What’s so cruel is that no one has ever made it clear to patients or their families that treatment options are not the only route to help victims or those predisposed to this disease.
There are other options.
Professor David Smith, a top dementia expert, states that there are things that can be done to improve the situation right now -- but governments, charities and other research bodies need to make a long overdue switch to a new strategy: preventing the disease.
What is amazing is that nearly all the 40 billion has been spent researching and testing ways to stop just one thing that goes wrong in patients’ brains.
The idea was to develop drugs to block or clear amyloid plaque -- the sticky damaged protein associated with dying neurons. Concentrating on this exclusively -- without even considering any other options -- has condemned millions to a decline that might have been slowed down or prevented.
"How many billions do you have to spend without a result before admitting it’s time to also look elsewhere? What we should have spent some money on is research into prevention. If you can’t reverse the damage, the obvious step is to stop it happening at all," states Professor Smith.
"We know it is possible. In fact, research suggests that a strong commitment to prevention could cut the number of Alzheimer’s victims by 20 percent by 2025."
What we need is a big increase in public funding for research into the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
The Importance of Diet
Over the last few years, hints of a connection between Alzheimer's and lifestyle have emerged, but scientists have become increasingly interested in investigating such a link and are just now beginning to realize that what is good for the heart may also be good for the brain.
One of the key things we need to address is people’s diet.
For instance, switching to a so-called Mediterranean diet -- rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil -- could have a real impact.
Dr. Newport, a physician who runs a neonatology ward in a Florida hospital, became determined to help her husband, Steve Newport after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Insulin problems prevent brain cells from accepting glucose, their primary fuel...there is an alternative fuel, ketones which the cells easily accept. Ketones are metabolized in the liver after you eat medium chain triglycerides which are found in coconut oil.
After incorporating coconut oil into his diet, Steve Newport began passing specific clock tests designed to help diagnose Alzheimer's patients. He began improving intellectually, emotionally and physically.
Patients with Alzheimer's disease may also benefit by taking an antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) according to one study. Dr. John C. Adair of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and colleagues hypothesized that the antioxidant NAC could counteract that damage and improve patients' function.
There are a growing number of Clinicians and Scientists who are convinced that heavy metals play a critical role in the development of several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's. Metal toxicants entering the part of the brain that deals with stress and panic have been linked to the disease.
Data from France suggests people with higher intakes of vitamin D may be at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The highest average intakes of the sunshine vitamin were associated with a 77% decrease in the risk of Alzheimer's, report researchers in the The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.
Any action plan can’t just involve drugs -- that is imperative to have large-scale clinical trials of ways to cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s with improved diet and lifestyle.
Many lifestyle factors linked to heart disease also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s, including high blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol levels.
The heart-healthy benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet are well known, but new research suggests the eating plan may reduce the risk ofAlzheimer's disease, too.
People who carefully followed the Mediterranean diet -- heavy on fish, fruits and vegetables, monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, and low on meat and dairy products -- had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those who ate the conventional American diet.
Research indicates the disease is also more common in regions of northwest Italy where levels of aluminum in drinking water are highest. When the researchers tested water in regions of northwest Italy in 1998, they found that total aluminum levels -- including monomeric and other types of aluminum -- ranged from 5 to 1,220 micrograms per liter, while monomeric aluminum levels alone ranged from 5 to 300 micrograms per liter. After comparing this data to death rates from Alzheimer's in those regions, the researchers found that the disease was more common in areas with the highest levels of monomeric aluminum.
Funding Prevention Is Not A Priority, But Drugs Are
Even more important, there are virtually no public funds available for trials to find out how exactly lifestyle contributes to Alzheimer’s.
It is shocking is that so little is spent on research into Alzheimer’s prevention. Just $1 for every $1000 is spent on prevention funded by government initiatives on Alzheimer’s. In 2014, not a single penny is scheduled to be spent on prevention of Alzheimer's through investigation into changes in diet or lifestyle strategies.
This is tragic. For years we have had a chance to do something that had a reasonable chance of significantly reducing the number of people developing this disease.
Yet the Government and charities ignored it. Meanwhile billions went on drug programs that have never been shown to work.
You might wonder how we can say prevention will definitely work and yet also claim it hasn’t been researched. In fact, prevention has been tested -- by accident.
The proportion of people developing dementia has, surprisingly, been falling for the past 20 years.
The Lancet reported earlier this year that estimates for dementia in England should be reduced by almost 25 percent.
This is partly the result of a deliberate prevention program -- but one aimed at heart disease, not Alzheimer’s. For the past 20 years, people have been encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and lowering blood pressure to protect their heart.
This, along with other social factors such as improved educational opportunities, has had a clear impact on Alzheimer’s risk. A healthy heart makes for a healthy brain. But just relying on measures already in place to cut heart disease risk isn’t nearly enough.
Although fewer people suffer heart disease, there has been a huge rise in obesity and diabetes, both also major risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Cutting Alzheimer’s rates is going to involve tackling diabetes risk factors as well.
Despite little funding, there have been pockets of important research on prevention.
A controlled trial ran in Oxford three years ago showed brain shrinkage was cut by an impressive 90 percent in people with memory problems after they took high levels of B vitamins.
Scientists in the U.S., Germany and Australia have also shown that supplements of omega 3 fatty acids, as well as exercise, may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center's Memory Disorders Program found high-dose vitamins reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine in people with Alzheimer's. Previous research has found a link between homocysteine and the mind-robbing disease.
Elderly people who get relatively low amounts of the B vitamin niacin in their diets may be more likely to develop Alzheimer's within the next few years than others.
There is also evidence that a restrictive diet in mice reduces the build-up of a substance linked to alzheimer's. In diet-restricted mice, both the amount and size of plaque was about 50 percent less than in mice that ate as much as they wanted.
A study published the Journal of Biological Chemistry shows that resveratrol, a compound found in grapes and red wine, lowers the levels of the amyloid-beta peptides which cause the telltale senile plaques of Alzheimer's disease.
Exercise seems to cut risk in several ways, including increasing oxygen available to the brain and encouraging new brain cells to grow. It also makes blockages in the brain’s blood supply less likely, cuts damaging inflammation and reduces depression (which raises Alzheimer’s risk).
Even reading, going to the movies, walking and other leisure activities may lower the risk of developing the disease.
A number of researchers now suggest that eating lots of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, which raise glucose levels in the blood, contribute more to diabetes risk than saturated fat does.
But only a proper program of research will show for sure.
The European Dementia Prevention Initiative has four trials underway looking at the effect on Alzheimer’s when you target heart disease risks and other lifestyle factors.
The big drug companies are never going to do this sort of research because it doesn’t make them money: they can’t patent exercise or nutrients.
So what will make a difference is dedicated government funding for prevention.
And what’s needed is more than just money, although that would obviously make a big difference!
We need a shift from thinking that only drug research and genetics and cell biology are proper science. It is very exciting being at the cutting edge of brain science, unravelling complex gene changes that cause neurons to die and damaged protein clumps to form.
Yet big gains in heart disease came from tackling risk factors such as smoking and raised blood pressure. Real progress to stop the terrifying rise in Alzheimer’s will come in the same way.
Crucially, this creates lots of options -- things people can try in their daily lives that may make a difference.
A serious drive for prevention will mean people don’t have to feel helpless any more.
The failure to take the likes of diet, exercise and supplements seriously is very galling because at Oxford we’ve shown it’s possible to slow down the Alzheimer’s type brain shrinkage with B vitamins costing pennies a day.
Yet scientists still regularly claim there is no way to modify the progression of this ghastly disease. What they mean is there’s no drug to do that.
For the sake of all of us, and our families, ignoring all sorts of possible treatments just because they won’t make billions can’t go on.
Mason Grant is a Doctor of Acupuncture, trained Naturopathic Physician, avid gardener and has practiced holistic medicine and healing for more than twenty years. In his free time he is a writer, independent researcher and investigative journalist.