Is this the future for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease?
For years we've accepted that Alzheimer's disease is incurable and, for the most part, untreatable, writes Fran Power. Pharmaceutical trials have, to date, had little success - and those with the condition and their families have had to accept that they face a long and painful goodbye.
But Dr Dale Bredesen, Professor of Neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine UCLA, and President of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, has a different take. "The future should be that Alzheimer's is a very rare disease," he says.
He has worked with people with Alzheimer's disease for over 30 years. Over that time he has developed a protocol that he claims can prevent and, in some cases even reverse, the cognitive decline associated with the disease.
While some critics baulk at his claims, Dr Bredesen's recently published book 'The End of Alzheimer's' (Vermilion) is already a New York Times best-seller and is now available in 25 languages. Clinical trials are due to start soon, and a small pre-clinical study in 2014 has already been published in the journal Aging. It followed 10 patients and showed that nine out of the 10 had improved the symptoms of cognitive decline.
Dr Bredesen has found that there are a number of different sub groups of Alzheimer's and each has different underlying factors. The key, he says, is to find the underlying causes and treat them.
"Everybody is trying to treat cognitive decline, and prevent cognitive decline, without asking what's causing it," he says. "What we do is simply the obvious, which is to look at all the things that cause the cognitive decline so if you want to know how to prevent it and optimise your brain health, you can."
Recently, Alzheimer's has been labelled 'Type 3 diabetes' because studies show it appears to be linked to insulin resistance in the brain. Other research has focused on key lifestyle factors that may influence the risk of developing Alzheimer's such as a sedentary lifestyle or stress, while estimates are that as many as one in three cases could be preventable.
Dr Bredesen takes this further. He finds that those with Alzheimer's fall broadly speaking into three sub types. These include an inflammatory type (including those with chronic infections, poor diet and metabolic syndrome), a trophic type - where typically there has been a loss of, for example, hormonal or nutrient support and the brain has literally 'downsized' its functions.
A third sub type can have, as an underlying factor, a prolonged exposure to specific toxins - things such as pesticides, chemicals, mercury, and moulds which contain micro toxins. "Certainly in the US," says Dr Bredesen, "many, many people are living in homes that are full of toxins produced by specific mould species - penicillia, aspergillia and so on."
This type of Alzheimer's patient tends to be younger and not to suffer from memory loss initially so much as executive dysfunction, says Dr Bredesen. "The problem they have is organising things, so they can't pack, they can't get out the door. They say, 'I can't calculate a tip', or they can't find the right word.
"Most people don't have pure Type 1, most will be 70pc Type 1, 20pc Type 2 and 10pc Type 3. Very, very few people have only one contributor; there are dozens of contributors so we try to identify as many as possible."
Once the underlying factors and sub type of the disease are identified, the patient follows a 36-point personalised approach which uses exercise, diet, brain stimulation, sleep techniques, stress reduction and nutrient supplementation, among other therapies. Over a thousand doctors have trained in his protocol so far.
"This is a complicated disease and it's a complicated protocol. We have a computer coded algorithm. It's called ReCODE - reversal of cognitive decline. It's a computer-based algorithm that takes all these different factors into account.
"There is a tremendous amount that can be done," says Dr Bredesen. But, he warns, "You have to remember that at the time you have symptoms, the underlying process has probably being going on for 10-20 years so you've got to turn that around. You've got to stop the house from burning down before you can start building it again.
"Times are changing dramatically," says Dr Bredesen. "This idea that there is nothing you can do to prevent or reverse it is way out of date now - this is 20th century medicine. There's a lot you can do and people are showing this repeatedly."
In the near future, it should be possible to check your biomarkers for the disease in your forties, and address or monitor any risk factors that are spotted, years before the disease develops.
"If you 've got someone who is really late stage, I tell them bring in the children. Let's get them on a prevention progamme so it ends with this generation.," says Dr Bredesen. "We are able to prevent this in the vast majority of people if they are able to come in and get on a prevention programme."
'The End of Alzheimer's' by Dr Dale Bredesen, (Vermilion) is out now; drbredesen.com for more
Sunday Indo Living