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Alzheimer's Disease and 8 Potential Natural Treatments

Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most challenging and serious health problems facing the world’s population, and research into prevention and treatment remains a high priority. Among the studies are those exploring potential natural treatments for this devastating disease.

What’s new in natural treatments for Alzheimer’s?

Although scientists have not yet uncovered a cure or an effective way to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease, every research endeavor reveals something investigators can use to help them reach their goal. A case in point is new research from the University of Leeds (UL), in which scientists identified the process by which two chemicals found in two natural substances—red wine and green tea—may interfere with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Even though the research is still in the laboratory stage, the study’s lead researcher, Professor Nigel Hooper of the Faculty of Biological Sciences of UL, noted that “this is an important step in increasing our understanding of the cause and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Basically, the research team discovered how extracts of resveratrol from red wine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea can help prevent the death of brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, nerve cells in the brain die when amyloid proteins accumulate in the brain, clump together into balls, and attach themselves to nerve cells.

The UL researchers discovered that when they added extracts from red wine and green tea to human and animal brain cells and amyloid balls in the lab, the shape of the balls changed. This prevented the balls from attaching to the nerve cells and thus stopped the cells from dying.

This discovery doesn’t mean everyone should be downing bottles of red wine and green tea. However, it does open the door to more research and “the potential to reveal yet more drug targets,” noted Hooper.

Six more natural treatments for Alzheimer’s
Vitamin D and curcumin. Investigators from a 2012 study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles reported they had discovered mechanisms regulated by vitamin D3 that may promote the clearance of amyloid beta, which is the main ingredient of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In a previous study by the same research group, they had found some immune system cells in people with Alzheimer’s disease may respond to vitamin D3 and curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric.

In a separate, new study from China, investigators reported on the use of curcumin as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to amyloid, their research focused on astrocytes as major factors in early Alzheimer’s development. Star-shaped astrocytes are the most abundant cells in the brain.

The authors explained that in the lab, curcumin has been shown to inhibit amyloid accumulation and speed up the breakup of amyloid plaque, as well as increase expression of a marker important to astrocytes. In addition, curcumin improved the spatial memory (typical of Alzheimer’s) in rat models.

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Omega-3 Fatty Acid DHA. A new (February 2013) small study has revealed that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and vitamin D3 help improve removal of plaque and control inflammation, both critical features in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found that DHA helps clear plaque in a way slightly different than does vitamin D3. Additional research may help reveal whether correcting deficiencies of DHA and vitamin D will help individuals eliminate amyloid plaque as a way to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Coffee (caffeine). A study from the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute reported that caffeinated coffee has a positive effect on older adults with mild memory impairment. According to lead author and neuroscientist Dr. Chuanhai Cao, their findings, “along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer’s mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer’s disease later in life.”

More specifically, the authors identified about three cups of coffee daily as the number necessary to enjoy this benefit. Co-author Dr. Gary W. Arendash, USF department of cell biology, microbiology and molecular biology, went so far as to state that “moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee appears to be the best dietary option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss.”

Grape seed extract. A number of studies have shown that grape seed extract can interfere with the accumulation of toxic proteins characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, as demonstrated by a mouse study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

A more recent study from the University of Minnesota noted the impact of grape seed extract given to mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. Five months of treatment significantly reduced brain levels of amyloid substances known to cause memory impairment. The authors noted they “strongly suggest” that grape seed extract “should be further tested as a potential prevention and/or therapy for AD.”

Vitamin E. The potent antioxidant vitamin E has been identified as having significant ability to help with the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, although not all researchers agree. A recent meta-analysis in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease explored the results of seven studies that evaluated the use of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The reviewers concluded that of the three antioxidants, vitamin E showed the most impressive protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease. However, all three did demonstrate an ability to lower the risk of the disease.

It’s true there are no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease in either the conventional or alternative/complementary areas of medicine. However, continuing exploration of potential natural treatments as well as medications may lead to effective answers.

Cashman JR et al. Curcumins promote monocytic gene expression related to B-amyloid and superoxide dismutase clearance. Neurodegenerative Diseases 2012; 10(1-4): 274-76
Li FJ et al. Dietary intakes of vitamin E, vitamin C, and b-carotene and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a meta-analysis. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012; 31(2): 253-58
Liu P et al. Grape seed polyphenolic extract specifically decreases aB*56 in the brains of Tg2576 mice. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2011; 26(4): 657-66
Mizwicki MT et al. Genomic and nongenomic signaling induced by 1a,25(OH)2-vitamin D3 promotes the recovery of amyloid-B phagocytosis by Alzheimer’s disease macrophages. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012; 29(1): 51-62
Rushworth JV et al. Prion protein-mediated toxicity of amyloid-B oligomers requires lipid rafts and the transmembrane LRP1. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2013 Feb 5
Wang Y et al. Curcumin as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease: a study of the effects of curcumin on hippocampal expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein. American Journal of Chinese Medicine 2013; 41(1): 59-70
Wang J et al. Grape derived polyphenols attenuate tau neuropathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2010; 22(2): 653-61

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