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The Alzheimer’s Project – Review

May 17, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

The Alzheimer’s Project is a four-part documentary series and multimedia presentation currently airing on the cable network, HBO. It’s also available online for free for those who are not Home Box Office subscribers. This landmark event is a collaboration between HBO Documentary Films, the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s is the second most feared illness, after cancer”. Those words appear on the screen during the second segment of the Alzheimer’s Project. Watching the incredibly intimate footage captured by the filmmakers will help every viewer understand why that is. But that’s only a very small part of the overall objective. What we find here is an attempt to present this mysterious disease through the eyes of the patients, their caretakers and the physicians who are desperately searching for a cure.

Touched by Alzheimer's

In The Memory Loss Tapes we’re introduced to wide cross-section of the USA. The first person we meet is Bessie. She’s 87 years old and lives in a small home, next door to her daughter in Wisconsin. A friend says of her, “Everyone knows, Bessie”. She sings in a group called the Harmonettes, cares for a beautiful garden and her adoring dog named Skipper. She bakes pies and even serves as a grand marshal for the local parade. The trouble is, she’s beginning to forget the names that go along with the many familiar faces of her family and friends.

In St. Louis there’s an 82 year old woman named Fannie who rails against the loss of her ability to drive a car. She puts up a valiant fight, but her inability to identify street signs makes her a danger on the road. It’s a crushing blow to her sense of independence.

In California, a man with a wicked sense of humor, named Joe blogs about his experience as a 62 year old who is losing his identity. He’s angry and can’t understand how a “computer genius” could have such a horror descend upon him.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was first detected in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer. After his death, little research was conducted on his discovery because it was assumed that age-related dementia was simply a consequence of growing older and/or a complication related to cardiovascular disease. But for the last few decades, that antiquated viewpoint has been abandoned. Currently, there is a massive push to understand all there is to know about this brain wasting disease and how to halt its progression and, possibly, even reverse it.

The science behind the current scientific revolution is addressed in the segment, Momentum in Science. It’s a great counterpoint to the The Memory Loss Tapes, which provides such sobering personal accounts of the ravages of this disease. I was particularly enthralled by the simple yet highly descriptive animation used to explain the mechanism by which this disease impacts the physiology of the brain. It also offers welcome relief when one of the featured clinicians speaks these optimistic words, “We do have the research scientists. We do have the knowledge. And I think we can beat Alzheimer’s disease”.

Most of the scientists featured in the documentary tend to favor the use of conventional medicine. But, some examples of non-pharmaceutical interventions are examined as well. A concept called “cognitive reserve” is mentioned as a possible protective strategy. Cognitive reserve is a characteristic found in some patients who experience the expected changes in the brain, but do not exhibit diminished mental function. In studying this phenomenon, it’s been found that those who are most likely to fit into this category: a) have a large social network; b) are less prone to distress; c) regularly engage in mentally stimulating activity and; d) exercise.

Exercise is one of the few natural remedies wholeheartedly endorsed here. It’s noted that “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF) protects lab animals from brain damage associated with AD. Exercise increases the levels of BDNF in animal studies and improves memory and reaction time in animals who regularly engage in this activity. Dr. Carl Cotman, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California Irvine, smiles and wonders, “What drug can do that?”

One day, science may indeed offer a real cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s. Until then, we should do all that we can to support brain health as early as possible. Some researchers believe that pre-symptomtatic changes occur in the brain 5-15 years prior to the typical diagnosis of AD. There is also a general consensus that early treatment offers the greatest hope for slowing down the progression of the disease. Waiting for “old age” to begin before caring for your brain is no longer a viable option.

In recent months, I’ve devoted several blogs on the topic of nutrition and lifestyle choices for AD and overall brain health. I strongly recommend that you read these if you have not already done so. I personally incorporate most of these techniques in my own life, just to be on the safe side.

Most of us will be touched in one way or another by Alzheimer’s in our lifetime. The Alzheimer’s Project, helps us to better understand what to expect and how to best deal with the realities of this illness. Most importantly, it inspires hope and encourage us to make necessary changes in the way that we treat ourselves and others.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Memory

4 Comments & Updates to “The Alzheimer’s Project – Review”

  1. JP Says:

    Update: Ashwaghanda, a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy, may offer new hope in the near future …


    “While plants cannot be patented, compounds from them can. MSU holds the patent for withanamides, and earlier research revealed that the compound, found in the plants’ seeds, proved to be a powerful anti-oxidant – double the strength of what’s on today’s market. The potent compound has shown that it can protect cells against damaging attacks by a rogue protein ­– the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s.

    Alzheimer’s begins when a specific protein starts breaking, or cleaving, at the wrong place to produce an unwanted fragment. This bad fragment, called BAP, stresses cells’ membranes, sparks plaque formation and eventually kills the cells. This attack begins in the frontal lobe, erasing memories and continuing its unrelenting assault deeper into the brain.

    A complicating factor is that the majority of protein cleaving is a natural, healthy process. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have focused their efforts on blocking the tiny faction of bad cleaving of the protein producing BAP.

    ‘Rather than trying to stop only the malevolent cleaving, our compound keeps the bad protein from entering the cell where it does its damage,’ said Nair, who’s in the horticulture department. ‘Our studies have shown that withanamides effectively protect the brain cells by neutralizing the effect of BAP.'”

    Be well!


  2. JP Says:

    Update 06/30/15:


    FASEB J. 2015 Mar 24. pii: fj.14-264218.

    ω-3 Supplementation increases amyloid-β phagocytosis and resolvin D1 in patients with minor cognitive impairment.

    We investigated the effects of 4-17 month supplementation with ω-3 fatty acids and antioxidants (Smartfish drink; Smartfish AS, Oslo, Norway) in 12 patients with minor cognitive impairment (MCI) [minimental state examination (MMSE) ≥19], 2 patient with pre-MCI s (normal MMSE), and 7 patients with Alzheimer disease (AD) (MMSE <19). We measured the phagocytosis of amyloid-β 1-42 (Aβ) by flow cytometry and microscopy, the transcription of inflammatory genes by RT-PCR, the production of resolvin D1 (RvD1) by enzyme immunoassay, and the cognitive status by MMSE. In patients with MCI and pre-MCI, phagocytosis of Aβ by monocytes increased from 530 to 1306 mean fluorescence intensity units (P = 0.016). The increase in patients with AD was not significant (N.S.). The lipidic mediator RvD1, which stimulates Aβ phagocytosis in vitro, increased in macrophages in 80% of patients with MCI and pre-MCI (mean increase 9.95 pg/ml) (N.S.). Transcription of inflammatory genes’ mRNAs was increased in a subgroup of patients with low transcription at baseline, whereas it was not significantly changed in patients with high transcription at baseline. The mean MMSE score of patients with MCI and pre-MCI was 25.9 at baseline and 25.7 after 4-17 months (N.S.). Our study is the first to show significant immune and biochemical effects of ω-3 fatty acids with antioxidants in patients with MCI. Cognitive benefits of ω-3 supplementation in patients with MCI should be tested in a clinical trial.-Fiala, M., Halder, R. C., Sagong, B., Ross, O., Sayre, J., Porter, V., Bredesen, D. E. ω-3 supplementation increases amyloid-β phagocytosis and resolvin D1 in patients with minor cognitive impairment.

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Updated 09/28/15:


    J Alzheimers Dis. 2015 Sep 4.

    Plasma Fatty Acid Profiles in Relation to Cognition and Gender in Alzheimer’s Disease Patients During Oral Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation: The OmegAD Study.

    BACKGROUND: ω3 fatty acids (ω3 FAs) may slow the rate of decline in cognitive performance in mild forms of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the relationship between changes of plasma ω3 FA levels and cognitive performance, as well as effects of gender, are poorly known.

    OBJECTIVE: To study the effect of 6-month administration of DHA-rich ω3 FA supplementation on plasma FA profiles in patients with mild to moderate AD in relation to cognitive performance and gender. This investigation is part of the OmegAD Study.

    METHODS: 174 AD patients (74 ± 9 years) were randomized to a daily intake of 2.3 g ω3 FA or placebo for 6 months; subsequently all received the ω3 FA preparation for the next 6 months. Baseline as well as changes in plasma levels of the main ω3 FAs in 165 patients, while receiving ω3 FA supplementation for 6 months, were analyzed for association to cognitive performance (assessed by ADAS-cog and MMSE scores) as well as to gender.

    RESULTS: Preservation of cognitive functioning, assessed by ADAS-cog or its sub-items (but not MMSE) scores, was significantly associated to increasing plasma ω3 FA levels over time. Thus, the higher ω3 FA plasma levels rose, the lower was the rate of cognitive deterioration. This effect was not related to gender; since although females displayed higher ω3 FA plasma levels than did males after 6 months of supplementation, this difference disappeared when adjusted for body weight.

    CONCLUSIONS: Since our study suggests dose-response relationships between plasma levels of ω3 FA and preservation of cognition, future ω3 FA trials in patients with mild AD should consider exploring graded (and body weight adjusted) doses of ω3 FA.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Updated 12/17/15:


    Nutr Hosp. 2015 Dec 1;32(n06):2822-2827.


    BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s dementia is the most prevalent nowadays. As for treatment, there is no definitive cure drug, thus new therapies are needed. In this regard the medium chain triglycerides are a direct source of cellular energy and can be a nonpharmacological alternative to the neuronal death for lack of it, that occurs in Alzheimer patients.

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the impact of coconut oil in the development of Alzheimer’s dementia, in any degree of dementia. Also determine whether this improvement influences within variables such as sex and suffering or not Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

    MATERIAL AND METHODS: A prospective study was conducted in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia, with a control and an intervention group which was administered 40 ml/day of extra virgin coconut oil. The parameters evaluated were the mini test scores Lobo cognitive test, pre and post intervention in both groups.

    RESULTS: It was observed in subjects taking the product, a statistically significant increase in test score MECWOLF and therefore an improvement in cognitive status, improving especially women’s, those without diabetes mellitus type II, and severe patients.

    CONCLUSION: This study, although preliminary, demonstrated the positive influence of coconut oil at the cognitive level of patients with Alzheimer’s, this improvement being dependent on sex, presence or absence of diabetes and degree of dementia.

    Be well!


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