New study shows how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Our whole population is living longer and as we do the fear of dementia and Alzheimer’s grows with each passing day. Up until recently the only way we could definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s was through an autopsy after death. The evidence was in what we called beta-amyloid plaques and bundles of these were considered positive proof. A new study just recently published has shown that this theory is completely wrong and without any medical basis.
New technology today uses a PET (positive emission tomography) scan which uses radiation that can detect the presence of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain while the patient is still alive. The new study examined 14,000 residents of a retirement community going back into the early 1980’s. They continually tested these people for all sorts of diseases including Alzheimer’s and found that that a large majority of the residents did have large bundles of beta-amyloid plaques in their brains but had no symptoms of either dementia or Alzheimer’s. How could this be possible? They had to determine if there was another cause of Alzheimer’s and could it be prevented.
Dr.Claudia Kawas of the University of California, Irvine, armed with a 6 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health studied the files of 14,000 patients and checked on the ones that were still alive every six months. The study was originally designed to observe and record the lifestyles of the patients that lived the longest and stayed the healthiest into their middle to late nineties and those that lived to over 100 years old.
What Dr. Kawas and her colleagues found was that cause of Alzheimer’s was not beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, but mini-strokes caused by LOW blood pressure. You read that correctly. While every physician is so concerned about high blood pressure and putting patients on multiple medications to bring it down, it turns out that the body needs to have higher blood pressure as it ages.
As you age your arteries are not as elastic and pliable as they were when you were young. More pressure is needed to push the blood through those very thin blood vessels such as your arteries and then into the very fine capillaries and if your blood pressure is too low you will suffer hundreds of mini strokes in the brain of which you are not even aware. Your bloodstream carries the oxygen to your brain and if there is a temporary stop in blood flow you get a mini stroke. When Dr. Kawas examined the brains of those people who took medications that lower blood pressure, she found many areas where cells had died off and their was no activity. Patients may have hundreds of these episodes without feeling a thing and yet it was these patients who suffered dementia and were even labelled as Alzheimer patients. It was the use of the PET scan that proved this result beyond any doubt. The majority of these patients did not have any amyloid plaques in their brain at all but had severe forms of dementia.
Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. A perfect blood pressure is considered to be 120 over 80. What this means is that the top number or the higher number, better known as the systolic pressure measures the blood pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (heart muscle is contracting). The lower number is known as the diastolic pressure and measures the pressure in the arteries between beats or when the heart muscle is at rest and refills with blood. The 120 over 80 is a great number for young people but the guidelines move up as you age into 135 over 85. However this new study showed that as you aged between 70 and 100 you were better off to let your blood pressure gradually rise to ensure that sufficient amounts of oxygen were supplied to the brain. It was the medicated people that suffered the most min-strokes and the worst cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Those who did not take medication seemed to age gracefully and keep all their faculties intact.
Unfortunately this study is brand new and 99 per cent of family physicians are always trying to lower your blood pressure in the hopes of preventing heart attacks or strokes. The new study suggests going the natural way without the use of a lot of medications. This does not mean that if you have very high blood pressure such as 190 over 110 you let it go untreated. For those very large numbers you must get it down to a safe level but of course not so low that your brain is deprived of the delivery of oxygen.
This also means that all the drugs that are used to treat Alzheimer’s patients are useless because they are designed to prevent the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain. No wonder the results have been so bad with these drugs and the side-effects have been horrible. It also explains why in all the years I worked as a pharmacist, I witnessed those patients who took multiple medications for blood pressure and heart disease always seemed to have the highest incidence of dementia.
More good news from the old age study
As I mentioned earlier the premise of this study originally was to find out why some people live longer than others and stay healthier into their nineties.
Some things are obvious; in other words those that exercised lived longer than those that did not. The interesting thing about exercise was as little as 15 minutes a day made the difference between a shorter life and long life. In fact those who exercised more frequently and for shorter periods lived longer than those who exercised for 2 or 3 hours at a time.
The study showed that being obese at any age is unhealthy however Dr. Kawas found in her study that older people who were moderately overweight or average weight lived longer than people who were underweight. Apparently it’s not good to be skinny when you are old. It is also quite natural to put on a few pounds as you age.
In the study, people who drank up to two drinks a day had a 10 to 15 per cent chance of reduced risk of death when compared to non-drinkers. It didn’t matter whether they drank red wine, white wine beer or any kind of alcoholic beverage. No matter what you drink, you will live longer as long as you drink in moderation and do not binge drink.
I would love to say that the study showed that people taking vitamins lived longer but it was inconclusive. That was because the study started in the eighties before vitamins and supplements were very popular. Although most of the old people in the community were taking a variety of supplements for their health, no conclusion could be drawn because most of it has occurred in the last 10 to 15 years of the study.
The study showed that involving yourself in social activities increased longevity. Those that played board games, cards, attended book clubs and generally hung out with others in social settings lived longer. For every hour spent doing activities longevity increased by a day. That seems like a good investment.
The secret of longevity seems quite nice. Exercise a little bit each day, about 15 minutes at a time. Socialize with your friends and have one or two drinks a day. Let your blood pressure rise naturally but not too high and don’t worry if you put on a few extra pounds. Although it was not mentioned in the study, this lifestyle in your old age seems to me to be relatively stress-free and I think that this is a huge factor in growing old and aging well.