Supplemental Brain Power

Vegetarian Times, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Supplemental Brain Power


In addition to a daily multivitaminand-mineral supplement, Khalsa recommends taking these nutrients daily for both the prevention and reversal of Alzheimer's (or any memory loss, for that matter). A nice bonus: These brainnourishing supplements are good for the heart too.

THE HARDEST PART: OWNING UP Admitting that mild, or perhaps not so mild, memory loss is a problem is not a simple matter. "Alzheimer's disease attacks the very essence of being human: our capacity to think, relate, remember," says Relkin. Memory loss is itself a kind of death, the passing of one's old, "vital" self.

As a researcher who focuses on people with mild cognitive impairment, Relkin believes it's essential to take quick action about even minor memory problems. "People who have memory loss greater than their peers have a one in 10 chance of progressing to Alzheimer's disease in the next few years," he warns. "But by identifying these patients early, we hope to take steps to preempt the process."

Doctors like Relkin are more optimistic than ever that even mild age-related memory loss isn't inevitable. Under normal conditions, the billions of nerve cells in the brain constantly repair themselves and can last more than 100 years. It's only when their normal maintenance system breaks down and a neuron dies from disease, injury or unknown causes, that it cannot be replaced.

In Alzheimer's disease, some brain cells literally starve to death because plaque and tangles in the cell's fibers prevent nutrients from getting through. This leads to a disruption of the lightning-quick signals that brain cells send out to help identify such basic concepts as mother, apple and danger, leaving the patient with a head full of static.

What's responsible for this breakdown? "Alzheimer's disease does not have a single cause," says Relkin. "There seem to be many that lead into a common pathway of brain degeneration." Modern research points to a few key culprits: damage to the brain's arteries from excess levels of the stress chemical cortisol; damage to brain tissue from stroke or inflammation; depletion of estrogen in women after menopause (which may explain why women have a higher overall incidence of Alzheimer's). Genetic factors also play a role, especially when Alzheimer's strikes before 65, a rare occurrence. Certain environmental hazards are also implicated, including aluminum, pesticides, solvents, mercury dental fillings and electromagnetic fields. In fact, it seems that almost nothing has escaped indictment. "I once tallied over 1,000 published reports of particular hormones, chemicals and metals that are either more or less common in Alzheimer's disease," says Relkin. "But these reports don't necessarily mean that the excess or deficiency is a cause of the problem, nor that reducing or adding levels will help the patient's condition."

PUSHING THE FRONTIERS OF TREATMENT

Nora M., 65, reluctantly quit her job as a legal secretary when she realized she was always making excuses for forgetting to pass on phone messages. When neurologist Mazurek gave Nora an evaluation in which she was asked to recall three words, she couldn't remember a single one.

Suspecting early-stage Alzheimer's, Mazurek prescribed the drug Araset along with the natural antioxidant herb ginkgo biloba. But when she showed no significant improvement in the months that followed, he put her on purified Huperzine A. Derived from the plant known as club moss, this nutrient has been used for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat fever and inflammation and in recent years in China as a prescription drug for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. "Within two months, Nora's score on the mental status exam, initially 22 out of 30, improved to 27," says Mazurek. "She remembered first one, then two of the quiz words. I just saw her last week, and she scored a 30 and remembered all three."

But it's in her daily functioning that Nora's improvement is most apparent. …

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