The focus of Alzheimer’s research has been, so far, the molecular process which leads to a change in the brain structure, above all and first in the hippocampus. Here, an increased formation of amyloid beta (Aß) plaques is observed in the brains of Alzheimer patients. These protein adhesions impair the communication between nerve cells. Such alterations are attributed to ageing and genetic predisposition. As a result, Alzheimer’s research has been searching for years (but without any success) for a drug therapy to eliminate or at least reduce plaque formation. A very monocausal view of the problem.
Thus there are also studies suggesting that plaque formation cannot be the only underlying problem, since there are certainly old people with strongly increased plaque formation who are mentally extremely fit.
Dementia researcher David Snowdon at the University of Minnesota made an impressive study questioning plaque formation as a monocausal cause in the so-called nun study, in which a total of 678 nuns aged between 76 and 106 participated.
Since 1986 Snowden was allowed to test the mental abilities of the nuns and after their death to examine the brains for signs of dementia. The astonishing result: Some brains of nuns who were mentally fit and active up to old age and had an excellent memory, all had “plaques” like in a severe Alzheimer’s dementia.
Subsequently and in parallel, other influencing factors were intensively investigated. These included viral and bacterial infections, but most of all chronic inflammations. In addition, there is the problem of insulin resistance caused by excessive sugar consumption by the population in industrialized countries. Today, it is very likely that Alzheimer’s disease is based not only on genetic factors but also on negative lifestyle factors that promote chronic inflammation and insulin resistance of brain cells. Some doctors even refer to Alzheimer’s disease as type 3 diabetes. Amyloid-ß plaques, on the other hand, are a natural protective mechanism that intents to ensure that no more brain cells perish! They are therefore a warning signal, but not a cause.
At the same time, however, this is a bridge to meaningful Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment. A reduction and avoidance of insulin resistance as well as an anti-inflammatory diet and way of life, among other things by:
- a healthy, human appropriate diet,
- an efficient micronutrient supply (especially omega-3 fatty acids),
- sleep hygiene and a healthy biorhythm,
- social and emotional stability,
- Sun and vitamin D provision as well as
- mental activity and stress management.
If you implement these points widely, your Alzheimer’s risk will drop drastically.
In a study conducted by the University of Leipzig, scientists have identified the potential for preventing Alzheimer’s dementia in Germany. Based on internationally available study results, seven risk factors were specifically investigated: High blood pressure, obesity in middle age, depression, physical inactivity, smoking and low education. The result: about 50% of dementia cases could be avoided by preventive measures alone regarding these risk factors!
Conclusion: Even if the available numbers correspond to theoretical projections, the vast potential for prevention can still be presumed. Especially in the context of demographic change and the corresponding ageing of the German population, preventive measures and educational programmes on Alzheimer’s dementia such as the KsD project are becoming increasingly important.
 Luck, T. & Riedel-Heller, S.G. Nervenarzt (2016) 87: 1194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00115-015-0045-1
Photo: Maria Teneva