois Alzheimer, a
German neuropathologist is credited with the discovery in 1906
of the disease, named after him. Specifically Alzheimer examined
under the microscope brain lesions from one of his patients who
had died, following a long stay in a mental institution. Alzheimer
was able to detect twin markers in the affected brain tissue.
These were plaques in the empty spaces between nerve cells and
stringy tangles erupting from within the nerve cells.
The significance of
these markers has been debated for almost 90 years. For a long
time, scientists have wondered which, if not both, of the twin
markers may be responsible for Alzheimer's disease. In recent
years, intense research has revealed additional genetic and environmental
clues for the development of the disease, the formation of the
plaques, and the mechanism by which brain cells shrink and die.
may reach epidemic proportions in the future
It is estimated that
about 20 million people around the world are suffering from the
disease. In the U.S. alone about 4 million people are presently
affected. The numbers of those affected by Alzheimer's are rapidly
increasing as the world population grows and people live longer,
thanks to the development of vaccines and antibiotics.
Unless a cure is found,
it is expected that Alzheimer's disease will reach epidemic proportions
around the world in a few years. It is estimated that by the
year 2050, the number of people affected by the disease will
increase by threefold, to about 60 million, with about 14 million
in the U.S. alone.
and Senile Dementia
There is no such thing
as an aging brain in the sense that it connotes some pivotal
event or period in a human life when something happens that is
not desirable. According to studies presented at the World Alzheimer
Congress 2000, people can get older without getting worse mentally.
Studies at the Washington University in St. Louis, indicate that
Alzheimer's disease is not inevitable. Some people can maintain
mental acuity well after age 90.
When mental difficulties
arise, they are not necessarily a function of aging but rather
of a disease which occurs in stages, over a long period of time.
Whether a person will be affected by Alzheimer's Disease at an
earlier or later stage in life, probably depends on a combination
of genetics, lifestyle, education, and just plain luck.
and Symptoms of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is often confused with Senile Dementia which
also is a progressive or permanent decline in intellectual function
and often, but not always, is caused by Alzheimer's disease.
Senile Dementia is non-specific and may be caused also by other
organic diseases that affect the brain.
There are several
tests used to diagnose the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms and
the stage that a patient may be in.
First Stage (Mild -
from two to four years)
Loss of initiative
and interest in favorite activities and hobbies
Forgetfulness of the names of common things, such as bread or
Increased forgetfulness that interferes with ability to complete
Confusion with numbers and their meaning.
Decreased judgmental ability and common sense
Second Stage (Moderate
- from two to eight years)
Inability to recognize close friends and family
Wondering around, getting lost
Increased confusion, anxiety and personality changes
Third Stage (Severe
- from one to three years)
Inability to remember
anything or to process new information
of Alzheimer's Disease
Cannot recognize family members
Cannot use or understand words but still responds to music, touch
or eye contact
Difficulty eating, swallowing
Inability to dress, bathe or groom self: unable to control bladder
and bowel function.
The actual causes
of Alzheimer's disease are not yet known with certainty. Alzheimer's
is not related to problems of the circulatory system. However,
the disease is always characterized by the presence of sticky
plaques outside the neurons and stringy tangles within them.
It is not yet known whether the lesions occur simultaneously,
whether one precedes the other, or whether something else triggers
them. There are several schools of thought as to the cause of
Beta Amyloid Theory
: Many researchers now believe that the culprit
that causes Alzheimer's is a fragment of a very sticky protein
known as "beta amyloid". Excessive amounts of beta
amyloid may be toxic to the neurons in the brain, in the same
way that excess cholesterol is toxic to the cells in the walls
of arteries and veins. Alzheimer's patients appear to produce
an abundance of beta amyloid which is a protein fragment of a
much larger protein known as the amyloid-precursor protein, or
APP for short. Beta amyloid fragments are produced when enzymes
known as "secretases" react with APP. An abundance
of sticky beta amyloids appears to form the plaques observed
on the surface of neuron cells. When these plaques grow dense,
an inflammation develops. A reaction by the body's immune system
cells winds up killing innocent nerve cells. The good news is
that, If indeed beta amyloid is the the cause of Alzheimer's
disease, therapies will soon begin to be implemented.
Apoe Theory : Another
group of scientists believe that APOE4, a gene that was recently
discovered, may be responsible for the susceptibility of people
to Alzheimer's disease. According to this school of thought,
the predisposing gene APOE4 may be even present at birth, and
may not manifest until age 65 or older. The significance of APOE4
is not yet well understood. However, it is believed that it plays
a role in the clearing of the amyloid plaques.
Tau Theory : A
third school of thought advocates that another molecule, known
as "tau", assembles microtubules that support the structure
of the nerve cells, in the same way that ties hold railroad track
in place. Chemical changes in the nerve cells cause the tau molecules
to change shape. When this happens, the tau molecules can no
longer hold the microtubules properly aligned. The "railroad
ties" begin to twist and tangle causing the cells to shrink
and environmental factors play a significant role in the development
Ongoing research studies
indicate that several genetic and environmental factors may be
responsible for the development of Alzheimer's disease. Understanding
the differences between predisposing genetic and preventable
environmental risk factors, may lead to earlier diagnosis and
halting in the progression of the disease.
individuals could be diagnosed earlier and receive treatment
long before their brains stop functioning. Similarly, individuals
exposed to environmental risk factors could be diagnosed and
treated earlier. Furthermore, if identified early, the environmental
risk factors can be mitigated.
Genetic Risk Factors: Considerable progress has been reported in tracking
down the genes that put people at risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Genetic research is concentrated on chromosome 21 for the coding
that produces the amyloid-precursor protein, or APP for short.
Since APOE4 appears
to contribute to the development of more than 60% of all late
stage Alzheimer's cases, genetic encoding research is concentrated
on Chromosome 21. Other research is being carried to identify
still other Alzheimer's-susceptibility genes. For example, on
the genetic encoding of chromosome 12 for a gene known as A2M.
It is still a little too early to say which of the genetic factors
predisposes people to Alzheimer's. However, a breakthrough in
research may soon occur and thus lead to effective treatment
of this terrible disease.
Factors: Several environmental factors
and life styles may be also responsible for putting people at
risk for Alzheimer's disease. For example a diet high in fat
and cholesterol may elevate the risk.
Factors such as education
appear to lower the risk of cognitive decline. Recent studies
have shown that the most rapid decline in cognition was associated
with those who had less than nine years of education.
studies correlate Alzheimer's Disease to high blood pressure,
high cholesterol and diabetes
Recent clinical studies
have provided most encouraging news correlating genetic markers
of Alzheimer's disease and risk factors for heart disease, such
as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. During
the course of the studies, a larger percentage of individual
patients who had both genetic markers of Alzheimer's and risk
factors of heart disease, exhibited lower mental acuity than
those without heart disease risk factors. The significance of
these findings is that mitigation of heart disease factors, not
only lowers the possibility of a heart attack or stroke, but
it also may lower or delay the incidence of Alzheimer's.
not yet available
Although there is
extensive ongoing research, no cure has yet been found for Alzheimer's.
However, the National Institute on Aging reports on research
studies related to the discovery of a new molecular marker for
Alzheimer's disease. This marker is a cellular enzyme. Such research
may result in a breakthrough on a cure.
and treatment of Alzheimer's Disease
There is a great deal
of optimism that early screening and diagnosis of Alzheimer's
disease will result in treatments that may reduce some of the
is a terrifying affliction. Diagnosing the disease can be as
devastating to the family as it is to the patient. Doctors administer
several medical and psychological tests to make an Alzheimer's
diagnosis. Standard allopathic (medical) approaches and treatments,
are used. Risk factors are evaluated. Prevention measures are
discussed and evaluated.
Treatment: Traditional medical treatment may depend on the
developmental stage of the disease. Various drug therapy treatments
are used in treating Alzheimer's disease. None of these actually
provides a cure. Doctors believe that they will shortly have
on hand several drugs capable of slowing - and perhaps even halting
- the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Preventive measures for Alzheimer's
disease in Women: According
to the National Institute on Aging, a 16 year study has provided
evidence that estrogen replacement therapy may be protective
against Alzheimer's Disease in women.
In addition to the
standard medical diagnosis and treatment, there are numerous
nontraditional therapies, which may complement the therapy of
Alzheimer's patients. Many of these alternative therapies are
beginning to be the focus of growing interest on the part of
mainstream medicine. Alternative therapies may include such things
as herbs and acupuncture.
A look to
In the not too distant
future, it is very possible that Alzheimer's disease will be
effectively treated and even prevented. Ongoing research is uncovering
new and startling insights into Alzheimer's. Better understanding
of the genetic and environmental risk factors will lead to much
earlier diagnosis of the disease and treatment before cognitive
functions of the brain begin to fade. In the future, Alzheimer's
disease may be viewed as serious illness as heart disease is,
that perhaps can be treated and even be prevented with proper
Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease
In view of the fact
that clinical studies have correlated Alzheimer's Disease to
high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, antioxidants,
vitamins, minerals and chelation therapy may be very helpful.
Antioxidants Vitamins and Minerals
: The use of antioxidants
administered through intravenous chelation therapy contributes
significantly to the an overall better health of Alzheimer's
patients. Similarly, vitamins and mineral administered intravenously
have much better absorption rates and can also help with overall
health problems. Intravenously admitted EDTA, Glutathione and
Phosphatidyl Choline (a nutrient for the brain cells) can help
improve circulation of blood to the heart, the body and the brain
These will also help remove some of the plaque that often is
found in the walls of arteries and veins.
Home care of Alzheimer's
In parallel with these
treatments, lifestyle and behavior changes, diet, exercise, body
mind approaches, and similar self care measures can help Alzheimer's
patients cope and even slow down progression of the disease.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
ON CHRONIC AND OTHER DISEASES GO TO THE WEBSITE OF HEALTH CARE SOURCE
AND ITS PAGE ON ALZHEIMER'S
Summaries on Chronic Illnesses
heart disease | |
stroke | diabetes |
| high blood
| | high cholesterol | | Alzheimer's | |
arthritis | |
| poor circulation | | brain injury | | multiple sclerosis | | cerebral palsy | | life extension | | memory
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