World Alzheimer's Day takes place on the 21st September and considering that this condition affects over 30 million people worldwide, it's important to understand what Alzheimer's disease is, how it affects your brain and what you can do to help reduce the risk of developing this condition throughout the aging process.
What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's is by far the most common form of dementia...a general term that is often used to diagnose age-related memory loss and other cognitive impairments that interfere with normal everyday living. In fact, Alzheimer's makes up roughly 50% to 80% of all recorded dementia cases.
Unfortunately Alzheimer's disease (often known simply as AD) is a non-reversible brain disorder that tends to develop slowly over a period of years with increasing effects on the brain and body. In its early stages, people usually experience general memory loss and confusion. This can easily be mistaken for the many different kinds of memory fluctuations that are often associated with the aging process. Nevertheless, over time, AD symptoms can lead to changes in personality and behavior, as well as a reduction in simple mental abilities like language skills and making easy decisions. People suffering from AD also tend to have trouble recognizing their family and friends. As the condition worsens, the person's brain gradually deteriorates resulting in a severe mental impairment that affects both cognitive abilities and both voluntary and involuntary bodily functions.
What causes Alzheimer's disease?
Unfortunately scientists and health professionals don't know exactly what causes Alzheimer's. However, many believe that genetics, lifestyle and a lack of important nutrients significantly increase the risk of developing this degenerative brain disease.
Before we explain this further, let's take a look at the brain itself...
The body's 'master organ' is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons (nerve cells). Each one of these neurons connects to many other nerve cells, ultimately forming a complex web of cellular networks that help different parts of the brain communicate with other parts as well as the rest of the body. The end result is that this form of neural communication helps the body function and gives us the ability to see, smell, feel, hear, taste, think, learn and remember.
These cells communicate by transferring electrical impulses (neural messages) between themselves via a tiny gap at the end of every nerve cell called synaptic clefts. The 'messengers' that ferry the message code across this gap are called neurotransmitters...an important one is acetylcholine and it plays a very important role in the brain. We'll discuss this in more detail in the Ingredient of the Month section of the newsletter.
Going back to the nerve cells in the brain...these cells need the right nutrients and ingredients to survive and function optimally. If they're damaged in any way or lack the necessary nutrients, they can die and start a degenerative chain reaction across different areas of the brain. This is how Alzheimer's begins.
There are four major characteristics in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease:
- Amyloid plaques: This plaque is made up of proteins that have been affected by glycation...whereby a glycating agent sticks to the protein molecule forming an ugly molecule called an AGE - which is short for Advanced Glycation End-products. These AGEs move around the body binding to cells and causing them to produce a number of poisonous chemicals plus other toxic by-products. AGEs also increase the formation of amyloid beta which is a toxic material found in the brains of older people and it is abundant in Alzheimers and dementia patients.
- Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs): Inside each neuron are collections of a protein called tau. If these proteins are affected by glycation and become 'sticky', they clump together and form fibrous clumps inside the nerve cell called 'tangles'. They basically choke the cell to death by interfering with essential nutrients and processes within the cell.
- Loss of connections between neurons responsible for memory and learning: Neurons love being social...it's vital for their survival, so if they lose their connections with other neurons, they will start dying, causing a chain reaction across the affected regions in the brain, causing these areas to shrink.
- Inflammation of the brain: Whenever the body experiences trauma or is threatened with infection or toxins (like amyloid beta) its defense mechanism is an inflammatory response. However, instead of inflammation helping the problem it tends to make it worse. In fact, new studies suggest that in AD, inflammation may act as a trigger to the glycation changes in the tau proteins that cause neurofibrillary tangles. Living a healthy lifestyle is essential to help reduce your risk of developing AD. Staying active - both physically and mentally - are also very important. However, as mentioned earlier, getting the right ingredients and nutrients daily is without a doubt one of the best first lines of defense you can give your brain. Glycation and inflammation are two of the five main causes of aging...they also play a main role in kickstarting the development of AD. By supplementing with a nutriment formula like Total Balance, which contains specially blended ingredients to specifically help fight against the five main causes of aging (including glycation and inflammation), you can help reduce the risk of developing AD and other forms of dementia.