A personal interest in Alzheimer’s research
GUEST POSTS,  Health

A Personal Interest In Alzheimer’s Research

A Personal Interest In Alzheimer’s Research. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will share a guest post from Medical Journalist Jerome Burne. Jerome will be detailing his search for an Alzheimer’s cure. 20 years ago, Jerome discovered he had the gene ApoE4, which has been linked to a raised risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Nearly a million people in the UK have the disease, and the number continues to rise: an estimated 6 million by 2050.

So, he has a strong personal interest in keeping up with the science that could bring down his risk and that of hundreds of thousands of others. Jerome has spent much of the last 20 years writing for national newspapers and medical magazines about the latest Alzheimer’s research, hoping to find a way to reduce his risk. He’s looked at all trials, participated in some himself, and delved deep into the research. So, what has he found?

A Personal Interest In Alzheimer’s Research

I am strongly interested in keeping up with the science around dementia. Some 20 years ago, I discovered I have the gene APOE4, which has been linked to a raised risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Nearly a million people in the UK have the disease, and the number continues to rise to an estimated 6 million by 2050.

As a medical and health journalist, I was confident I could tap into new developments, but there was little to be hopeful about for years. The reflex medical reactions to such an epidemic – a vaccine or precisely targeted pharmacological silver bullet – were never even just over the horizon.

A New Approach: Diet and Lifestyle Changes

But recently, the cavalry seems to be galloping in an unexpected direction. A combination of diet, lifestyle changes and supplements, the soft end of medical care, is emerging as an increasingly plausible way of reducing your risk of dementia.

Billions of pounds have been spent on pharmaceuticals that clear the deposits and tangles of sticky plaque found in the brains of sufferers and thought to be a cause of the disease. But the results are far from impressive, with several hundred failed trials of plaque-busting drugs that barely moved the dial on the rate of brain cell death in sufferers.

Into that gap have raced independent researchers and academics, who have picked up and are running with a simple and hugely encouraging idea: there is no single cause because brains are not isolated in a bony box but have a two-way connection with almost all the systems at work in our bodies. So, you need to keep these systems healthy to ensure the same for your brain.

The Role of Systems in Brain Health

The main areas include the cardiovascular system, your metabolism (how energy is used), the immune system, the vast colony of bacteria and other microbes (the microbiome) in your gut, and the processes involved in rest and repair. The good news is you could start changing all of them with diet and lifestyle today.

I’ve been exploring this radical new approach with the help of my nutritionist friend and co-author Patrick Holford, who runs a charity called foodforthebrain.org.

The website is a mine of information where you can take a free cognitive function test and discover your ‘Dementia Risk Index’ (DRI) based on answers to a questionnaire designed to reveal your mental and physical health. It’s like the Zoe app that took off during the pandemic but for the brain.

Food for the Brain Initiative

The ‘Food for the Brain’ test explores things like how well you handle cognitive challenges, how effective is your exercise regime, how well you sleep, what your diet and social life are like and how effectively you look after the microbiome, home to much of the immune system.

Then, also, for free, you get an assessment of the areas of your system that need improvement and support in making the changes. Guiding the advice is an impressive scientific board of a dozen consultants and researchers focusing on Alzheimer’s.

They include Professor Emeritus David Smith of Oxford, who has run pioneering studies on the brain-sparing combination of B vitamins and omega3 fats; Professor Emeritus Robert Lustig, an expert on the metabolic effects of blood glucose and insulin at the University of California San Francisco, and Dr Tommy Wood, Assistant Professor of paediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Washington whose studies are uncovering why exercise is so good for the brain.

Reassuring Discoveries and Diet Changes

Being introduced to these experts was like tumbling down a super-healthy rabbit hole filled with new and exciting ideas. My first reassuring discovery was that while the APOE4 gene could increase risk, many straightforward, simple diet and lifestyle changes could reduce it.

One of them was to junk the conventional dietary advice to cut back on fat and fill up with carbs. Down at Food for the Brain, you were encouraged to do precisely the opposite. It was sugar and refined carbs that had been driving our other epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and they were now fuelling Alzheimer’s.

But there was much more to it than overturning the familiar healthy balanced diet dogma. Crucial was a home pin prick biochemical test, available alongside the DRI that few doctors’ surgeries would routinely check. It measures your omega-3 index, vitamin D, homocysteine (a marker for B vitamin status), and HbA1c.

The Importance of Blood Sugar Resilience

HbA1c shows a person’s blood sugar resilience and is used to diagnose diabetes. Professor Lustig has shown that if it is too high, it could be damaging brain cells and causing weight gain. ‘Essentially, lowering blood sugar changes your metabolism in ways that help reduce Alzheimer’s risk,’ he says.

‘The high levels of blood glucose from a carb-rich diet will come with too much insulin because its job is to clear it away into storage as fat. Fairly soon, however, your system stops responding to insulin – insulin resistance – which is bad news because insulin delivers the glucose needed for energy in the brain and muscles.’

A Team of Biological Engineers

The board members emerged as a crack team of biological engineers with a grip on nutrition and the effects of a lifestyle that few regular doctors could match. They also had a deep knowledge of the underlying biology and how to shift it in a healthier direction. If only such a lifestyle special forces unit had been around when I got my genetic diagnosis.

Lustig’s account of the body’s workaround for the glucose shortage is a perfect example of this biologically-based approach at work. When glucose supplies drop, the liver switches to making small packets of energy, known as ketones, from its fat stores, which are a perfect fuel for the brain and muscles. DietitBrainstill warns against the ketogenic diet.

Personal Changes and Impressive Results

The more I learnt from the team, the more I changed my diet and lifestyle. High-carb and low-fat eating was reversed, visits to the gym stepped up, and I started paying attention to my microbiome. Along with an increase in fibrous vegetables, I’ve now been making and drinking kefir, a fermented drink that delivers probiotics to the guts. The results are impressive.

The last strand of Food for the Brain’s approach involves testing for nutritional and vitamin deficiencies that directly affect the brain and boosting them if they are low. But here, the charity comes into direct conflict with the rest of the Alzheimer’s establishment, especially over giving high doses of vitamin B6, B12 and folate.

The Evidence for Vitamin B

It’s a perfectly logical approach and is now backed by an impressive body of trial evidence gathered over the last ten years. However, the Alzheimer’s charities have doggedly refused to examine, test, or recommend it. They seem to deny it exists. There is a strong case for saying this has been a culpable disaster for patients.

The battle dates back ten years when Oxford Professor of Pharmacology David Smith, who was the Chair of the charity’s scientific advisory board, ran a trial on over 200 people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), sometimes called pre-dementia, when memory and clear thinking is starting to go. It’s the stage before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Trial Results and Institutional Resistance

Half got a high dose of the B vitamins, and the others received a placebo. Crucially, a proportion of each group had a brain scan at the beginning and end of the trial to check for changes. The patients were also tested for levels of a potentially toxic protein called homocysteine, known to be found in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. B vitamins were used because they are the only way of lowering homocysteine.

The results were astonishing. Brain shrinkage – a critical indicator of Alzheimer’s – was 73% greater in the placebo group than among those getting the vitamins, especially in those with good omega-3 blood levels.

You might have expected the Oxford press office would have rushed out such dramatic good news. Instead, even though the results seemed to promise what everyone had been praying for – a safe, effective, and cheap treatment – they were ignored, both by the Oxford press office and by the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), set up to investigate promising research, which had partially funded the trial.

Ongoing Research and Citizen Scientists

Undaunted by this refusal to acknowledge his work in any way, Smith continued, unsuccessfully, to apply for funding for the obvious follow-up to find out if giving B vitamins to patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) slowed or blocked the progression to Alzheimer’s.

The boost from good levels of omega-3 fats also makes sense at a biological level because omega-3 is needed inside brain cell membranes where they transfer information, while B vitamins are needed to bind them. They are like a hammer and a nail.

I had been more intrigued by the potential of B vitamins when I discovered they provided the answer to my quest – how to lower the risk from the APOE4 gene. Once again, it was a matter of following the underlying biochemistry. B vitamins are essential for a process known as methylation, which is the way that the action of genes, such as APOE4, can be changed. Omega-3 has become part of my daily cocktail of nutrients.

There are a couple of other tests set up to fight Alzheimer’s. One is ARUK’s Think Brain Health Check, which offers standard healthy living advice based on thirteen questions. Sleep well, keep your brain active, chat with friends, moderate exercise regularly, and eat healthily. One question asks if you eat a balanced diet, saying you ‘should include starchy foods like potatoes and brown rice.’ Oh, and don’t smoke. Check your blood pressure.

Alzheimer’s Research and Public Health

There is no mention of the well-researched benefits of B vitamins and omega-3, the risk of high homocysteine or the importance of a well-fed microbiome. This is from a charity whose remit is to ‘fund scientific studies to find ways to treat, cure or prevent dementia’.

Meanwhile, foodforthebrain.org has tested 430,000 people and aims for a million by the end of next year. As well as the questionnaire to estimate your risk, tests are now available for blood sugar levels, omega-3, vitamin D and homocysteine to see if you need the B vitamins. Participants are called ‘citizen scientists’, and the results of their ongoing research are shared with everyone.

It’s hard to understand the continuing refusal to test the effectiveness of B vitamins and the keeping of information from patients other than as a conspiracy. Could something that can significantly reduce brain cell damage, costs pennies and has virtually no side effects be considered a severe threat to a billion-dollar market?

The free Cognitive Function Test is available at https://foodforthebrain.org.

I hope you enjoyed that.

Talk soon

 

Medical Journalist Jerome Burne

https://foodforthebrain.org.

Working with Strong women, I help empower women not to give up on their goals and find true happiness within themselves. #lifestyle #womenempowerment #selfcare

8 Comments

  • Nikki Wayne

    This is my first time reading information like this, this is amazing and a lot of knowledge you can have after reading it. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Michelle

    Alzheimer’s is such a horrific disease, and one that I hope can be stopped and, eventually, reversed through research in the coming years. Science is getting there, and we must keep going!

  • LisaLisa

    This article is excellent. Alzheimer’s disease isn’t discussed enough, and I’m aware that our diet significantly impacts our health care. Many medical conditions are influenced by the unhealthy ingredients in our food. It’s good to see the free Cognitive Function Test are available.

  • Elizabeth Flores

    it is crazy how what we put in our bodies can have such a negative impact in our lives. i have seen first hand what dementia can do to a person and would gladly do anything that would have hopefully helped to prevent it.

  • Catherine Kay

    It’s heartening to see discussions like this that raise awareness about such an important topic. The insights shared in the post, from the latest research findings to potential breakthroughs, are both informative and inspiring. I appreciate the effort to shed light on Alzheimer’s and look forward to staying updated on advancements in this field.

  • Beth

    I am thoroughly UNsurprised that diet has played a big role in more alzheimer’s. Our bodies were not designed to ingest the garbage that most of us eat.

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