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Can a Controversial New Treatment Reverse Memory Loss?

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.

What’s Next?

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.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, you can access Bredesen’s full report here. More details on the program and the patients are here.

See more articles about brain health

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16 comments
  • Janelle K
    REPLY

    One really must question why in the heck the medical community’ and support organizations begrudge patients who get well! It appears that somewhere along the line, they’ve all lost sight of the fact that they exist to ‘heal.’ But veer from the narrow and short-sighted course of allopathic treatment – with true healing results – and that patient becomes the pariah.

    It’s high time these groups get up to date with the latest cutting edge research and begin implementing it – as many of us do on our own – or they’ll condemn themselves extinction.

  • suzy
    REPLY

    my grandfather, mother & aunts all suffered with this awful condition for many years .my brother,sister & self all in our 70’s have been doing most of the measures listed for several years & so far no sign of it.I will be 80 next year,

  • sharon
    REPLY

    I happened upon his study at least 2 years ago when my mom was in the throes of the end stages of ALZ. I have always been terrified that I would develop ALZ and now being a daughter of a mother with it, I thought that my odds increased greatly. So when I read this study and the protocol that was given to the women, I created my own protocol that was as close to Dr. Bredesen’s as possible. I even added in turmeric and magnesium at the recommended levels. What a difference!

    While I didn’t have a baseline before I started my protocol, I can certainly tell a difference in that I don’t stumble over words as i once did, and I can articulate myself much better than I have in the time before I started the protocol. I think there is real merit to the approach and if I thought at the time that it would have helped my mother, I would have added it to her routine. I will always wonder now if she could have been helped by this approach.

    I would love to have a pharmacy compound all my supplements into a liquid dose that i could take in the morning and at night. Now that would be awesome!

    • Katherine
      REPLY

      I would love to hear what your protocol consists of specifically. It is interesting to me that the article states that the alzheimers association recommended against attempts to use this protocol and I would be curious as to why that would be. I understand that it needs additional research before it can be fully considered applicable in the medical field but there is tons of research into each individual method so there is definitely proven value to the aspects. If you wouldn’t mind sharing your current protocol I would love to hear it.

  • John H Maindonald
    REPLY

    I do not understand this one at a time nonsense. The only one-at-a-time testing that makes any sense if to withdraw treatment components one at a time and check for any decline in mental health, basically a slow and tedious “work out the fine details later” approach. R A Fisher, who put experimental design on a scientific footing, had it right:


    No aphorism is more frequently repeated in connection with field trials, than that we must ask Nature few questions, or, ideally, one question, at a time. The writer is convinced that this view is wholly mistaken. Nature, he suggests, will best respond to a logical and carefully thought out questionnaire; indeed, if we ask her a single question, she will often refuse to answer until some other topic has been discussed. [see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factorial_experiment ]

    Medical researchers would do well to pay attention to Fisher’s insights. Drugs can be great when they work, but they work as one at a time medical bandaids. Interactions from drugs taken in combination are commonly bad. For the interventions that Bredesen is suggesting, any interactions are likely to be benign in their effects.

    • Katherine
      REPLY

      The research appears to be backed by a lot of other research that has been done on the individual components behind the protocol anyways, so in my opinion, there is already research into those areas as individual protocols. This is just a more whole body approach to accomplishing all of the goals

  • Dr Alexander Jablánczy MD
    REPLY

    The idea that we should wait is nonsense.
    We will have some of the answers is thirty years and all of the answers in 300 but that is a tad late for us.
    So we must act now.
    The HFCS or the WHEAT BELLY or the high fibre or the trans fat Ω 3 6 9 theories might all be wrong
    but what can we lose?
    I am not sold on Co E Q 100 nor melatonin but what is wrong with exercise and good sleep and rest. Or fasting?
    I am treating all my metabolic syndrome patients which includes Alzheimer’s with Burkitt Taylor Cleave Yudkin Pritikin Moss Taubes Wm Davis M Mosley diet and have added Bredesen to that list.

  • Grumpy Old Geezer
    REPLY

    Dr Bredesen is to be applauded for sticking to his guns.

    The notion that one has to test ‘one drug at a time’ is nonsense, and this whole flawed approach is holding back medical progress across the entire spectrum of chronic disease.

    Firstly, why does the cure for all chronic disease have to be ‘a drug’? Or even ‘several drugs’? Why do otherwise intelligent medical researchers fail to see the elephant in the room?

    Is arthritis caused by an Ibuprofen® deficiency? Is elevated cholesterol caused by a Simvastatin® deficiency? Is hypertension due to an Atenolol® deficiency?

    A disease is caused by whatever factors cause that disease in that particular person. Disease is cured by removing the causative factors.

    A deficiency of patentable pharmaceuticals is NOT the cause of disease! Pharmaceuticals do have a place as temporary ‘band-aid’ treatment while the true causes are investigated and addressed, but they are NOT the ‘cure’ for chronic disease. (In ACUTE disease, pharmaceuticals can indeed cure e.g. antibiotics for bacterial meningitis. Chronic illness is quite a different matter.)

    Secondly, the whole ‘single cure’ idea for chronic illness is taking the medical model of antibiotics for acute bacterial infections, and applying it to chronic disease which is multifactorial and usually strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as diet, hydration, stress, smoking, exercise, sleep patterns, mental attitudes and – ironically – long-term use of pharmaceuticals!

    So it makes sense that a multifactorial approach is used. Get people well by optimising ALL their physiological functions simultaneously, and then work out the fine details later. Sufferers from AD and their carers simply haven’t got 50 years to wait for every single factor to be tested in isolation, nor do body systems work in isolation anyway!

  • Mary Elande
    REPLY

    The results of Dr. Dale Bredesen’s finding was
    done with such a limited number of patients. A
    larger number of patients would have been
    more convincing.

  • Kathy Roselli
    REPLY

    Thanks you for sharing this important article. I have a strong family history of Alzheimers: aunt, uncle, mother all had it – so I am most interested in practical real-life research like this. The recommendations by Dr. Bredesen are nothing if not healthy for all of us as we age!!!

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