Treating Alzheimer’s Disease: 3 Pharmaceuticals and 3 Natural Options

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This article is about treating Alzheimer’s and other memory problems.

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you were there? Or maybe you’ve struggled to remember the name of someone you just met? While these moments can be fleeting and harmless, for millions of people, memory loss is a much more serious issue. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are debilitating conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. But don’t worry, there are ways to fight back. In this article, I’ll explore three medications and three natural remedies that can help combat Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Before we delve into treatments, let’s clarify what we’re dealing with. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out simple tasks. Over time, individuals with Alzheimer’s will find it increasingly difficult to perform daily activities independently, and they may undergo significant changes in behavior and personality. This deterioration is due to the degeneration and death of neurons in areas of the brain involved in cognitive functions. The progression of the disease can vary, but it typically follows a gradual decline that spans several years.

Alzheimer's symptoms

Alzheimer’s Disease vs. Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of cognitive impairments that interfere with daily life, while Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Think of dementia as the symptom, and Alzheimer’s as the cause. There are two other causes too:

The two most common causes of dementia, other than Alzheimer’s disease, are:

  1. Vascular Dementia: This form of dementia is often caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, which can occur after a stroke or due to other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, affecting the brain’s ability to function properly.
  2. Lewy Body Dementia: Characterized by the presence of Lewy bodies—abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. This type of dementia shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, including problems with memory, movement, thinking, and mood.

If you’re interested in brain health, you might want to read my other blog which talks about mold, Lyme, plaques and other less common causes (and treatments) for Alzheimer’s – it’s called, Alzheimer’s: The Scariest Word You May Ever Hear.

image of donepezil tablet

Medications for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Medications can offer some relief by slowing the progression of symptoms and improving quality of life. Here are three commonly prescribed medications for treating Alzheimer’s:

1. Donepezil (Aricept®)

Donepezil is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor and it’s used for treating Alzheimer’s. This fancy term means it works by increasing levels of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is crucial for memory and learning. Clinical trials have shown that Donepezil can improve cognition and behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Aricept should be taken in the evening before bedtime. This timing can help reduce some of the side effects associated with the medication. Additionally, taking it at bedtime may coincide with the body’s natural rhythms.

Pros:

  • Can slow the progression of symptoms.
  • Improves cognition and daily functioning.

Cons:

  • Common side effects include nausea/vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, and insomnia. It can also cause dizziness and fatigue.
  • Does not cure the disease.
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2. Memantine (Namenda®)

Memantine is another popular medication for treating Alzheimer’s, but for moderate to severe conditions. It works differently than donepezil. It’s an NMDA receptor antagonist, meaning it helps regulate glutamate activity to prevent overexcitation of neurons, which can lead to cell damage. Memantine is usually prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It generally does not cause sedation so depending on the formulation, it can be taken once or twice daily. 

Pros:

  • Helps with memory, attention, and language so it slows progression.
  • Often combined with Donepezil for enhanced effects.

Cons:

  • Side effects can include dizziness, headache, and constipation.
  • Not suitable for all stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • May cause constipation which is a challenge in the elderly.
  • Does not cure the disease.

Image of wooden brain with pills

3. Rivastigmine (Exelon®)

Similar to donepezil, rivastigmine is for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. It’s mechanism of action is the same so it’s also in the category of drugs called “acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.” It’s available in oral and patch forms, making it versatile for different patient needs. Studies suggest that rivastigmine can help improve cognition and function temporarily in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Pros:

  • Available in both oral and transdermal patch forms.
  • Helps with cognition and daily activities.

Cons:

  • May cause gastrointestinal side effects like dizziness, fatigue, weight loss, nausea and vomiting. May cause constipation and dry mouth too.
  • Requires consistent monitoring for effectiveness and side effects.

Natural Remedies for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

While medications are crucial, natural remedies can also play a significant role in managing and potentially slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Here are three natural options to consider:

1. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba, an ancient tree extract, has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It’s believed to improve cognitive function by enhancing blood flow to the brain and exhibiting antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest it can help delay cognitive decline in dementia patients.* I put a good amount of this herb (and other herbs) into my Memory Script® Brain formula. 

Pros:

  • May improve memory and cognitive function.
  • Natural antioxidant properties.

Cons:

  • Can interact with blood thinners and other medications.
  • Not all studies agree on its effectiveness.

Fish Oil

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Found in fish oil and flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health.

They have anti-inflammatory properties and are thought to support neuron function. Research indicates that omega-3s might slow cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Pros:

  • Supports overall brain health.
  • Reduces inflammation.

Cons:

  • High doses can lead to digestive issues.
  • More research is needed to confirm benefits specifically for Alzheimer’s.
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Lion’s Mane medicinal mushroom
  1. Lion’s Mane
  • Lion’s Mane, a type of medicinal mushroom, is known for its potential cognitive-enhancing effects. It contains compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells and potentially improve overall brain health. Studies suggest that Lion’s Mane may help reduce mild symptoms of anxiety and depression and is being explored for its potential in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Pros:

  • May enhance nerve growth factor (NGF) production which supports neuron growth.
  • Potential benefits for mental health, including reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.
  • It’s considered the #1 nootropic, depending on what brain health expert you ask, and if you’d like to read more, CLICK HERE.

Cons:

  • Limited large-scale clinical trials to fully establish its effectiveness.
  • Possible allergic reactions in some individuals, especially those allergic to mushrooms.
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Integrative Approaches and Lifestyle Changes

Combining medications with natural remedies can provide a more holistic approach to managing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Here are some additional lifestyle changes that can make a significant difference:

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and promotes the growth of new neurons.
  • Healthy Diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats supports brain health. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, has been linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline.
  • Mental Stimulation: Engage in activities that challenge the brain, such as puzzles, reading, and learning new skills.
  • Social Interaction: Maintaining social connections can help prevent cognitive decline and improve mental well-being.
  • Quality Sleep: Ensure adequate and restful sleep, as poor sleep can exacerbate memory problems. 

Conclusion for Treating Alzheimer’s

Fighting Alzheimer’s disease and dementia requires a multifaceted approach. While medications like donepezil, memantine, and rivastigmine can provide symptom relief and slow progression, natural remedies such as ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, and lion’s mane offer additional support. Incorporating lifestyle changes like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mental stimulation can further enhance these efforts. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment regimen.

In this ever-evolving field, staying informed about the latest research is crucial. I looked at some research on PLOS ONE and I found this PAPER identifying risk factors. If you don’t want to read it, I’ll outline the top risk factors identified here for you (for predicting cognitive decline among middle-aged and older people): 

  1. Age: Older age is generally associated with higher risk of cognitive decline.
  2. Waist Circumference: Larger waist circumference can indicate obesity or higher levels of visceral fat, which are linked to cognitive issues.
  3. Healthy Eating Index: A measure of diet quality, with lower scores indicating poorer diet and potentially higher risk for cognitive decline. There is controversy about what one should eat. Some people feel that a keto/carnivore diet is best, others suggest the Mediterranean diet. Just recently a study about Biochanin A came out. This is a member of the flavonoid class of phytochemicals, is naturally present in red clover, soy, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts, chickpeas, and various other legumes.

Exercise

  1. Race: The study suggests that certain racial backgrounds may correlate with different risks of cognitive impairment, possibly due to genetic, socioeconomic, or healthcare access differences.
  2. Education Level: Lower levels of education are often associated with higher risk of cognitive decline.
  3. Income: Lower income levels can correlate with various risks including less access to healthcare and healthy food, impacting cognitive health.
  4. Physical Activity: Lower levels of physical activity are linked to higher risk of cognitive decline.
  5. Diabetes: Diabetes is known to affect cognitive functions due to its impacts on blood vessels and overall metabolism.
  6. Hypercholesterolemia (High Cholesterol): High cholesterol can lead to vascular issues which may impact brain health and cognitive function.
  7. Annual Visit to Dentist: Infrequent dental visits may reflect on overall health management and have been linked to health conditions like heart disease and potentially cognitive decline, perhaps through mechanisms like inflammation or chronic infections.

Summary

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia represent significant challenges for millions worldwide, necessitating a comprehensive approach to management and treatment. This blog has highlighted both pharmacological and natural strategies to combat these neurodegenerative conditions. Medications like Donepezil, Memantine, and Rivastigmine offer symptomatic relief and can decelerate the progression of cognitive decline by targeting specific neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. On the other hand, natural remedies such as Ginkgo Biloba, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Lion’s Mane provide supportive benefits that can enhance brain health and potentially slow disease progression. These natural interventions are particularly valuable for their minimal side effects and holistic impact on overall wellness.

Moreover, integrating lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, a nutritious diet, mental stimulation, social interaction, and adequate sleep can significantly bolster brain health and mitigate risk factors associated with cognitive decline. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in a holistic treatment paradigm, combining to form a robust defense against the onset and advancement of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In summary, tackling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia requires a multifaceted strategy. By merging effective medications with natural remedies and proactive lifestyle changes, we can offer hope and improved quality of life for individuals facing these daunting conditions. As we continue to embrace new research and innovations in the field, staying informed and adaptable will be key to optimizing care and outcomes for those affected by these challenging diseases.

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