Can an intensive program of diet, proper sleep, specific supplements, strategic fasting and stress reduction reverse Alzheimer’s disease?
A California neurologist thinks so. In September, the journal Aging published Dr. Dale Bredesen‘s findings on 10 Alzheimer’s disease patients – the first to participate in his novel program.
Nine of the 10 patients improved. Six who had been on leave from work or were struggling with work due to memory loss and other Alzheimer’s-related issues returned or improved their work performance.
The one patient who did not improve was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, says Bredesen, who is the Augustus Rose Professor of Neurology at UCLA, director of UCLA’s Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and founding president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in northern California.
Patient number one is still doing well three years out, Bredesen told Senior Planet. She was 67 with a demanding job when her memory issues surfaced. She couldn’t finish work reports properly and would even forget her longtime pets’ names.
Within months of beginning the program, she was doing well at work. “Four times she went off the program,” Bredesen told us, ”and each time she got worse. When she went back on, she went back to normal.”
Why This Study Is So Novel – and Controversial
Although the results were positive, other scientists have met Bredesen’s findings with skepticism and caveats. Experts at the Alzheimer’s Association call the research ”intriguing” but caution that more study is needed, saying that a study of only 10 patients with no control group is very preliminary.
Others criticize his research model, which addresses several possible disease components at once (diet, exercise, etc.) rather than testing one drug at a time to rule out the effects from other drugs or interventions. But Bredesen says that studying one drug at a time is like patching one hole in a roof that has dozens of holes.
Just like other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, he says, many treatments may be needed for Alzheimer’s.
So Bredesen, who agrees more study is needed, is forging on. As of mid-January, he says nearly 50 patients are participating in his program.
Breseden’s approach is based on new thinking about how and why Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5 million in the U.S. and about 30 million worldwide, develops.
Many experts believe that Alzheimer’s is a disease of toxicity: Protein pieces called beta-amyloid clump together in the brain, forming sticky plaque. According to this understanding, the clumps can block signaling from nerve cell to nerve cell, leading to memory issues.
Current drugs for Alzheimer’s target chemicals in the brain involved in nerve cell messaging.
But Bredesen sees the disease process differently, as an imbalance rather than a toxicity.
Amyloid beta, he and others say, also has a normal function in the brain, performing important roles, such as helping the brain’s plasticity – how nerve cells signal to make and store memories and delete unneeded ones.
In Alzheimer’s, Bredesen says, the balance between making and breaking memories goes awry and you break or delete memories that you do need.
According to Bredesen, many factors – sleep- and exercise-related factors, for example – help to keep this delicate signaling balance on track, and if any of them are deficient, an imbalance can occur, leading to memory issues.
Breseden’s program is designed to address the factors that have led to the signaling imbalance.
How the Program Works
After intense testing of a patient, Bredesen determines which factors have gone awry, and personalizes a program to correct the issues.
Among the measures he may recommend:
- A diet that eliminates processed foods and other unhealthy ingredients, and boosts fruits, vegetables and healthy fish
- Stress reduction with meditation, yoga, music or other means
- Eight hours of sleep a night
- At least 30 minutes of exercise four to six times a week
- Very good oral hygiene
- Improvement of gut health with probiotics and prebiotics
- Fasting for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and three hours or more between dinner and bedtime, to keep insulin levels healthy.
The Alzheimer’s Association cautions against Alzheimer’s patients trying to self-start Bredesen’s program. That’s despite the fact that the Association recommends some of the program features for better brain health, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Bredesen hopes to start a clinical trial this year. He also hopes to launch a program where interested patients could learn how to follow it during a one-week intensive stay, returning periodically for progress checks and program tweaks.