Alzheimer's disease (AD) is one of the most misdiagnosed of modern diseases. True AD causes specific brain damage: microscopic senile plaques, brain atrophy and tangles in some of the connecting pathways of the brain. However, the presence of these
After the fact studies show just how wrong doctors usually are; up to half of all AD patients are confirmed post mortem as having been misdiagnosed (The Lancet, 1981; 1: 824-7).
Instead, patients usually have one of many conditions causing pseudo dementia. Lately AD has been linked with metallic poisoning, mainly with aluminium or mercury, or a deficiency in one of a number of essential nutrients such as B6, B12, folic acid, thiamine or nicotinic acid.
However, a number of other little suspected factors can cause this pseudo dementia, most of which are largely reversible. These include poor circulation to the brain or hardening of brain arteries; pernicious anemia; side effects of certain prescribed drugs, including addiction to psychotropic drugs; or severe facial swelling, caused by severe hypothyroidism (R Trattler, Better Health through Natural Healing, Thorsons, London, 1987). If a patient has been undergoing chemotherapy, vinblastine (Velban) or vincristine (Oncovin) can cause such delayed side effects as loss of reflexes, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, foot drop and depression.
Besides the nutritional tests mentioned in last month's issue, a hematology screen, urinalysis, full thyroid function test and liver function tests can rule out some of these problems as potential culprits and the appropriate treatment can usually bring about improvement. Osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation, including muscle re-education techniques, offers an important complementary therapy (J Marshall Hoag, et al, Osteopathic Medicine, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1969).
If none of these factors proves to be the cause, and true AD is suspected, a number of alternative remedies have been scientifically proven to work. Thirteen studies performed in the past 20 years (seven of which were double blind, placebo controlled) demonstrate that Ginkgo biloba extract can bring about significant regression of the major symptoms of cerebral vascular insufficiency (J Pizzorno and M Murray, Textbook of Natural Medicine, 1992, vol 1). Regularly taking physostigma vene-nosum, a cholinergic agonist, has been shown to improve memory significantly (J A Geriatrics Soc, 1989; 37: 42-8).
The homeopathic medicine, Melia azadirachta indica, has also been shown to work (F Lamasson, Annales Homeopathiques Francaises, 1968, 10: (3): 851-8), as has an earlier homeopathic remedy, Duboisia myoproides, more than a century ago (M Gerrard, Pharm Jour and Trans, April 1878: 157).
One clue to whether your AD is genuine is right at the tips of your fingers. Abnormal fingerprint patterns, referred to as ulnar loops, which point away from the thumb toward the ulnar bone, are frequently found on all fingertips of AD suffers (as well as those with Down's Syndrome, which has been linked with AD). The more normal pattern is a variety of whorls, arches and ulnar loops (see Pizzorno and Murray's Encylopedia of Natural Medicine for a good illustration). If you do have this pattern, begin the type of preventive approach outlined last month.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homeopath and osteopath.