ALZHEIMER'S . . . DISEASE, DISORDER, AND DESCENT INTO DARKNESS

June 28, 2021

Aging as a biological process can reveal what decades of living have wrought us. As we become elders, it’s fair to expect some amount of decline in performance.  If we inherited a sound set of genes, have lived well, have been able to take good care of ourselves, and have been largely positive in our attitude, the decline may be quite manageable.  Creaky joints may slow us on the stairs, words on the page look a little blurred, and digestion be in need of an occasional push; but for the most part, and if we’re very lucky, our twilight years are lived comfortably.

We certainly hope to remain clear of mind, with comprehension and memory intact and a continued lively interest in learning and connecting with people.

A rising number of elders, however, are entering into a state of dementia, their lives taking a slow, inexorable dive into cognitive impairment which will strip them of any ability to take care of their bodily needs, to manage their daily affairs, to navigate the world in any imaginable way, and ultimately, finally and completely, erase their awareness of who they and others are.  And the darkness is always followed by death.  

Witnessing such an erasure of a human life leaves those who stood by irrevocably moved, wondering if somehow the dementia could have been prevented or turned around, and frighteningly unsure if they can avoid a similar fate. We may wish to consider, then, especially those of us who now begin to encroach upon elder territory, ways to help reduce the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease or the means to hopefully ameliorate the condition if diagnosed.

First, we ask what facilitates the development of Alzheimer’s disease?  What makes the brain susceptible to such disordered physiological processes.

FREE RADICALS AND OXIDATIVE STRESS


Understandably, the brain is an extremely busy organ requiring more than adequate dietary support.  Not just healthy foods and beverages, but herbs, too, can supply the brain with foundational nourishment for its architecture and functions.  

High level energy is the key to the brain’s operating success, and it’s supplied by little organelles called mitochondria.  Residing in exponential numbers in the cells of the brain, they derive the power to drive the brain’s biochemical reactions from the nourishment we take in  The mitochondrial metabolic process of converting nutrients into energy uses oxygen, and the by-products of this metabolic (or oxidative) process are free radicals (oxidant molecules).  Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules with the ability, under certain circumstances, to provide benefit, but under other conditions to damage the lipids, proteins, and DNA in brain cells, possibly even bringing about cell death. Yet, mitochondria are not only a source of free radicals but a target, as well, because this damage to the brain cells, in turn, reduces the integrity and functionality of the mitochondria that exist there.

This ever-widening loop of cumulative injury to both mitochondria and the cells in which they reside contributes to decline in cognitive performance. The brain is particularly susceptible to this injury because it produces more free radicals per gram of tissue than any other organ. Additionally, free radicals can form in the environment around us that are able to enter our body and damage our cells.  Capable of being derived from both environmental exposure as well as from mitochondrial energy production, free radicals can soon range well out of bounds within us in number and damage done.  Known as oxidative stress, this condition can contribute to the creation of pathological changes in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease as well as contribute significantly to aging. 

Oxidative stress can be met by working to balance free radicals with antioxidants.  Antioxidants defend against free radicals by suppressing their formation, by scavenging them once they’re produced, by repairing their damage, or through a function called adaptation whereby the appropriate antioxidant is sent to the right site as in learned behavior.

Taking a supplemental high dose of a single antioxidant such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, or vitamin E doesn’t appear to offer benefit against the various kinds of free radicals and their varied and wide-ranging effects.  Rather, a plentiful intake of plant foods rich in a variety of antioxidants is a more strategic alternative since such sources contain combinations of different antioxidants selected over evolution to protect every part of the plant cells against oxidative damage.  Also, these antioxidants with myriad functions are found in much smaller amounts than those in antioxidant supplements yet allow for a decreased risk of developing disease without compromising the benefits free radicals can offer.  Thus, we strive for a healthy balance between minimizing the potential for chronic disease created by free radicals and supporting the normal needed work of which they are capable. 

Plentiful intake of plant foods rich in antioxidants may prove to enhance the quality and possibly even the length of life and certainly the health of the brain.

Polyphenols are well-studied plant compounds with antioxidant properties.  Neuroprotective in their actions, they help shield against damage in the brain all the while promoting cognitive function.  Many plant foods provide us with these healthful nutrients.

Searching online will reveal the plant foods highest in antioxidants.  Add to your daily intake of them by using our:  Aronia Berry, Bilberry, Elderberry, Peppermint, Spearmint, and Green Tea.  A simple cup of tea or a dose from a liquid extract can pleasantly further your efforts to add polyphenols to your diet.

Many culinary herbs offer the gift of polyphenols. We offer:  Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Turmeric.  These may be used as cups of tea, liquid extracts, or flavorings for prepared dishes.

INFLAMMATION IN THE BRAIN

The aging process is chronically oxidative and inflammatory, leading to brain cell damage and cognitive decline.  Damaged brain cells that continue to be produced and not efficiently eliminated (cell debris), aging cells that produce inflammatory factors, and accumulating aging cells that pathologically alter the function of nearby normal cells may be behind development of chronic brain inflammation. Not only controlling oxidative damage but using certain anti-inflammatory herbs may help slow the brain’s aging process and help maintain an appropriate degree of cognition. 

Such anti-inflammatory herbs include:

Ashwagandha - an antioxidant herb as well as an anti-inflammatory, this herb helps scavenge free radicals. 

Panax ginseng - protects brain cells from inflammation and degeneration.

St. John’s Wort - is high in bioflavonoid content which gives it anti-inflammatory and tissue-stabilizing capability.  It helps prevent free radical damage and to stabilize inflammation of the vessels.

Turmeric - is an all-purpose anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective herb.

ADVANCED GLYCATION END PRODUCTS

Foods exposed to high heat in cooking, such as grilled, fried, or toasted foods, are high in advanced glycation end products, and these compounds, when at high levels in the body, create oxidative stress and inflammation and are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Consider reducing intake of high-heat prepared foods and adding more raw or steamed options.

POOR BLOOD FLOW TO THE BRAIN

Proper flow of blood to the brain is obviously supportive of brain function.  Insufficient supply is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.  The herb of choice for improving cerebral blood flow is Ginkgo.  Ginkgo also is a free radical scavenger and an anti-inflammatory.  Holy Basil promotes cerebral circulation, as well.

THE LEARNING TRANSMITTER

Acetylcholine is a brain neurotransmitter (a chemical molecule that transmits messages between brain cells) that supports our awareness and cognition.  Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks it down. 

Herbs that inhibit acetylcholinesterase may be used to extend the life and effects of acetylcholine.

Cholinergic herbs are herbs that increase the activity of this neurotransmitter.

Bacopa and Rosemary inhibit acetylcholinesterase.

Melissa and Sage help promote cholinergic activity.

MEMORY

Adequate brain performance includes a healthy memory.  Herbs to help maintain and sharpen memory include:  Bacopa, Gotu Kola, Panax ginseng, Rosemary, Sage, and Schisandra.

MOOD IMPROVEMENT

Chamomile and Lavender - consider for dementia with restlessness and agitation.  May be combined to make a pleasant-tasting cup of tea.

FOODS TO PROMOTE BRAIN HEALTH

Fatty fish

Coffee

Blueberries

Turmeric

Broccoli

Pumpkin Seeds

Dark chocolate

Nuts

Oranges

Eggs

Green tea

TEAS TO PROMOTE BRAIN HEALTH

Combine bilberries, elderberries, and rose hips for a highly-antioxidant tea.

Make Green tea and add dropperfuls of Aronia Berry Liquid Extract.

REISHI LIQUID EXTRACT TO PROMOTE BRAIN HEALTH

Research indicates that this mushroom has neuroprotective as well as  neuroregenerative properties, making it particularly useful for formulas written for  dementia.

BPOWER (FORMERLY BRAIN POWER)

LIQUID EXTRACT COMBINATION

A powerful combination of Bacopa, Gotu Kola, Ginkgo, Lavender, Rosemary, and Holy Basil liquid extracts, this product is specific to and very supportive of brain health through its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cholinergic, circulatory, and nervine effects.

The more we learn about Alzheimer’s disease, the more apparent it becomes that the aging process engages changes in the brain that bring about dementia and that these changes accelerate brain aging.

We also come to understand that disordered functioning in other systems of the body can contribute to the development of dementia.  Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and inflammatory conditions of the bowel can play a hand in disordering the structure and function of the brain.  And lest we forget, stress also has an impact on brain performance.

Whatever age we may be, it behooves us to evaluate our health in general, addressing as best we can any conditions or illnesses that not only at the time are influencing our general health, but may encourage the later development of Alzheimer’s disease.  Many herbs may be used all along the way in life to address health problems as they occur or as proactive measures in an attempt to avoid illness. 

Nervine and adaptogenic herbs are powerful influencers of the central nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.  Nootropic herbs have specificity for the brain and issues of oxidative and ischemic damage, focus, mood, and overall mental performance.  Other herbs support cardiovascular, digestive, and genito-urinary health.  Nutritive herbs as sources of minerals support bone, heart, and brain health.  

SOURCES:  Jill Stansbury’s Neurology, Psychiatry, and Pain Managementwww.intechopen.com, www.hindawi.com, www.healthline.com, www.psychologytoday.com, www.n.neurology.com, www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov




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