What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Dementia is a group of symptoms associated with a decline in the way your brain functions, affecting your memory and the way you behave. It was first described by the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, in 1906 and was named after him. It occurs most often in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2010, there were 36 million sufferers worldwide (1). Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
What are the symptoms?
In Alzheimer’s disease there is a progressive loss of brain cells. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language, and long term memory loss. Ultimately, bodily functions are lost and sufferers live on average 7 years from diagnosis.
The exact cause for the decline is unknown. Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the loss of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex and certain subcortical regions. Plaques and tangles, caused by the abnormal accumulation of amyloid proteins, lead to neuron degeneration and the symptoms develop as a result of this.
What are the risk factors?
There are a number of things thought to increase the risk of developing the condition, including:
- increasing age
- a family history of the condition
- previous severe head injuries
- lifestyle factors and conditions associated with vascular disease
This is a devastating disease, for the patient and everyone connected with them; I have a personal reason for writing this post and have found that there is a lot of information and support available if you look for it. For more details on the disease and diagnosis, please take a look at the Alzheimer’s Society Website.
What is the treatment?
Treatment of Alzheimer’s is limited at present, mainly to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (2) for mild to moderate symptoms:
- donepezil (brand name Aricept)
- galantamine (brand name Reminyl)
- rivastigmine (brand name Exelon)
- memantine (brand name Ebixa)
The efficacy of the drugs is limited to slowing down the onset of symptoms, currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
What Research is being done?
This disease affects a significant proportion of the population, currently around half a million in the UK (4), and many more world wide. As a result of this there are numerous research projects being carried out around the world.
In the USA there has been a lot of interest in Coconut oil, which contains a high percentage of MCTs (medium chain triglycerides). It is thought that a key problem in Alzheimer’s disease is the inability of the brain to use glucose effectively. This defect in energy conversion starves the brain cells and weakens their ability to withstand stress. The brain rapidly ages and degenerates into dementia. Coconut oil (which contains MCTs) provides the brain with an alternative energy source in the form of ketones or ketone bodies.
Research into MCTs has led to the introduction of several products in the USA, including Fuel for Thought and Axona. One person who has experienced first hand the benefits of coconut oil is Dr Mary Newport, whose husband has Alzheimer’s. You can view an interview with her on You Tube which documents her experiences.
Since, Dr Newport first reported her findings there has been a rapid increase in anecdotal evidence, but unfortunately very little in the way of clinical data. However, the FDA have licensed a product (Axona, as above) to be used specifically with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia related diseases.
In the UK, there have been articles in the press (Daily Mail) regarding the use of coconut oil. In addition, a recent report regarding a drug to treat diabetes (Liraglutide) has been hailed as a possible new treatment (Express). I think this is significant in that both these treatments assume that Alzheimer’s is a form of diabetes in the brain. Coconut oil provides an alternative energy source (ketones) and Liraglutide helps in the production of insulin, a key factor in energy production.
Unfortunately, new drug treatments take many years to appear and clinical trials are still required to license Liraglutide for use in dementia patients. In the meantime, coconut oil and MCTs are not drugs, they are widely available and could help in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms.
Coconut oil is available from Health Food shops and on Amazon. MCTs are available on Amazon and Ebay in either oil or capsule form, they can also be found on Bodybuilding websites (they are used as an alternative energy source for high protein/low carb diets).
Please leave a comment if you have had any experience of using coconut oil or MCTs, it would be really helpful.