by Gabriel Ariciu, DC
The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is rapidly increasing. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. That number will rise to 14 million by 2050. (1) Globally, it is estimated to reach 150 million by 2050. It is currently the 6th leading cause of death, one study says it is the 3rd. (2) It is a terrible disease and costs are staggering. This year alone we are estimated to spend $277 billion on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This number will increase with our current projections. By 2050, the cost will be $1.1 trillion per year. (3) It is likely to bankrupt the nation. Something needs to be done and thankfully something is being done.
Dr. Dale Bredesen is a medical doctor and researcher out of UCLA who has been researching Alzheimer’s disease for a long time now. His program has helped many prevent and even reverse many of their symptoms. Another researcher Dr. Alan MacDonald has devoted much of his life to researching Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. He has discovered in many cases that people with Alzheimer’s disease also had active infections of Borrelia in their brains. So what do the two have in common? Is there a causal link? Quite possibly. But it is more complicated than that.
Alzheimer’s disease like many other chronic illnesses are multifactoral. Part of the problem is we have been sold the idea that there is one quick fix or a cure-all, however that has been proven to be false time and time again for many disorders. Alzheimer’s is a complex disease. So first I will break it down for you and then we will talk about the Lyme disease connection. And since it is multifactoral, I will touch on some of the other approaches that need to be done as well as write another article on the role of insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s. You might remember in article on Diabetes that I called Alzheimer’s disease type 3 diabetes. So I will dive more in depth into that side soon.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
The disease was first described by Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer in 1906. He discovered amyloid plaques which stopped the synapses of neurons from functioning. When a neuron needs to signal or speak to another neuron it does this via synapses. Below is a illustration of a neuron cell body and a synaptic terminals.
Here is an illustration of amyloid plaques.
Dr. Alzheimer also discovered neurofibrillary tangles of tau proteins. Tau proteins are essential to stabilizing microtubules inside neurons. The microtubules are like a highway or a bridge to the other neurons. Without them you cannot transport information back and forth. What happens is the tau become disrupted and create the neurofibrillary tangles resulting in the destabilization of the microtubules. Without them information cannot be transmitted. Below is an illustration of what I am describing.
It is important to understand the significance of the loss of synaptic and microtubule function. Neurons need three things to thrive; oxygen, fuel, and stimulus. Without these they will die. So the loss of synaptic and microtubule function bar the neuron from receiving and giving stimuli this will lead to cell death. Hopefully you can begin to see the picture. Alzheimer’s is a disease that results in neuronal death leading to loss memory and function, and then finally death.
Now let’s dig a little deeper. Amyloid plaques are made up of a peptide called amyloid-beta. Here is a description from Dr. Bredesen, “amyloid-beta fulfills exactly the criteria you would want of an anti-trophin: it binds to multiple receptors on neurons, blocking the trophic signaling required to keep the dependence receptors from telling neurons to die.” (Bredesen, Dale E. The End of Alzheimer’s. Avery Publishing, 2017.) These receptors keep the neuron alive. There is a sort of balance, Dr. Bredesen discovered. The precursor protein to amyloid-beta, aptly named amyloid precursor protein or APP, is also a dependence receptor. So depending on what acts on the receptor will lead to two different scenarios, much like a scale. One the one hand, it can promote Alzheimer’s through anti-trophic signaling as described above or on the other, it can actually maintain connections, promote growth, and inhibit the cell’s programmed death functions. But balance is key, hence the scale. Too much to one side will lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bredesen has discovered 36 factors that promote Alzheimer’s development. Not all 36 factors must be addressed, he says, but enough to tip the scale. I will not list them all, but I will highlight a few: insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, high homocysteine, low vitamin D, chronic infections, heavy metal toxicity, and inflammation. (Ibid.) All of these create an environment that acts upon the receptor to create a cascade of events that results in more amyloid-beta being produced leading to increased plaques and neurodegeneration.
Even greater care must be taken with some individuals who have a genetic predisposition to the disease. Genetic testing is still in its infancy but we have a learned a lot. One of things we have learned is the existence of a genetic risk factor called ApoE4. “ApoE4 is associated with a heightened inflammatory response.” (Ibid.) Researchers believe this is due to our ancestors being exposed to more of an inflammatory environment, so this would protect us. But it spells bad news for those who have it today. If you have a single copy of ApoE4 your risk factor of 30%. If you have two copies, your risk factor is above 50%. (Ibid.) So it is a good idea to get a genetic test done, 23andMe provides them.
There is so much more that can be said about Alzheimer’s Disease. I highly recommend you pick up Dr. Bredesen’s book. It is a good read. But I am going to turn my attention to Lyme disease now.
Lyme and Alzheimer’s
Speaking of chronic infection and Alzheimer’s is similar to how we talk of Lyme. Lyme disease is caused by one specific bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. Yet, most Lyme patients have more than one infection such as Babesia, Rickettsia, and Bartonella. This is why we use MSIDS questionnaire in our office because ticks care many different microbes that cause a host of symptoms. Furthermore, there are more than 100 species of Borrelia in the US alone. Catching one microbe can be a painstaking ordeal. What we are seeing, especially from the work of Dr. MacDonald, is amyloid-beta plaques is the body’s response to infectious microbes. The body is trying to wall them off and get the situation under control. It also does this with toxic substances too.
So how does Borrelia get into the brain? The blood brain barrier (BBB) is supposed to protect it. Like our intestinal barrier, our BBB is prone to inflammatory insults and it can break down. If this happens heavy metals, toxic substances, and infections can reach the brain. As we have shown in other articles, Borrelia is a tricky bacteria. The shape of it and its proclivity to change shape, especially the cystic forms, and evade the immune system gives it a step up. These cystic forms exist in biofilm communities. There is a direct comparison between amyloid plaques and biofilms.
A paper by Dr. MacDonald talks about how these plaques originate from Borrelia cysts. These cysts show similarities to the plaques. He hypothesizes that Lyme is the root cause to the Alzheimer’s plaques. (4) He has further demonstrated via extracting DNA from several Alzheimer brains that they were also infected with Borrelia. Providing a solid proof that they associated. A meta-analysis was published in 2015 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The authors viewed data from 25 studies which “demonstrated a statistically significant association between AD and detectable evidence of infection of either bacterial group. We found over a ten-fold increased occurrence of AD when there is detectable evidence of spirochetal infection.” (5) Dr. Bredesen agrees and his approach takes chronic infection into account.
So why is Lyme such a big deal? In case you have not been following the news or read our other articles, Lyme disease is spreading rapidly. The CDC stated there are over 300,000 new cases per year. Last week, this hit every news outlet. The link takes you to a news article on Lyme in all 50 states. For many years it has been touted that Lyme only exists in parts of the upper Midwest and New England, but evidence from Quest Diagnostics has shown Lyme disease has been found in every state. So it is serious, it is spreading, and it is important to know what to do about it.
We see a lot patients with Lyme disease and we do our best to support them. But so many come to us because they have exhausted every avenue. Often times they are told it is all in their head or they have a chronic issue in which they can do nothing about. They are suffering. Lyme is the great mimicker. Not one Lyme patient has come in with the exact same symptoms and most of them have had several previous diagnoses until finally Lyme was targeted. Furthermore, many will go undiagnosed because there are so many Borrelia species. Many have broaden the use of the term Lyme to include all tick-borne diseases. A more correct term would be borreliosis. Testing is often difficult and only focuses on a number of bacteria and other pathogens. Many tests have a high false negative rate, leaving the patient confused about what is happening to them. The MSIDS questionnaire is a good gauge on the probability of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Then testing can be done, but it still comes down to trial and error regimen of prescriptions, herbs, and supplements if you are lucky. If you are not, you get bounced around until you find someone willing to help.
So What Now?
Dr. Bredesen talks about a multifaceted approach which is quite similar to what we do. There are three types of Alzheimer’s: inflammatory, atrophic which is hormonal, nutritional deficient, but it tends to be non-inflammatory, and lastly, toxic. There may be a mix of the three types. You could be insulin resistant with a chronic infection, food sensitivity, heavy metal toxicity, and sensitive to pesticides as well. Our typical patient that comes to see us is a mixture of all of these and more. We live in toxic, inflammatory environments. So everything needs to be addressed. Most chronic diseases tend to be addressed in a similar fashion. It is like I have said before chronic diseases are different manifestations of the same root causes.
Our goal is to help people live long, health lives and prevent terrible diseases like these. So we do our best to support each of our patients with lab work analysis, herbs and supplements, adjustments, myofascial releasing, and nutritional consultations. It is a multifaceted approach to a multifactoral problem. We do not want to leave one stone unturned. So our approach is holistic meaning the whole body. Since we have many different organ systems that are interdependently related, each one needs to be evaluated. As applied kinesiologists and chiropractic physicians, we are well-trained in the musculoskeletal system and its relation to the other systems. Applied kinesiology is just another tool in our bag to help diagnose and support patients.
With that being said, we utilize these tools to look for ways to support our patients with or suspected Lyme diagnoses. Often times we find several herbs that are invaluable in the care of our clients. Some have chelating properties, others are especially good at supporting those with chronic infections. Takesumi for instance is carbonized bamboo. It is excellent at detoxification and binding harmful substances. Golden Thread or Chinese coptis has been used for thousands of years as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial. It is a good herb for supporting those with persistent infections.
Diet is an essential part of being holistic. Without it, we would have little to help with as doctors. Many have food sensitivities so those need to be evaluated but in addition to this is the chronic plague of insulin resistance. It is growing rapidly in our country. That is why I will be devoting a whole article to that and Alzheimer’s in the coming weeks. To put it simply, it must be addressed and the lifestyle of the client adjusted accordingly.
I hope this helps! Please stay tuned for the next article.