Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder that causes a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning. Experts believe that around 5.5 million Americans above the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s. Although there is no cure for this disease, the research is on. Specific natural treatments can help lower the symptoms and slow down their progression and improve the quality of life of the patients.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder that progressively destroys memory, thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks. This disease is named after Dr. Elois Alzheimer, who noted changes in the brain tissues of an older woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. When Dr. Alzheimer examined the brain of this woman after her death, he found many abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers. These tangles and plaques are the main features of Alzheimer’s disease.
Causes and risk factors
Though scientists have still not been able to identify the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, they have identified certain risk factors.
Age – People above the age of 65 years have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Genetics – Certain genes have been linked to Alzheimer’s.
Family history – You are more likely to get this disease if someone in your family has had this disease.
The early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Difficulty in completing familiar tasks
- Confusion over time and place
- Difficulty in balance
- Trouble in reading and driving
- Trouble with vocabulary
- Changes in mood and personality
- Misplacing things
Natural remedies of Alzheimer’s disease
In addition to prescription medications, people with Alzheimer’s take herbal medicine, supplements, and opt for other alternative therapies to treat Alzheimer’s. Diet, physical activity, and mental activities can also help.
What we eat impacts our brains. The researchers at Rush University Medical Centre developed the MIND diet, which can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53% (1). The MIND diet combines the different features of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
According to the MIND diet, the foods you should eat are –
- Green leafy vegetables: Six or more servings of leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, collard every week can provide brain benefits.
- Other vegetables: Eat at least one other fresh vegetable a day to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Nuts: Eat nuts five times a week. Nuts contain healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants.
- Berries: Eat berries twice a week. Blueberries are very effective in protecting the brains.
- Beans: Beans are high in proteins and fiber and low in fat and calories. They help to keep your mind sharp.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are one of the key components of the MIND diet. You should eat three servings a day.
- Fish: Eating fish once eat week helps in brain function.
- Poultry: Having two or more servings a week is highly beneficial.
- Olive oil: Olive oil is much better than other oils when it comes to protecting against cognitive decline.
- Wine: The MIND diet recommends one glass of wine a day.
Foods to avoid
- Red meat: Though red meat isn’t banned in the MIND diet, you should restrict your intake.
- Butter and margarine: Limit the use of butter and margarine to less than a tablespoon a day.
- Cheese: Do not take more than one serving of cheese per week.
- Sweets: Sweets and pastries harm brain health.
- Fried foods: Avoid fried foods and other kinds of fast food.
Studies have also found a ketogenic diet beneficial in improving cognitive performance in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (2).
2. Regular exercise
Research shows that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by over 50 percent. Exercise also helps to slow down the deterioration in people who have already started to develop cognitive problems. According to a 2018 study, patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s who exercised for at least 2 ½ hours per week had better cognitive performance than people who didn’t (3). Other studies have also shown that exercising reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (4).
Physical activity helps the brain by keeping the blood flowing and increasing chemicals that protect the brain. If you have been inactive, start with something small like a 10-minute walk a few times a day. Gradually build up your confidence and stamina to follow a regular exercise regimen. You should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. A combination of cardio and strength training is the best.
Resistance training helps builds muscle mass, which helps maintain a healthy brain. Balance and coordination exercises like yoga and tai chi help you to stay agile.
3. Mental exercise
People who continue to learn new things and challenge their brains are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. When you engage in mental exercises, you develop new neurons and pathways in your brain. Activities that involve communication, interaction, and organization are the best.
Strategy games, puzzles, and riddles provide mental stimulation and build your capacity to retain information and lower the progression of memory loss. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, cards, and board games are helpful.
Learning something new helps to stimulate the brain. You can learn to paint, sew, play a new musical instrument, or learn a new language. The more complex and challenging the task you take up, the better will be the benefit.
You can also practice memorization techniques. Try and memorize the first letter of each word of the sentence that you went to remember. Creating rhymes can also help to strengthen your memory. Change your habits to create new brain pathways. You can try and eat or write with your non-dominant hand.
4. Sleep well
Studies have shown that poor sleep quality can contribute to cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease (5). Poor sleep leads to high levels of beta-amyloid in the brain, which can further disrupt the deep sleep essential for memory formation. Quality sleep can flush out the toxins from the brain. To help you improve your sleep quality, you must –
- Establish a regular sleep schedule to reinforce your natural circadian rhythms.
- The blue light from the television and computer screens have a stimulating effect and can disturb your sleep. Remove these from your bedroom.
- Create a relaxing atmosphere in your room to help you sleep. Take a hot bath, play some soft music, and dim the lights.
5. Dietary supplements
Many herbal medicines and supplements can also help in lowering the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These include –
- Gingko biloba: Helps improve concentration by enhancing blood flow to the brain. It’s anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties protect cell membranes and preserve neurotransmitter function.
- Huperzine A: It is used to boost energy and to improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It protects brain cells and enhances cognition as it has properties similar to Alzheimer’s drugs like Exelon and Aricept.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids improve memory and strengthen brain cells. They help lower the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
- Coenzyme Q 10: The coQ10 levels naturally decline as we age, but the level is much lower in people with Alzheimer’s. Supplementing with coQ10 improves memory and overall energy.
- Vitamin D3: Low levels of vitamin D3 can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Vitamin D3 prevents tangles and plaques in the brain.
- Phosphatidylserine: It helps improve short-term memory, mood, and concentration. It protects brain cells and promotes their communication.
- Zinc: People with Alzheimer’s have low levels of zinc. Adequate levels help improve memory and concentration.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This is a compound of the cannabis plant that is extracted for medical purposes. It helps reduce inflammation and oxygen build-up and can stimulate and build up brain cells.
This ancient Chinese practice is used to treat various ailments. According to acupuncture, patterns of energy called Qi flow all through our bodies. Diseases occur when Qi is interrupted. Acupuncturists insert needles in specific locations to restore the flow of energy.
According to a study from Kings College London, in Alzheimer’s patients, functional brain images demonstrated that acupuncture increased in the activity in the temporal lobe and prefrontal lobe, which are related to memory and cognitive function (6). Another study showed that acupuncture could improve mood, energy levels, and pain in people with Alzheimer’s (7).
Several studies have shown that aromatherapy is effective in improving cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s. A 2009 study from Japan examined the effects of aromatherapy in dementia in 28 older adults, 17 of whom had Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed that aromatherapy was an efficacious non-pharmacological therapy for dementia. Aromatherapy can improve cognitive function, especially in AD patients (8).
Many essential oils are proving useful for treating symptoms of dementia, including anxiety, sleep problems, memory, and cognitive function.
- Lavender and lemon balm help to reduce anxiety and agitation
- Peppermint essential oil supports memory.
- Bergamot helps fight depression, calms mood, and aids sleep.
- Rosemary essential oil improves memory and cognition.
8. Bright light therapy
Sleep disturbances are quite common in people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Bright light therapy can help such people. During bright light therapy, a person sits in front of a lightbox that provides about 30 times more light than the regular office light, for a set amount of time each day. Research shows that light therapy can consolidate rest and activity patterns in people with Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia (9).
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, cognitive ability, and even the ability to do the simplest of tasks. Though there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are several natural treatments that can help prevent and lower the symptoms of this disease. You can eat a healthy diet, stay active, improve your mental skills, sleep well, have dietary supplements, try acupuncture, aromatherapy, and bright light therapy. Always consult with your doctor before you try any of these natural remedies for Alzheimer’s disease.