My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in his early 60’s so the subject of dementia is near and dear to me. I was only a year old when he died from the disease, but what strikes me about his illness is the fear that it has left behind for some of my family members. This is something I see commonly in my practice. Dementia, the word, can trigger very strong emotions in patients who have been touched by the illness in some way. It is terrifying to lose your ability to think, as this, in basic terms, defines who you are. This article will examine the old and new perceptions of dementia and cover the functional medicine approach to reversing it.
In Canada, over 500 000 people are living with dementia. This number does not take into account undiagnosed dementia, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and subjective cognitive impairment (SCI). SCI is when you perceive yourself to have deterioration in memory (or other cognitive functions), but your cognitive screening tests are negative. MCI occurs when your screening tests are abnormal but not severe enough to be dementia. Typically you are able to function quite normally and adapt to the cognitive decline.
The success of improving cognitive decline through the Functional Medicine approach and the Bredesen Protocol is best in the SCI group, then the MCI and then dementia groups. The earlier you start your journey, the better. It is never too early to start looking after your brain.
Dementia: The Old
The thought of reversing dementia sounds like something from the future and most consider it a terminal diagnosis. Conventional medicine physicians tell patients there is nothing further that can be done and to get their affairs in order while the change in a loved one’s condition devastates families. Not only do they lose memory, but they also may have personality changes and lose independence in social, occupational, and financial domains.
In the 20th century, Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia were often diagnosed very late in the course of the illness and treated with medications, which are not very effective. They in no way improve function or recover “lost” neural activity. There is a loss of control and no hope of getting better.
What I’d like to share with you is that there is hope. More than hope.
Dementia: The New
Amyloid-beta deposition & neurofibrillary tangles cause dysfunction of neural networks and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. We have known for some time but until now, we have not known why this occurs. With many years of research, Dr. Dale Bredesen and his team have finally been able to find the “why” of dementia.
They have identified 36 underlying triggers for amyloid-beta deposition and divided dementia into 6 broad categories, based on the cause. These are Type 1 “Inflammatory,” Type 2 “Atrophic” (or lack of nutrients and hormones), Type 1.5 “Glycotoxic” (sugar/ glucose regulation), Type 3 “Toxic,” Type 4 “Vascular” (blood vessel-related) and Type 5 “Traumatic.” What they have found is that amyloid-beta deposition is a protective response to these triggers but the removal of the amyloid-beta, without fixing the underlying cause, can do more harm than good. In any given patient, there is likely to be a contribution from each of these groups, but one or two often predominate.
Dementia and Genetics
Does genetics play a role in getting dementia? If this were true, then it is a waiting game that you have no control over. This is absolutely not true. Less than 5% of Alzheimer’s genes are of high penetrance and destine you to have the illness. The more common underlying genes that influence but do not always cause Alzheimer’s, are the Apo E4 genes, and genes can be tested. The number of copies of the gene may influence your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but the beauty of 21st-century medicine is that we now know that epigenetic mechanisms are far more important than the gene itself. What this means is that the signals that you send to your genes will influence the way that they express themselves.
So through diet, exercise, stress management, curbing inflammation, managing toxicity and chronic infections, and healing the gut, we can improve the signals we send to our genes. When our brains are sent these good signals, they build synapses and brain function improves. The concept of neuroplasticity – the ability to change our brains- is very empowering.
Functional Medicine and Reversing Dementia
The purpose of functional medicine is to look at the root cause of illness. This makes it the perfect approach for reversing dementia. The Bredesen approach to brain health parallels the Core nodes of Healing that we use in our practice. In conventional medicine, a doctor makes a diagnosis and gives a specific treatment or treatments focused on that specific diagnosis. Functional Medicine and Bredesen’s program maintains that many causes exist for any given symptom, and each underlying cause can lead to a number of different symptoms. In the management of these complex underlying causes, there are many focuses of treatment and each patient’s presentation is very individual, based on their underlying causes.
Bredesen refers to “36 holes in a roof”. If each underlying cause represents one hole in the roof, healing will not occur unless every hole is plugged. After plugging away at the holes, there is some synergism. This means plugging 10 holes can give the body enough momentum to start plugging the other holes. In other words, if you give the body enough help, it can start to heal itself. Genetics plays a role in dementia.
Since 2017, I have been a Bredesen Certified Practitioner. MPI Cognition was established to provide the research, support, and information to make this approach available to all. Dr Bredesen has created a RECODE report (REversing COgnitive DEcline), which is a software program that can be accessed online by interested patients. You would select me as a practitioner and pay a $75 USD monthly fee to be part of the program, with a 1 year commitment. This is to ensure continued compliance with the program because it can take at least many months to start making progress. This fee is separate to our usual clinic fees.
Your next steps
The next steps are crucial. First, I will gather your history during your initial consultation. Every piece of information I can gather about you helps complete this puzzle. Your family history, your mother’s health while pregnant with you, and every detail of your health through your life. This is so I can pinpoint where the triggers to your current health may have come from. We then gather further information through more tests which allows us to populate the RECODE report and prioritize your treatment. Next, we provide a list of recommended tests. You are able to choose as many as you are able to do. Even if all tests are not done, the RECODE report can still be completed but will be most accurate with the most information. Part of the initial intake includes baseline cognitive testing, which is tracked over time.
Once your individual management plan is identified, a multidisciplinary approach is taken. Nutritionists, exercise therapists, neural retraining, intravenous treatments, supplements, and meditation training are all possible aspects of your treatment.
So, with my family history in mind, what have I done to prevent the development of this devastating disease? I have identified my genes and my triggers and am working towards optimizing each of the 6 categories, mentioned above. I look forward to working with patients and families to optimize brain and total body health rough clinical and personal experience with Functional Medicine, and the Bredesen Protocol.
https://lynnemurfinmd.com/lynne-murfin-bio/dr-michelle-van-der-westhuizen-functional-medicine-physician/For further information please contact us.
Visit: https://www.mpicognition.com/programs/report/ and https://www.drbredesen.com/copy-of-the-bredesen-protocol-tm for more information on the Bredesen Protocol.
You can also read Dr. Dale Bredesen’s book entitled “The End of Alzheimer’s”. I recommend this for those who have a family history of dementia, notices cognitive issues in themselves, or knows someone with dementia. It is truly enlightening and empowering.
Dr. Michelle van der Westhuizen