By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I’ve been studying extensively the latest research, and especially the Functional Medicine approach to Alzheimer’s disease because it has become clear to me that this devastating condition is one of the most important things we need to focus on with women’s health. The statistics below will likely shock you as much as they did me.
The latest statistics are alarming
Alzheimer’s disease is an enormous and growing global issue, with more than 44 million people globally with cognitive decline. Women are at the centre of this epidemic, accounting for 65% of the cases being diagnosed and being 60% of the caregivers involved.
Did you know that if you are a woman, your lifetime chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease is now greater than your risk of developing breast cancer? A woman’s lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s is now 1 in 6, compared to her lifetime breast cancer risk of 1 in 8. This is a condition that requires our immediate attention! (1,2,3)
Although in Canada, Alzheimer’s and Dementia are rated the 7th leading cause of death (4), in the UK they are ranked #1 leading cause of death for both men and women (5), ahead of cardiovascular disease and cancer; and in Australia #1 leading cause of death in women (6). This discrepancy from country to country could be due to differences in reporting and categorization (7).
We know many people who have survived cancer, but do you know someone who has survived Alzheimer’s? We have been told that there is nothing that we can do to prevent, reverse or slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
New research, enormous hope
“Cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease can now be reversed, and improvement sustained, using a personalized programmatic approach that is targeted to the underlying pathophysiology.” – Dr. Dale Bredesen.
There is an incredibly effective, and personalized approach to preventing and treating early signs of Alzheimer’s disease based on the 30 years of research by Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD using a “multimodal approach.” What this means is that through understanding both the 6 different subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as 36 possible mechanisms that can cause neuro-degeneration and the formation of the amyloid plaques and tau tangles associated with the disease, we can in effect reverse the course of disease (8, 9, 10, 11).
The question then becomes Alzheimer’s due to what? This theory is also known as “the roof with 36 holes”, where we test and assess for factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and then create a personalized program to treat each of the variables found. This new understanding applies to most chronic diseases, where multiple pathways are involved simultaneously, making a single treatment ineffective.
For example, insulin resistance alone will not cause Alzheimer’s disease, but if we also have a genetic susceptibility with the ApoE4 gene, high homocysteine levels and chronically low vitamin D levels we can find a greatly increased risk. And remember that all of these variables are treatable with the right nutrition plan, the addition of appropriate vitamins and nutrients, regular exercise, and consistently tracking other risk factors.
The process of both assessing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and preventing early signs uses the key method taught by the Institute of Functional Medicine:
1) First identify the ATM’s (Antededents, triggers and mediators)
This includes family history, personal genetics, environmental influences, major stresses, and toxin exposure.
–> predictive and preventative medicine
2) Second is to optimize lifestyle factors
This includes sleep, exercise and movement, stress levels and social support.
–> personalized and participatory medicine
3) Third is to test and map out personalized risk factors and previous health conditions in the Functional Medicine Matrix
- Inflammation / immune function
- Mitochondria dysfunction
- Insulin resistance
- Trophic factors
- Head trauma, Leaky gut, Leaky BBB
–> precision medicine
From here we have the roadmap for a personalized plan, based on your own unique risk factors.
Why start in your 40’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition with a very long latency time, meaning that the imbalance that creates the cognitive changes may begin as much as 25 years before significant symptoms appear. We can have the greatest impact with a preventative approach – where we test and assess for your personal risk factors: genetics, toxins, infections, leaky gut, insulin resistance, nutrient deficiencies, sleep problems, hormone imbalance, chronically high stress, sleep apnea, markers of inflammation, heavy metal and other toxins.
Dr. Dale Bredesen has coined the term “Cognoscopy” – which is a cognitive evaluation, along with appropriate lab testing to assess your current cognitive status, and possible risk factors.
We have the greatest chance for prevention when we start early, long before symptoms arrive, although Dr. Bredesen and his colleagues are seeing extremely encouraging results in actually reversing mild-moderate Alzheimer’s cases too. In these cases, the protocols are more intensive – very specific prescriptive nutrition plans, regular lab testing to assess progress and risk factors, supplements to address deficiencies, as well as sleep optimization, stress reduction and regular exercise.
There are no quick fixes here, but through careful assessment and preventative plans we are also preventing many other chronic illnesses by optimizing health and overall wellbeing.
Stay tuned for more information – I’ll be writing about some of the new understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, and how simple lifestyle interventions, personalized nutrition and improving your basic self-care are the cornerstones to treatment.
Please share this information – I don’t think many women are aware of how significant a risk Alzheimer’s disease is to us. We are very well educated on breast cancer screening and prevention, but the awareness about Alzheimer’s has not become widely known yet. It is essential to get the word out that Alzheimer’s dementia is not a life sentence, and that there are many prevention strategies we can implement early on – the earlier the interventions the better! I’m passionate about sharing this information as widely as possible, because women who are at the optimal age for prevention are not yet aware of their risk.
If you are interested in starting the process of Alzheimer’s prevention, and your personalized plan please contact the office for more information. This work integrates many of my passions: hormone balance; self-care; personalized nutrition; personal genetics; gut microbiome; leaky gut and a passion for women’s health.
I will be booking in specific consultations for Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention beginning June 24, 2019 as part of the Cognitive Wellness Program. This is available to both new and existing patients.
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