MEMORY LOSS MIGHT NOT be not just preventable but reversible, according to the first research to document such a phenomenon. The sample was very small–10 patients, ages 55 to 75. Six of them, who had quit work or were struggling at their jobs because of problems with memory loss, were able to return to work or improve their work performance within three to six months by participating in a program developed by UCLA neurologist Dale Bredesen. Three others improved; and one, who had shown the most serious deficits beforehand, did not.
The program includes 36 interventions that were assembled for each patient based on extensive testing as well as personal preferences. “Think about it like 36 holes in the roof,” Dr. Bredesen explained. “You can’t just plug one hole.”
The 36 include many things anyone can do: changes in diet (eliminating simple carbohydrates, processed food, gluten and/or increasing vegetables and fruit); fasting periods (see below); stress reduction, using methods from yoga to music; oral hygiene; exercising 4 to 6 times/week; adding supplements that include vitamins B, C, D and E, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics as well as spices and herbs such as turmeric. Also: coconut oil, fish oil and blueberries.
There are also several that require a doctor’s prescription including HRT (hormone replacement therapy); cortisol (steroid) and changing current medications such as anti-depressants.
Dr. Bredesen believes that memory loss associated with conditions that include early Alzheimer’s disease may not have a single cause. Instead, as with other chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer, cognitive changes might be due to an array of contributing imbalances–an “extensive network of molecular interactions,” according to Bredesen’s paper, “Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program,” published in the September 2014 Aging.
Disorders of the brain have been increasingly linked to metabolism. Insulin has been shown to play a role in plasticity, the brain’s ability to respond to a myriad of chemicals and other forces from within and outside the body. Individuals with increased insulin levels or insulin resistance, associated with Type 2 diabetes, have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Of two fasting periods included in the program, the first is a three-hour fast between dinner and bed to allow time for after-meal insulin levels to go down. “You don’t want to sleep with elevated insulin,” Dr. Bredesen says.
A longer fasting period of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast allows time for amyloid beta proteins–of which elevated levels affect the balance in the remembering-forgetting mechanism toward more forgetting– to be flushed out of the brain, a process aided by melatonin.
Each of the ten patients underwent extensive testing to determine exactly which lab values affecting the plasticity network were out of balance and then received individualized regimens with common goals, for example, reducing inflammation in the brain and balancing metabolic parameters such as blood sugar.
With supplements, Dr. Bredesen explains, there’s a big difference between normal and optimum levels: “Vitamin B12 levels around 300 (pictograms per milliliter) is considered normal, but it’s horrible if you want to optimize.”
Stress raises the body’s levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” which can lead to cortisol levels that are either too high or too low (because too much has been used by the body). In either case, the solution is minimizing stress–by whatever means “works for you, whatever gives joy,” according to Dr. Bredesen. While some patients chose meditation or music, Patient One began doing yoga, was so enthusiastic she became an instructor, and now –after two and a half years in the program –is 70 and doing very well.” Dr. Bredesen said.
Patient One had considered quitting her job because she often forgot the information she had just read as well as the location of light switches in her house, and mixed up the names of her pets. Besides yoga, she included minimum exercise, the fasting regimens and supplements; increased her sleep from four to five hours per night to seven to eight hours; and eliminated simple carbohydrates as well as gluten and processed food. Patient Two, who had begun forgetting once-familiar faces at work, exercised strenuously six or seven days a week with a combination of swimming, cycling and running–but chose none of the stress-reduction activities.
Patient Three, an attorney, commonly lost her train of thought mid-sentence and often asked her children whether they had done things she had forgotten to ask them to do. Her program included meditation and relaxation, and she worked with her internist to reduce her anti-depressant medication. (Of the three, only Patient One eliminated gluten; and both Patients One and Three either began or restarted hormone replacement therapy.)
Patients followed for two and a half years continued to “show sustained and marked improvement,” according to Dr. Bredesen. He also writes that “the major side effect of this therapeutic system is improved health and optimal BMI.” He admits, however, that the program is “not easy to follow, and none of the patients followed the entire protocol.” They had trouble with the diet and lifestyle changes, and the multiple pills required each day. On the other hand, they had the strong motivation of knowing that “their prognosis was poor and their cognitive decline essentially untreatable.”
Dr. Bredesen considers the results “very encouraging,” although because the sample is small, they are “anecdotal and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted.”