The Functional Medicine Approach To Preventing Alzheimer’s

by 
Dr. Shawn Greenan, DACM, CFMP®
The Functional Medicine Approach To Preventing Alzheimer’s

Is Alzheimer’s preventable? More and more research studies show that diet and lifestyle are huge factors in preventing this disease. (1)

Changes in the brain, including lower numbers of synapses, can occur years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear. These early synapse losses suggest a possible window of opportunity to prevent or delay dementia symptoms. (1)

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How does synapse loss lead to Alzheimer’s?

The brain communicates through a vast network of nerve cells. These nerve cells connect via junctions called synapses and make it possible to create and recall memories. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease (compared with the normal aging process), synapse loss is accelerated. (2)

There are eight things that accelerate synapse loss: (3)

  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Homocysteine
  • Low Exercise
  • Specific Genes

Nutrition’s Role in Alzheimer’s Disease

Synapse formations depend on proper nutrient absorption. As stated above, five out of the eight factors influencing synapse loss were nutrition related. (4)

When synapse lose their ability to communicate, they die, and the brain begins to shrink. As more neurons die throughout the brain, a person with Alzheimer’s gradually loses the ability to think, remember, make decisions, and function independently.

There are currently two scientifically researched diets, The MIND diet and KetoFLEX 12/3, that show significant benefits in slowing synapse loss and decreasing Alzheimer’s risk.

The MIND Diet

The MIND Diet is the most common nutrition plan recommended for preventing dementia. The name is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It encourages eating from 10 healthy food groups:

  • Leafy green vegetables, at least six servings/week
  • Other vegetables, at least one serving/day
  • Berries, at least two servings/week
  • Whole grains, at least three servings/day
  • Fish, one serving/week
  • Poultry, two servings/week
  • Beans, three servings/week
  • Nuts, five servings/week
  • Wine, one glass/day
  • Olive oil

The MIND diet limits red meat, sweets, cheese, butter/margarine, and fast/fried food. (1)

Evidence supporting the MIND diet comes from observational studies of more than 900 dementia-free older adults, which found that closely following the MIND diet was associated with a reduced risk of synapse loss and a slower rate of cognitive decline.

Continuing observational studies suggest this diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53% in those who follow it closely. Those who followed it more loosely still reduced their risk by 35%. (5)

KetoFLEX 12/3 Diet

The KetoFLEX 12/3 diet is a plant-based, mildly ketogenic diet studied by Dr. Bredesen, a world-class neuroscientist.  It focuses on whole nutrient-dense foods and emphasizes local, organic, and seasonal non-starchy vegetables from every color of the rainbow, combined with an adequate amount of protein and generous amounts of healthy fat. This diet requires a 12 hour fast, with at least 3 hours of fasting before bed (hence the 12/3 in the name). (6)

To date, Dr. Bredesen has used the KetoFlex diet with thousands of Alzheimer’s participants. He currently just finished a clinical trial on the KetoFLEX in early 2021. During the clinical trial, 84% of participants had improved cognitive results. (7)

Functional Medicine Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease

Along with the above diets, functional medicine practitioners also encourage supplementation of specific nutrients and exercise for brain health. One study showed that increasing Omega 3’s, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, B12, and Magnesium slowed the cognitive and functional decline in Alzheimer’s patients over a 12-month period. (3)

Exercise was shown to have multiple positive effects on brain health, including reducing inflammation, increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), increasing neural input to the brain, and maintenance of brain volume. (3)

Try the MIND Diet

Want to test out the MIND Diet? Below is a one-day menu to give you an idea of how easy it can be to incorporate these healthy, delicious foods into your daily life.

Breakfast:

Spinach Avocado Wild Berry Smoothie

  • 1 handful of organic spinach
  • 1/2 cup frozen avocado
  • 1 cup frozen wild blueberries
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed

Lunch:

Sesame Ginger Salmon Salad

  • 1 head chopped organic romaine lettuce
  • Wild caught salmon
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup sliced radishes
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp prepared sesame-ginger dressing

Snack:

Almond Butter Oatmeal Balls

  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 2/3 cup creamy almond butter
  • 1/4 cup dairy free chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp honey

Combine all five ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Store in the refrigerator.

Dinner:

Burrito Bowl

  • 1 cup cooked organic brown rice
  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 1 cup fajita vegetables cooked in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cooked organic grilled chicken
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole

Featured Bundles

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References

(7)Clinical Trial Results Evidence That Early Alzheimer’s Can Be Reversed. (2021). Retrieved from Apollo Health: https://www.apollohealthco.com/clinical-trial-results-2021/

(5) Improve brain health with the MIND diet. (2019, July 31). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/improve-brain-health-with-the-mind-diet/art-20454746

(6) Ketoflex12/3. (n.d.). Retrieved from Apollo Health: https://www.apollohealthco.com/ketoflex-12-3/

(2) Synapses: the building blocks of memory. (2021). Retrieved from nutriciaresearch: https://www.nutriciaresearch.com/alzheimers-disease/synapses-the-building-blocks-of-memory/

(3) Vreeland's, D. C. (n.d.). Alzheimer's disease: The Aging Brain. Retrieved from Functional Medicine University: https://www.functionalmedicineuniversity.com/members/1059.cfm

(1) What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease? (2019, November 27). Retrieved from National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease

(4) Wurtman, R. J. (2014, April). A Nutrient Combination that Can Affect Synapse Formation. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011061/

Dr. Shawn Greenan, DACM, CFMP®
Website
Acupuncture Physician Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner®
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