The Integrative Answer - Alzheimer's Risk

In this blog feature, Dr. Gladd will highlight the approach of Integrative Medicine and the GladdMD philosophy by answering a medical question posed to conventional experts based on how he would address the concern. 

This week the question to the conventional doctor writing for the Journal Gazette on September 8, 2103 was: 

"I am a 69-year-old female. I have been diagnosed with cerebrovascular small vessel disease in my brain. My large arteries throughout my body are clear.
I have always had low blood pressure. No diabetes; total cholesterol of 160. I do have arthritis, depression and stress. I live alone and am very active physically. I am also socially active with my friends and family.
I expressed concern about Alzheimer’s but was told I would more likely have a stroke or aneurysm before that. Of course that news adds to my stress! I asked about seeing a specialist and was told nothing could be done.
Is this true? Is there nothing I can do to help alleviate this? Can you explain how this happens in an otherwise healthy person? My current meds are Zocor, Xanax, Naproxen (500 milligrams) and Nexium (40 milligrams). I am only about 10 pounds overweight."

You can view the conventional answer and full article here.

Here's how I would address this concern:

I believe you are valid in your concerns for Alzheimer's and/or other forms of dementia as they are growing risk concerns as we age. Preserving optimal brain function should be first, or at least very near the top for everyone. What better capacity is there to keep sharp?

Alzheimer's disease should be considered Diabetes Type 3 for its connection to lifestyle, particularly diet. While diet is very important, as I'll address below, if you want to optimize current and long-term brain function, I would look no further than the orange medication bottles stacked up on your counter. 

At the top would be the Zocor. Zocor belongs to a class of drugs called "statins". While there is evidence that those with a history of and/or high risk for heart attack can benefit, those without this high risk may want to reconsider. The short-term and long-term side effects can definitely outweigh the benefits. The use of statin drugs can increase the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes on its own carries a very high risk for Alzheimer's and non-Alzheimer's dementia, further microvascular disease and stroke, but the risk does not end there. Statins can actually increase memory loss both in short-term dosing and over longer periods of time. It's best to really understand the need for medications like this and whether they are best for you. Based on your total cholesterol number, I would question this need for you. 

Why these side effects? It's likely that dramatically lowering your cholesterol levels does more bad than good. Cholesterol makes up 70% of your brain (insulates nerves), do we really want to decrease it? Cholesterol is also the building block of certain hormones (dhea, cortisol, estrogen) in the body, and even though you are post-menopausal, you still need some amount of these.

Another medication that is contributing to your health detriment is the Nexium. By shutting down acid secretion in your gut, you weaken the digestive process and hinder your ability to absorb such essential nutrients as iron, magnesium, calcium and several B vitamins. Many, if not all of these nutrients are essential for a sharp mind, healthy muscles and overall great health. It can be very difficult to wean off of this medication, but its essential. This video is a good place to start.

The Xanax is a sedative medication that has a very high risk potential for habit-forming behavior and is doing your brain function no good either. This can be yet another medication that is very difficult, but essential to wean. Learning how to breathe is essential, as may be other options like Heartmath and supplements like L-theanine.

Diet plays a huge role in brain function as well as stroke risk and is also essential for aiding you in eliminating the medications holding you back from your best health. Since the brain is mostly fat and cholesterol, this is where I suggest starting. Lower the carbohydrates in your diet, specifically sugar, artificial forms of sugar, grains and instead focus on vegetables and fruits like berries. The bulk of the diet should be healthy fats.

Contributed by:

Dr. Jeffrey Gladd


Dr. Jeffrey Gladd graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 2001. He then went on to train in family medicine...

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Dr. Jeffrey Gladd
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