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Catching Alzheimer’s disease early

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“Sylvie” is a high-powered lawyer, originally from West Africa, living in the northwest of England. She came to see me in her early 50s, very distressed that she was losing focus, starting to forget words and occasionally struggling with spelling (she was not dyslexic).

These symptoms were not constant, but they occurred often enough to worry her. The cleverer people are, the sooner they notice the subtle signs of their own cognitive decline. A CT scan gave her a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease.

As always, I began by wondering about causes. The first cause we found was a simple but devastatingly common (and easily preventable/treatable) one: vitamin D deficiency. When I say deficiency, I mean, in her case, almost a total lack of this important nutrient. Vitamin D should measure between 75 and 200 nmol/l. So 60 is low, 40 very low, and 20 extremely worrying. Sylvie’s vitamin D came back at 5. The lab repeated the test to be sure it wasn’t an error; it wasn’t. It was 5.0. Vitamin D is essential for brain function. How had it gotten so low? In her case, there were four reasons:

  1. The northwest of England has the thickest cloud cover of any part of the UK; not enough sun gets through to make vitamin D in the skin.
  2. Sylvie was very dark-skinned; she needed lots more sunshine than a lighter-skinned person to make sufficient vitamin D.
  3. Sylvie never ate fish. She wasn’t vegetarian, just hated fish. However, oily fish is the major food source of vitamin D, as well as a crucial brain nutrient in its own right.
  4. Sylvie was always trying to lose weight; for 25 years she had been eating low-fat diets, thus missing out on fats that are crucial for a healthy brain—and for the vitamin D they contain.

The second cause was the neurotoxic metal aluminum, which showed up high in a urine test and a MELISA test. Aluminum is known to damage the brain and is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. But how had so much aluminum gotten into Sylvie’s body?

First, she cooked in aluminum saucepans. This may be fine for boiling an egg, but Sylvie made tomato sauce, which is acidic, so it would leach out some of the aluminum, especially as she left it in there for a day or two. Second, she used a lot of deodorant, which contains aluminum. Third, she cooked in aluminum foil, wrapping the Sunday roast in it after squeezing lemon juice on top—acid again. Fourth, she’d had several vaccinations in the preceding 10 years, partly for tropical travel, and most of them contained aluminum, added as an “immune adjuvant,” or booster, to make the vaccine more effective.

Sylvie turned out to have three other contributing factors: her long-term low-fat diet, her excessive sugar consumption (that’s why she couldn’t lose weight) and air pollution; this last factor is also known to be a major reason for the increase in Alzheimer’s disease incidence.

The hardest part of Sylvie’s treatment was getting her to eat the healthy fats that help the brain repair itself: nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, the fat from organic free-range meat, and supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Decades of believing the myth that “fat is bad” proved hard for her to overcome.

But interestingly, as Sylvie did begin to eat the good fats, she found it easier to break the sugar habit. And this, of course, was vital; dementia has been described as “diabetes of the brain.”

I gave Sylvie high-dose vitamin D and retested regularly till it normalized and we could get her onto a maintenance dose. However, I worried that if it had been so low for many years, she might have osteoporosis. I sent her for a scan, and indeed she did have osteoporosis, which we managed with nutrition and plenty of exercise.

I also gave Sylvie a challenging, seven-part detox program as described in chapter 7 of my book, but with the vital addition of the nutrient silica, which is especially good at removing aluminum. Sylvie (who did her own research) wanted to do this by drinking the brands of spring water that are naturally high in silica, but that is not my favorite approach as the bottles are plastic—bad for the person, bad for the planet. So I gave her a silica supplement in the form of liquid Silicium Organique G5 from LLR-G5 (llrg5.com), and I also gave her horsetail, an herbal remedy that is naturally rich in silica because it absorbs it well from the soil.

Finally, I gave Sylvie all the nutrients that are crucial for brain function, whatever the cause of the problem: vitamin B12, a B complex, magnesium, zinc, phosphatidylcholine and curcumin. She stuck with her demanding treatment regime brilliantly, and a year later a repeat brain scan showed that the telltale white patches in the brain had shrunk. Another year on, they had virtually vanished. The neurologist was pleased—and puzzled.

Some years on, Sylvie is doing very well: symptom-free and succeeding at work. She has finally lost that excess weight, too, by eating good fats and ditching the sweet stuff. She still can’t bear to eat fish, but she takes fish oil (omega-3) daily.

She exercises regularly and is planning to move out to the countryside; air pollution is the one contributing factor I couldn’t change. Her success is down to her absolute determination and willpower to stick to the program, and also down to the fact that she herself caught it early by not ignoring the subtle signs, facing the fact that something was wrong and coming for a consult sooner rather than later.

Most people who have consulted me with Alzheimer’s disease have done so at a much later stage than Sylvie did, when they were already losing function and already regulars at the NHS Memory Clinic. Although the approach that I described above can certainly help them, it can only “hold” the symptoms where they are and stop them getting worse for a few years; it can’t reverse them. That’s been my experience, at least. Prevention is always better than cure, and a damn sight easier, too.

The popular press would have us believe that dementia is all down to our “aging population.” This is a myth, and here’s why.

First, we are not actually living longer than our Victorian ancestors. Yes, the average age of death in Victorian times was much younger than now, but that is solely because the average figure included infant mortality; a quarter of all children died before their fifth birthday from infectious diseases (due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and starvation).

If you take those children out of the equation, the Victorians lived as long as we do—into their 80s and beyond. But they kept their marbles; they very rarely got dementia.

Second, the disease German physician Alois Alzheimer first described was pre-senile dementia. His first patient was 51 years old. We are now seeing cognitive decline in people in their 40s and 50s; that is unprecedented. And most of these people didn’t have an ancestor with dementia. It’s all down to environment and nutrition, not genes.

And, of course, there’s a logical contradiction in saying “Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, we are now living long enough to get terribly ill.” That certainly makes no sense to me!

 

Dr Jenny Goodman has specialized in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine for the last 20 years. An experienced speaker and author of Staying Alive in Toxic Times: A Seasonal Guide to Lifelong Health (Yellow Kite, 2020), she has a particular interest in pre-conception care and work with children.

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