Is There Hope for Alzheimer’s

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Health Current Events, Nutritiion, Vitamins and Health

Preventing Cognitive Decline As We Age

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 alzheimer's

As we age nothing is more terrifying than the word Alzheimer’s. For most of us the ultimate irony would be to spend a lifetime taking good care of our body, only to lose our mind. From time to time there are encouraging reports about the potential of low fat diets, diets rich in fruits and vegetables, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, various herbs, and other natural approaches that might slow cognitive decline as we age.

Inevitably, it seems, those hopes are dashed by subsequent meta-analyses supposedly showing that each of those approaches is worthless. That wouldn’t be so bad if there were effective medications to slow cognitive decline and prevent Alzheimer’s, but there aren’t. The Alzheimer’s drugs on the market today simply have not been shown to be effective.

But, what if all of these studies were missing the mark by focusing on individual interventions? Perhaps we should be focusing a holistic approach instead.

 

The Power of Holistic Approaches

One of the examples of the power of a holistic approach that I love to use, because it really made an impression on me as a young scientist, occurred at an International Cancer Symposium I attended more than 30 years ago.

I attended a session in which an internally renowned expert was giving his talk on colon cancer. He said, “I can show you, unequivocally, that colon cancer risk is significantly decreased by a lifestyle that includes a high-fiber diet, a low-fat diet, adequate calcium, adequate B-vitamins, exercise and weight control. But I can’t show you that any one of them, by themselves, is effective.”

The question that came to me as I heard him speak was: “What’s the message that a responsible scientist or responsible health professional should be giving to their patients or the people that they’re advising?” You’ve heard experts saying: “Don’t worry about the fat” “Don’t worry about calcium.” “Don’t worry about B-vitamins.” “Don’t worry about fiber.” “None of them can be shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer.”

Is that the message that we should be giving people? Or should we really be saying what that doctor said many years ago – a lifestyle that includes all of those things significantly decreases the risk of colon cancer?

What about Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline? Could a holistic approach have an impact here as well?

 

Is There Hope For Alzheimer’s?

preventing-cognitive-declineA study performed by Dr. Miia Kivipelto and colleagues at the Karolinska Insitute in Sweden and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland suggests that a holistic approach may, in fact, be able to slow cognitive decline in older people.

Previous studies had suggested that exercise, a good diet, socialization and memory training might slow cognitive decline in the elderly, but, like all other individual interventions, the benefits of these interventions were not reproducible. Dr. Kivipelto and colleagues designed a clinical study that combined all of these interventions into a single holistic approach.

They started with 1,260 healthy adults aged 60-77 from Sweden and Finland and divided them into two groups. One group was enrolled in a holistic program involving exercise, a healthy diet, socialization and memory training. This group was closely monitored for compliance. The other group was just given general health advice – not unlike the advice you might expect to receive from your doctor.

Each group was given a memory test at the beginning of the study and a second memory test two years later. Both groups scored about the same on the first memory test. However, the group enrolled in the holistic program did considerably better on the second memory test than the control group who had just been given general health advice.

One of the lead investigators was quoted as saying: “These findings show that prevention is possible, and it may be good to start early [before the signs of cognitive decline become evident]. With so many negative trials of Alzheimer’s drugs reportedly lately, it’s good that we may have something that everyone can do now to lower their risk [of cognitive decline].”

 

Limitations of the Study

There are two big caveats for this study.

1)     The study was too short to assess the effectiveness of this approach at reducing Alzheimer’s. The investigators plan to continue the study for 7 years. They hope that enough participants will have developed Alzheimer’s by then so they can accurately assess whether this approach is as effective at preventing Alzheimer’s as it is at preventing cognitive decline.

2)     This study was recently presented at an Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. It has not yet undergone the rigorous peer review required for publication. Once the study has been published I will give you an update.

 

The Bottom Line

1)     It has been very difficult to prove that individual interventions, whether they are natural or pharmaceutical, are effective at preventing cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s as we age.

2)    However, a recent study suggests that a holistic approach that includes exercise, optimal nutrition, socialization and memory training may be effective at preventing cognitive decline in older adults.

3)     Based on previously published individual studies, optimal nutrition probably includes:

  • A diet low in fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats
  • A diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Extra B vitamins, especially with high risk populations
  • Extra omega-3 fatty acids

4)     Although not mentioned in this study, maintaining proper body weight is also an important part of a holistic approach to reducing the risk of cognitive decline. In a previous “Health Tips From the Professor” I shared data showing that obesity alone can cause a 3-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia.

5)    The take home message should not be that each of the natural interventions is ineffective at preventing cognitive decline as we age. Rather, the message should be that a holistic approach that combines all of the natural interventions may be effective at preventing cognitive decline.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (1)

  • Carol Cash

    |

    Well said as usual! It’s the whole that matters – we’re not plugging holes, we’re giving the body a strong base so that it can help itself!

    Reply

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Latest Article

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

 

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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