Dementia is a condition that evokes fear not only in those affected but in their loved ones as well. It’s devastating to watch someone lose their awareness and identity well before their body fails. Losing someone with Alzheimer’s can feel as though you have to go through two deaths. First the death of the mind, and then the death of the body. No one should have to experience this.
Fortunately, there is hope.
Alzheimer’s research represents some of the most exciting medical developments of our time. This condition used to be a black hole of understanding. It used to perplex the entire medical community. Alzheimer’s was a death sentence with no hope, but that is no longer the case.
Before we begin, here are some fast facts about Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s disease because you’ve had someone you love affected or you yourself are affected, one of the best things you can do for yourself is stay on top of the latest research.
6 Fast Facts on Alzheimer’s Disease – What You Need to Know
- There are at least 6 different subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Different environmental factors can play a major role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease – these can include mold mycotoxins, microorganisms, and brain trauma.
- In some cases, Alzheimer’s looks like diabetes of the brain. It’s even sometimes called Type 3 diabetes.
- While genetics can increase risk, there are many lifestyle factors within your control that can help in preventing the condition. As Dr. Dale Bredesen (a leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s) puts it, “Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it,” these are factors within your control.
- Alzheimer’s can take years, or even decades to develop. Meaning, preventative action can be taken as early as your 20s.
- In some cases, Alzheimer’s is reversible.
Now, let’s dig deeper into the gut-brain axis. The gut is turning out to play a major role in inflammation and related conditions throughout the body, especially in psychiatric conditions.
The Gut-Brain Axis & Alzheimer’s Disease
The gut and the 40 trillion microorganisms living within it play a major role in immune system response and inflammatory activity. The collection of genes of all the microorganisms living in the gut is collectively known as the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome plays such a powerful role in mental health, it’s often called the ‘second brain.’ The gut and brain communicate with one another in a bidirectional manner. This may come as a surprise to you, but your brain isn’t doing all the talking. Your gut has just as much to say. This means your gut microbiome health is important to your mental health.
Because the gut microbiome plays a major role in immunity and inflammation, researchers have hypothesized that dysbiosis (gut microbiome imbalance) and leaky gut (intestinal permeability) can play a role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s. When the gut becomes leaky, even translocation of microbes could play a role – this means microbes end up in parts of the body where they don’t belong.
The primary risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is getting older. However, other factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s are also closely associated with the gut microbiome, including:
- Vascular conditions
The gut-brain axis provides new opportunities to explore treatments for these diseases. Where we once focused on treatments of the brain for psychological conditions, we are now looking for solutions in the gut and along it’s primary pathway of communication – the vagus nerve.
Your Vagus Nerve – The Line of Communication Between the Brain & Gut
The vagus nerve is a very long nerve that runs between the brain and the gut. It plays a role in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also sometimes called the “rest and digest” response. This system and its actions are what balance out fight or flight responses.
The vagus nerve influences many bodily functions, including:
- Immune system response
- Heart rate
Therapies that target stimulating the vagus nerve have shown to be promising in treating conditions such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and inflammatory bowel disease. Targeting the vagus nerve can inhibit inflammatory cytokine production and increase vagal tone (activity of the vagus nerve), which may improve a person’s resilience.
Since the vagus nerve is the line of communication between the gut microbiome and the brain, and it plays an important role in the modulation of inflammation, therapies targeting this pathway are important for anyone interested in reducing their risk for Alzheimer’s.
How do you stimulate the vagus nerve?
Interestingly, many of these are also recommended by Dr. Dale Bredesen in his RECODE protocol – a targeted set of recommendations aimed at preventing and reversing cognitive decline.
The gut-brain axis has also been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease when certain infections are present. Common viral species may also contribute to this mysterious disease, but only in some people.
Can Infections Cause Alzheimer’s?
There are many new theories about possible causes of Alzheimer’s, including infections. A recent NPR article called, Infectious Theory of Alzheimer’s Disease Draws Fresh Interest, pointed out two startling statistics:
- Spouses with dementia have a 1.6 greater risk of getting the condition themselves.
- Neurosurgeons have a 2 ½ times higher chance of dying from Alzheimer’s than the general population.
These statistics were part of the reasoning that made researchers wonder, “What if an infection could cause Alzheimer’s?” Culprits scientists identified were two strains of the human herpes virus:
Since between 75 to 90% of all adults carry these viruses, they alone don’t cause Alzheimer’s.
Similarly to how mold mycotoxins can cause inflammation and contribute to inhalational Alzheimer’s, it’s possible that infections from the microorganisms such as the human herpes virus could also cause inflammation that can lead to Alzheimer’s. It’s important to note that it’s generally accepted there is more than one cause of Alzheimer’s disease, so this yet is another piece of the puzzle.
Alzheimer’s is Complex, But We’re Unraveling it
The more variables we identify as playing a role in Alzheimer’s the closer we get to reducing its impact on our lives. Maybe one day Alzheimer’s will be a completely preventable condition.
I recently wrote about how Finland has the highest rate of dementia in the world. Scientists believe contributing factors include:
- Mycotoxin exposure from mold in homes
- Mycotoxin producing cyanobacteria and mercury in the water supply
- Selenium deficiencies
You can read more about these variables in my article: What Does Finland’s Dementia Crisis Tell Us About This Devastating Disease?